Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Lectionary 27 A - Psalm 80:7-15

Psalm 80:7-15
The psalmist must not have read Isaiah who lays the blame for broken walls on the “pleasant planting” that produced sour grapes. There are times when we can clearly identify the cause and effect of choices made or delayed but there are just as many times when “Why, O Lord?” has no obvious answer. We cannot endure for very long with “Why, O Lord?” and so when the walls of our security have been broken down and the pleasant planting of our lives ravaged by calamity we cry aloud with the psalmist. “Restore us, God Almighty!” “Return to us, God Almighty!” “Look down from heaven and see!” Which is to say even when are no satisfactory answers to “why?” we trust the Lord still tends the vine of our lives.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Lectionary 27 - Isaiah 5:1-7

Isaiah 5:1-7
God’s lament sounds familiar because God’s sad song is so often ours as well. We invest time and energy and emotion into relationships that fail to produce hoped for results. Of course when human relationships go sour we say “it takes two to tango” while Isaiah envisions all the blame on the vineyard God planted. It is true that sowing wild oats (grapes?) is common enough to be cliché but Israel, a small country situated between hostile empires, can hardly be blamed for trying to survive the place of its planting. Maybe that was the point all along. Trusting God was not supposed to be like all the other nations who sacrifice everything, including their first born, to appease the blood lust of their gods. The people of God were to reflect the same sort of care to the widow and the orphan and the sojourner as God showed them. The fruit of righteousness was never meant to be about the sacrifice required by law but rather the law of living by love. In that respect God the gardener was all alone so I guess it does take two to tango after all.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Lectionary 26 A - Matthew 21:23-32

Matthew 21:23-32
During his last week in Jerusalem Jesus flips the tables of the temple money changers and turns the tables on the chief priests. He is one tricky Messiah and I imagine he smiled when he asked the elders about John the Baptist knowing full well the trap he was setting. Of course they will have the last laugh on the Friday we call “Good” but then maybe their answer “we don’t know” leads Jesus to forgive them for not knowing what they do (Luke 23:34) even though the Gospel of Matthew believes they knew exactly what they were doing. “Let his blood be on us and on our children.” (Matthew 27:25) The story of the two sons that follows the Q&A might be read as the cliff notes of the more well-known “son” story. (Luke 15) In the same way that the son who ran away comes home the unwilling son becomes obedient. And the stay at home son who says “yes” hits the snooze and sleeps in when it’s time to work. The bottom line is those who were out are in and those who were in are out but only so far as they continue to resist the One whose authority is a higher power.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Lectionary 26 A - Philippians 2:1-13

Philippians 2:1-13
The whole of the scriptures is expressed in Philippians 2:5-11 and if all we had was this ancient creedal hymn it would be enough to reveal the mind of the Divine. In Jesus it is God who is emptied into all of humanity and in servant form suffers a dreadful death designed by the children created in God’s own image. How is it possible that the church has such a sordid history of not finding any consolation in this expression of ultimate love, no compassion, no sympathy, demanding like minds be bound by hard cover catechisms where right belief matters more than loving fellow believers, let alone the world Jesus died to save? The promise is every knee will bow and every tongue confess that the Jesus emptied, serving, suffering and dying for creatures who could care less was what God was about all along. Being of like mind means be like Jesus who never met a sinner he didn’t love to death.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Lectionary 26 A - Psalm 25:1-9

Psalm 25:1-9
David trusts that the rebellious sins of his youth will not be remembered by the Lord and I have no doubt that the same applies to the sins of one’s middle age as well. That is because the Lord, who is our all day long hope, does not need to be prompted to remember great mercy and love for that is the character of the One who erases the record of everything about us that makes mercy necessary. Now if only we could do the same for others, and God help us, for ourselves. But the truth about us is that shame is our constant companion and we live with the memory of rebellious ways and youthful sins revisiting ancient history as if it happened yesterday. So maybe the instructions sinners need most is a lesson on forgiveness where charity begins at home.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Lectionary 26 A - Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32

Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32
So what gives? Didn’t God commission Moses to set in stone the small print following the second commandment? “I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me.” (Exodus 20:5 & Deuteronomy 5:9) Or what about the good news / bad news of Numbers 14:18? “The Lord is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, BUT he will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, to the third and the fourth generation.” On the flip side of the covenant coin both Jeremiah (31:29-30) and Ezekiel preach personal responsibility. Whoever does the crime does the time. So which is it? Jesus trumps both sides in favor of neither (the man born blind story in John 9 – “whose sin is it?”) and negates the conditional clause (neither this man nor his parents sinned) in favor of the gift of sight revealing the works of God. The work of God is this: the One who knew no sin (and I’m just guessing here but his Abba was pretty much perfect too) was made to be sin so that those who are in bondage to sin (parent and child) might be set free. So turn to the God who takes no pleasure in the death of anyone and live. 

2011 post

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Lectionary 25 A - Matthew 20:1-16

Matthew 20:1-16
The kingdom of heaven is always a contradiction of common kingdoms that operate according to survival of the fittest where the winner is the one who dies with the most toys. So the all-day workers sweating in the sun obviously deserve more wages than the slackers who spent all but the last hour of the day playing 42 (the official domino game of the great state of Texas) in the marketplace. You can bet that the next time the master went looking for workers the marketplace had become a right to wait state and expecting a day’s wage for working one hour was the new normal. That is why the kingdom of heaven is like something that is never done in common kingdoms. Apparently God doesn't get how incentives work. But then the parable is not about the workers or even the wages. It’s about the landowner which means it’s about God and in this parable God gets to do whatever God wants to do which in this case is do something we would not. Surprise.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Lectionary 25 A - Philippians 1:20-30

Philippians 1:20-30
To live a life worthy of the Gospel is more about embracing grace than adherence to the law although there are always consequences for less than Gospel worthy ways of living. But as those who “are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves” we understand living a Gospel worthy life is always a work in progress. So we bear with each other recognizing that all “fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) and depend wholly on the mercy of God. Which means the Gospel way of living is to strive together side by side so that our mutual love and affection for one another bears witness to the God who loves all people equally.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Lectionary 25 A - Psalm 145:1-8

Psalm 145:1-8
“One generation commends your works to another” is the way the faith has been passed down through the ages so that the ancient story of mighty acts and awesome works is not lost. More than myth the ancient story is retold in the living language of the generation entrusted to bear it into the infinite future. Granted, the “passing on” generation always hopes that their way of telling the story will be as enduring as the story itself and that the generation “receiving” the gift will not throw away the wrapping. But the truth is “the Lord gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love” is the same for every generation, whether it's recounted on a Kindle or a scroll. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Lectionary 25 A - Jonah 3:10-4:11

Jonah 3:10 - 4:11
Discussions of the Book of Jonah often focus on the detail of the “whale” and whether someone could be swallowed up and survive. Those who read the story as literal truth do so out of reverence for the scriptures as the source and norm of all doctrine and faith and believe if you doubt the literal truth of one story all the other stories are called into question. Those who read Jonah as a parable or allegory also reverence the scriptures as the source and norm of all faith and doctrine and believe a story does not need to be literally true to be true. The point of this story, which I am quite willing to swallow as literally true, is in chapter four. Jonah did not want to go to Nineveh because he knew God would be merciful and forgive the enemies of Israel and that was “very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry.” (4:1) God provided shade to cool Jonah’s jets but then struck it down to make a point and Jonah sitting in the sun and lamenting the burned up bush was “angry enough to die.” (4:9) With or without the big fish story this is the part of the text that is literally true about us especially when like Jonah we care more about the bush of our own understanding than the “great city” of fellow believers whose fish story may be bigger or smaller than ours. 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Holy Cross Year A - John 3:13-17

John 3:13-17
“God did not send the Son into the world to condemn it” but apparently the church didn’t get the memo. We've copyrighted the Son and condemn anyone who does not buy into the franchise. On the other hand John 3:18 (…those who do not believe are condemned already) seems to give us permission to divide the world into us and them. So what gives? Is there a password to paradise or not? Whenever I ask that question I hear my teacher and mentor The Reverend Doctor Walter Bouman saying “that’s the wrong question.” Which is to say we tend to rush to the end of the story without considering the narrative. God’s intention to not send the Son into the world to condemn it is first and foremost a statement about God. Every two bit small g god knows how to put on a light show and beat down the peasants into submission. The big G God of Israel abandons the place of power to make a small hill outside an insignificant city of an occupied nation the location of suffering that will be salvation for the world. What we do with that doesn't have anything to do with God’s intention even if our acceptance or rejection holds consequences that trump God’s desire. The world gets condemnation. We invented it and have spent considerable time and energy finding ways to be creative in our cruelty. God is not the one who condemns. We are. But God offers a way out of our inhumanity by meeting the world at its worst and letting the world’s way condemn the Son sent to love. So the choice we are given is to believe that in the end the way of love will overcome the condemnation that comes naturally to us. 

Lectionary 24 A - Matthew 18:21-35

Matthew 18:21-35
This is a troublesome text in that it appears that the “sin-ee” (aka the one sinned against) is at the mercy of the sinner even though the sinner is the one who needs to be forgiven. Even more troubling is that Peter doesn’t ask more questions once Jesus multiplies Peter’s seven times sin to infinity and beyond. (77 or 70 times 7 is Jesus math which always equals always) So what if the sin is always the same sin? At what point do you say the one who is asking for forgiveness is just getting permission to sin again? Hello. Doesn’t Jesus know about codependency? I’ll ask forgiveness for that last remark. Sorry for taking a parable to places it was never meant to go. The bottom line is this. Jesus commands the church that bears his name to consider forgiveness asked for forgiveness received period end of sentence. Where the parable draws the line is that there is a consequence for forgiveness withheld which once again places the burden on the sin-ee and not the sinner. But that’s the way Jesus rolls. That is not to say we cannot forgive, and love for that matter, from a safe distance. Jesus said to pick up our cross but he does not mean we should be crucified.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Holy Cross Year A - 1 Corinthians 1:18-24

1 Corinthians 1:18-24
The world doesn’t care about the message of the cross and thinks weakness just means you are that much easier to kill. For most of our history the church has mimicked the way of the world protecting its place of privilege in pious language that masked the holy war of words and/or weapons that it waged against any and all opposition. Those days are almost behind us, thank God, which means we might be able to reclaim the foolish message of the cross where loss is gain, weakness is strength, and death is life. It does mean we will have to give up our duplicitous nature where we try to walk in the way of the cross without giving up at least a toehold in the way of the world. Jesus said it this way, “You cannot serve two masters.” (Matthew 6:24) So let’s just confess that we would have preferred a stronger Savior and because of that are always tempted to recreate God in our own image. The Good News is that we were created in God’s image and whenever and wherever we reclaim our divine DNA the foolish church that proclaims Christ crucified is the saving power of God for the world

Lectionary 24 A - Romans 14:1-12

Romans 14:1-12
I think vegetarians might have a quarrel or two with the apostle Paul over who is weak after all it's not easy to be vegetarian at a Texas BBQ joint. Thank God for pickles! Of course vegetarians take a little bit of ribbing in Texas but maybe not the same as in the early church where “you are what you eat” were fighting words. Centuries of animosity between Jew and Gentile did not disappear overnight. If anything the differences that could largely be avoided through segregation were now inescapable. So Paul reminds them that they are no longer defined by their personal piety for they belong to the Lord who welcomes Jew and Gentile alike. That is the part we miss when we elevate one form of piety above another without recognizing that the only question that matters is does it please the Lord. Of course what really pleases the Lord is when we live in harmony with one another which in the end is the highest form of praise. 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Holy Cross Day Year A - Psalm 98:1-4

Psalm 98:1-4
The psalmist praises God for the victory that vindicates a small nation planted between empires that is always at the mercy of the bigger kids on the block. We can sing the new song of salvation because God remembers God’s same old song of steadfast love and faithfulness even though we change our tune time and time again. If God were to give up on us the song would cease and God’s victory would fall on deaf ears. That means the marvelous thing God is able to do is transform tone deaf people into voices that harmonize with the One who is blessed by the joyful noise of shared song. 

Lectionary 24 A - Psalm 103:1-13

Psalm 103:1-13
This is a “bless the Lord, O my soul” psalm for all who are weighed down by the debt of their sin and held captive by the bill come due that cannot be repaid. That is not to say we do not need to hear God’s accusing voice or consider the anger of the Lord. No, our rebellious ways grieve God in the same way that a child’s willful act of disobedience troubles a parent. But God has determined to put aside righteous wrath in favor of mercy and compassion for God’s own sake because God’s soul is blessed when ours are set free. That is not to say we are set free to continue grieving God and add to our deficit.  As the apostle Paul says it is for freedom that we have been set free (Galatians 5:1). The gift of beginning each day with “bless the Lord, O my soul” is to be embraced by the steadfast love that knows no limits remembering anew the benefits that bless us and heal us from the dis-ease of our sin. Bless the Lord, O my soul!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Holy Cross Day Year A - Numbers 21:4-9

Numbers 21:4-9
I was bitten by a Coral Snake at Camp Lone Star, LaGrange, Texas, not because I complained against the Lord but because I was foolish and tried to pick up what I thought was a Texas Banded King Snake. There should be a rule or at least a helpful saying to prevent a college kid from Chicago from messin with Texas. Duh. “Red and yellow kill a fellow. Red and yellow venom lack” One wild ride to Brackenridge Hospital, Austin and a round of anti-venom later and I was as good as new which is more than I can say for the poor snake. The wilderness wanderings of Israel describe a difficult relationship between “You shall be my people” and “I will be your God” (Exodus 6:7). Both parties grow weary of each other on multiple occasions but of course “I will be your God” always has the last word. Which is to say “You will be my people” is “red and black venom lack” while “I will be your God” is “red and yellow kill a fellow”. The good news for the foolish and rebellious alike is that “I will be your God” continues to bear with “you will be my people” so that in the end the complainers and the foolish might go free.

Lectionary 24 A - Genesis 50:15-21

Genesis 50:15-21
This is the happy ending to a story that began with a sibling rivalry that led to violence and treachery and a father’s broken heart. It is as much our story as it is theirs. Like Jacob favoring Joseph because he grieves the death of Joseph’s mother Rachael we often do not anticipate the chain of events that follow in the wake of our grief. While Joseph can’t be blamed for being thrown down the well it was his boasting that pushed his brothers over the edge. We often speak in ways unbecoming without considering others. The violence and deceit that broke Jacob’s heart is the tragic consequence of jealously unchecked. This too is our story as from Cain and Abel to the present human beings would seem to be predisposed to violence. But the happy ending is our story as well. Jacob blesses Joseph’s sons before he dies and maybe repents of that colored coat and the misery it brought.  Joseph humbled by his journey from favored son to slave to master of Egypt’s grain surprises his fearful brothers and the family torn apart by deceit is restored in shared tears. It might read like a fairy tale but the truly happy ending to this story flows from a Father’s broken heart over his children’s warring madness who showing no favorites takes on the form of a servant to suffer the harm of the cross in order to preserve more than just “a numerous people.” It is God’s hope that knowing what we know we would be more inclined to live the end of the story than the part that comes more naturally to us. 

Friday, September 5, 2014

Lectionary 23 A - Matthew 18:15-20

Matthew 18:15-20
The Matthew 18 step by step process for promoting harmony in the church is often cited but rarely followed, at least in the order Jesus intended. More often than not we stop speaking to the one who has offended us while “venting” to one or two others who then spread it around the church until it gets back to the source of the sin. Along the way some will side with the sinner and the church becomes embroiled in a conflict that was originally a private matter between two people. Meanwhile the pagans and tax collectors look on and laugh and wonder why in the world anyone would want to belong to such a dysfunctional family. But maybe that is where the trouble starts for us. We all say the church is made up of sinners but then seem surprised when members of the church sin against each other. Let’s just own our dysfunctional status and agree that conflict in the church is the inevitable result of putting sinners in the same room and expecting them to get along without telling the truth to each other. But Jesus hopes that his love for us will lead to our loving him and our loving him will inevitably lead to loving the other sinners in the room enough to do a difficult thing. And so the reason you go in private to the one who has sinned against you is because you love Jesus and Jesus loves the dysfunctional family that bears his name.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Lectionary 23 A - Romans 13:8-14

Romans 13:8-14
It is not a debt we care to own up to as loving neighbor as yourself is not as sweet as it sounds. First of all we hardly love ourselves although we like ourselves well enough to fulfill desires as if they were needs. We almost always neglect the “neighbor” as defined by the parable of the Good Samaritan and avoid contact with them when we can. We don’t even fully love those who love us and withhold a certain amount of capital in reserve fearful that full commitment may mean bankruptcy. That’s the truth. Fear drives the process and love demands more than anyone is willing to pay. If it came easy we’d be better at it and the Bible wouldn’t have to talk about it so much. But as it is we are reluctant to love fully, especially when it means we have to sacrifice time or energy or pay real dollars on the debt. There are some who recklessly disregard conventional wisdom and even if they had a rainy day fund would have spent it long ago on the needs of others. We call them saints and most of them are dead or in prison or live in ways the rest of us do not care to live, thank you, very much. They do inspire us, though, don’t they? Maybe enough to put ourselves on a payment plan to pay down the debt of love we can never repay. For the Jesus who inspires saints to live with and love neighbors not like themselves died to save us all and pay the debt of love the law demanded.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Lectionary 23 A - Psalm 119:33-40

Psalm 119:33-40
The way of the Lord is life in all its fullness but it doesn’t come naturally. Our hearts are more inclined to unjust gain and the falsehood of fooling ourselves with excuses. That is why the psalmist prays to be taught the ways of the Lord and led in the paths of righteousness and turned from falsehoods that promise much but deliver nothing. The Lord’s reproach is the truth about us which is good enough reason to dread it. But then there is life on the other side of a just judgment which is why in our inmost being we long for the law of the Lord that is life.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Lectionary 23 A - Ezekiel 33:7-11

Ezekiel 33:7-11
God gives Ezekiel an incentive to warn the wicked, “you will surely die” by tying the prophet’s fate to speaking the difficult word of warning. The “prophetic” voices of our time need no such encouragement to preach against wicked behavior. Many of them make a lucrative career out of warning others although they spend most of their time preaching to the choir. There are some who risk ridicule by standing on street corners on a Saturday night warning wicked movie goers and weekend revelers of the error of their ways although personally I think they are misrepresenting the Jesus who ate and drank with tax collectors and sinners. The trouble is warnings fall on deaf ears without the benefit of a meaningful relationship and party poopers on street corners have little chance of saving anyone save those who already considered themselves to be saved. But the Lord’s lament, “as surely as I live I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked” is not the same as “turn or burn” as the warning “why will you die?” is not so much a threat as it is an invitation to live. That is because the Jesus who spent a good bit of time cavorting with sinners decided dying for them was the only way the wicked and the ones who warn them would have a chance to live.