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."

Monday, October 6, 2014

Lectionary 28 A - Isaiah 25:1-10

Isaiah 25:1-10
Isaiah imagines God will dine on death and swallow it up forever while the vast multitude of “all peoples” feasts on Chateaubriand and toasts God with a well-aged Cabernet. “Cheers!” It is a universal dream for all who have lived in a city of rubble or a ruined town – whether literally or figuratively. By that I mean we might not experience the physical destruction of our cities and towns but still live ruined lives behind high walls or experience relationships reduced to rubble while appearing to have all things under control. Either way the promise is the same. God will deal a death blow to all that diminishes or dominates or disgraces the gift of life and love. When we live into the promise of God’s intimacy with death (I will swallow it up forever) and us (I will wipe away the tears from your eyes) we are set free to live the future mountaintop feast in our present valley of famine. Which means God is already wiping away the tears from our eyes even if our feast is not yet.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Lectionary 27 A - Matthew 21:33-46

Matthew 21:33-46
Since the text says Jesus is talking about “them” we can safely assume he is not talking about “us.” But then the living word, sharper and more active than a two edged sword, (Hebrews 4:12) doesn’t let anyone off that easily. In many ways we are like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day. They were well versed in scripture and loved the law that revealed the way of the Lord. They were familiar with the pattern of religious ritual that gave shape to their every day and marked the passing of the seasons. They trained up their children in the way they should go (Proverbs 22:6) so that when it came to the time of their passing God would not abandon them to Sheol. Jesus, the self proclaimed rock rejected, threatened the very fabric of their religious life and no matter how Matthew remembered it the pious people of Jesus’ day believed they were serving God by wanting to arrest Jesus and make him conform to the faith of his forebears. So what might that say about the “us” that objects to being identified with “them”? We have ways set in stone that elevate human traditions to divine status. We judge others by their ability to conform to the pattern of our faith. We might be well meaning but that doesn’t mean we aren’t misguided. The good news is that the stone over which we stumble and the rock that crushes our personal preferences is the precious cornerstone that for the sake of those outside the faith would have us give away the vineyard in obedience to the heir who owns it.  

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Lectionary 27 A - Philippians 3:4-14

Like the apostle Paul I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh. Born to Lutheran educators, baptized in my first month, memorized the liturgy before I could read, confirmed by my thirteenth year, graduate of a Lutheran grade school, high school, college, and seminary and served as a Lutheran grade school teacher, youth director and pastor. I know we’re saved by grace but surely a Lutheran pedigree like that counts for something? Of course it does and in many ways it is the reason I am able to press on to take hold of the Christ who took hold of me through the water of baptism and the faith of parents and teachers. Paul considers confidence in the flesh as loss but clearly values the heritage it represents as well as the brothers and sisters according to the flesh for whom he would sacrifice his salvation. (Romans 9:3) So while we place no confidence in our religious pedigree we are grateful for the formation that does not happen without the family of faith.