Friday, January 30, 2015

Epiphany 4 B - Mark 1:21-28

Mark 1:21-28
The unclean spirit who cries out in the synagogue obeys Jesus and comes out of the man. The scribes reject Jesus and on more than one occasion claim that it is Jesus who is possessed. It seems it was always the possessed and the dispossessed that recognized the Christ in Jesus. The Gerasene demoniac, the Samaritan leper, the Syrophoenician woman, the Centurion with a dead daughter, Zacchaeus the tax collector to name but a few. The scribes and Pharisees and teachers of the law only recognize a Jesus who threatens the authority they have claimed for themselves. But the spirit that recognizes the Christ in Jesus comes out because it could not resist the authority of Jesus. Perhaps the spirits that possess us would respond in the same way if we weren’t so good at keeping them from crying out.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Epiphany 4 B - 1 Corinthians 8:1-13

1 Corinthians 8:1-13
Differences in theology and practice rarely lead one side to change behavior so as not to offend the other. The more natural course of action is to demonize the opposition and become more firmly entrenched in the absolute truth of one’s own position. Meat sacrificed to idols was a big deal for those who all their life had been taught that destruction follows consumption and God’s righteous judgment could only be appeased by ritual purity. Even the apostle Peter cried, “Heaven forbid” when offered shrimp on the sheet! (Acts 10:14) Paul’s use of the term “weak believers” is not meant to denigrate their faith but merely to point out that their trust in the mercy of God is not quite as free from constraints as is Paul’s and because he sees Christ in every believer, weak, strong and in-between he refrains from practicing his freedom. Maybe if we were to think of each other as family, claimed by Christ for whom and through whom all things exist, we would stop sinning against each other by always insisting on having it our way. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Epiphany 4 B - Psalm 111

Psalm 111
The gracious and merciful Lord is ever mindful of the covenant which is to say God remembers us even if we forget to give thanks to God with our whole heart. Of course the covenant is a two way street even if God does most of the heavy lifting. And while we are always on the receiving end of God’s forever covenant of redemption it is God’s intention that in God’s remembering us we would remember God and grow in grace becoming the faithful and just works of God’s hands. When we practice the beginning of wisdom, which is to recognize God in the everyday and the extraordinary, God rejoices and our whole life is transformed into praise.  

Monday, January 26, 2015

Epiphany 4 B - Deuteronomy 18:15-20

Deuteronomy 18:15-20
Jesus will run into the problem of a prophet raised up “from among your own people” as a “prophet is not without honor except in his hometown.” (Mark 6:4) Truth is a fair amount of people will only hear “what their itching ears want to hear” (2 Timothy 4:3) so hometown prophets may be tempted to only speak soft words. Other prophets consider the measure of their word by its capacity to offend but maybe they just get off on making people mad. The Lutheran two step of Law / Gospel preaching is meant to convict both people and preacher who are then “driven into the arms of the Gospel.” (Luther) I’ve never shied away from a difficult word because I know it is a word I need to hear and since I always preach to myself I suppose God thought others needed to hear the difficult word as well. And I can tell you I am always desperate for a forgiving word from God so maybe others need to hear that just as much as I do. I believe that is the partnership of prophet and people that God intended so that the people of God might become a prophetic word for the world.  

Friday, January 23, 2015

Epiphany 3 B - Mark 1:14-20

Jesus has a one sentence sermon that says it all. The time is fulfilled – which means the future has come into the present. The kingdom of God has come near – which means God has come down to dwell with people and establish the reign of love. Repent – which is to say stop living in ways that deny the forever future reign of God can be realized today. Believe the good news – which means live like you trust it is true. The trouble is we have one foot firmly planted in the world while we tap a toe into the life of the forever future and never fully repenting of the past we never quite live into the future. However, there are moments when random acts of kindness soften a harsh world or times when walking with a loved one right up to the edge death really does make death look like a birth or when we become so convinced of God’s love for us and others that we give ourselves and others a break and rejoice in the wonder of each moment. One sentence says it all. 

Epiphany 3 B - 1 Corinthians 7:29-31

1 Corinthians 7:21-31
I don’t want to question the Apostle Paul’s timeline but did he believe “the appointed time has grown short” would go on for 2000 years or more? And if he thought the “grown short” time was longer than a lifetime would he have encouraged people to live as if the present form of the world passing away was a tomorrow come today? Truth is he got it wrong. But then so did a lot of the early Christians. I suppose we could blame it on the Gospel writers who remembered Jesus saying one generation “shall see my return”. (Not the same thing as blaming Jesus) I don’t know what Paul meant but I think the eminent end time stuff gives people an excuse to not live in the present. And if I could dare to speak for Jesus I think that would tick him off royally – since he is the King who calls us to make a difference in the present. Which means we can live the future in the present and not worry about the things that concern the apostle Paul.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Epiphany 3 B - Psalm 62:5-12

Psalm 62:5-12
Waiting in silence is not something that comes naturally to most, especially when unsteady circumstances call for a rock and salvation stronghold that cannot be shaken. Perhaps “pour out your hearts” should begin the psalm and “wait in silence” end it. Or maybe the two can be considered the same thing when one trusts that the God who searches hearts and minds knows what we need before we do. And even if our lives are relatively stable neither those of high degree nor those of low estate can long delay the inevitable for like a fleeting breath the span of life doesn't even tip the scale of eternity. But if we trust our lives are in the hands of the One to whom steadfast love belongs we are able to endure even the specter of our inevitable end where we will be repaid according to our deeds for the rock of salvation was crowned with a cross so that our “Lord have mercy” would not fall on deaf ears. 

Monday, January 19, 2015

Epiphany 3 B - Jonah 3:1-5, 10

Jonah 3:1-10
God’s mind was changed but Jonah’s was not. In the beginning of the story Jonah tries to avoid going to Nineveh because he believes God’s word and is counting on it. If the people of Nineveh do not repent they will be destroyed and since Jonah would like nothing more than that he goes in the opposite direction hoping to seal the deal and call God’s bluff. But God trumps Jonah and has a great fish swallow him to get him to the church on time. Since the people of Nineveh worship a fish god in the form of a man Jonah doesn’t have to cry out very loudly to get the pagans to pay attention. Jonah is so angry he would rather die than endure God’s mercy for Israel’s enemies but then God is always more willing to forgive than we are. I know Lyle Lovett wasn’t thinking of this story when he wrote God Will but it seems to me if Jonah sang country he could put his heart into this song. 

“And who keeps on loving you
When you've been lying
Saying things that ain't what they seem
God does
But I don't
God will
But I won't
And that's the difference
Between God and me.

Of course we believe the “difference between God and me” is Jesus so if we want to put our heart into God’s way of being we will have to sing a different tune.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Epiphany 2 B - John 1:43-51

John 1:43-51
Apparently Nathaniel’s disparaging remark about Nazareth is just plain old prejudice and doesn't count as deceit. Or it could be that Jesus is engaging in a little sarcasm himself. At any rate the encounter with Jesus moves Nathaniel beyond his limited understanding of “can anything good come from Nazareth” to seeing the capital G Good that came from the unlikely place. He proclaims “You are the Son of God” which is to say “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God… and we have beheld his glory…” (John 1:1, 14) In the knowing Nathaniel becomes one who will see the future in the present because those who believe “have already passed from death to life.” (John 5:24) We are not so different from Nathaniel. We are often found sitting under the fig tree of our own religious prejudice. Can anything good come from St. Louis? (Lutheran Church Missouri Synod) Or can anything good come from Chicago? (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) Or closer to home, can anything good come from the city on the hill – Dallas Theological Seminary? We who doubt whether good can come from places we dismiss need to be found by Jesus under the fig trees of our limited understanding and like Nathaniel journey from guile to goodness so that the world will come to know the Good that came from Nazareth.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Epiphany 2 B - 1 Corinthians 6:11-20

1 Corinthians 6:11-20
Corinth was the “sin city” of the 1st century and the Christians living there struggled to be “in the world but not of the world.” Judging by the contents of the correspondence they didn’t do very well and some, like the man sleeping with his father’s wife, (1 Corinthians 5:1) even made the pagans blush. So Paul’s caveat “not everything is beneficial” might have been lost on those who said “I have the right to do whatever I want.” The trouble was a misapplication of the Gospel that had rightly repealed the requirements of the law, namely food restrictions, sacrifices and circumcision. A good number of the Corinthians thought that meant they were free to do as they pleased; after all they were saved by grace. We can fall into the same trap thinking that as long as we feel badly about whatever we’ve done we are good to go and do whatever again. Unfortunately Lutherans tend to be the most susceptible to what Dietrich Bonhoeffer labeled “cheap grace”. The cost of sin was born by Christ but we continue to run a tab whenever we are mastered by the very things from which Christ has set us free. But the Lutheran two step of Law/Gospel was always meant to lead to an amendment of sinful ways albeit without dancing into the sin of being sanctimonious, not an easy step to master. The good news is that those united with Christ are one with His spirit which means help is always just a prayer away. 

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Epiphany 2 B - Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18

Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18
I’m not feeling very “marvelously made” as the flu bug Grinch that stole my Christmas Eve is still messing with my “inmost being.” Even so my wondrously knit together self is doing its best to overcome the invasion of the much smaller creature that our faith claims was also made by God. I’m not sure which day the flu bug came into being but it was probably the same day the Lord made mosquitos. Not the best day of creation in my mind. Of course the more important passages of this psalm have to do with the One who did the delicate needle work in our mother’s womb and even if we might like to flee from God’s presence now and then there is a comfort in knowing that the Holy is always close at hand especially when our inmost being experiences times of sorrow and suffering and, yes, a flu bug that won’t away. 

Monday, January 12, 2015

Epiphany 2 B - 1 Samuel 3:1-20

1 Samuel 3:1-20
The call of Samuel is a sad story for Eli but then his response to the word Samuel received indicates Eli knew it was coming and in some ways welcomed it. His sons were scoundrels stealing sacrifices and sleeping with the women who served at the tent of meeting. Eli rebuked them but only as a plea and not as a parent so that the sins of the sons were visited upon the father and vice versa. Samuel, on the other hand, learned well from Eli and in many ways was the son Eli wished his boys could have been. That’s not to say that children who behave well in public are not sinners, we are all infected by the rebellious ways of the first couple, but unlike Eli’s sons Samuel listened to the Lord. We’d like to think that our action or inaction doesn't have consequences and while we don’t operate with some sort of Christian karma, what we do, or don’t do, matters. That means what the Lord would have us do begins with listening.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

The Baptism of Our Lord Year A - Mark 1:4-11

Mark 1:4-11
I've always thought the Holy Spirit descending like a dove was an odd way for the Holy Spirit to appear. Some dove lovers may disagree but I don’t think doves make a very graceful descent. There’s a lot of flapping involved and their landings look a little unsteady to me. Of course the theological connection with baptism is the dove’s association with purity and innocence and the dove of the flood who returns with the olive branch to let Noah know all is well. (Matthew 10:16). On the other hand I like the idea of the Holy Spirit coming down like a dove as opposed to a Red Tailed Hawk (which when circling overhead makes the chickens in our yard very nervous) So the Spirit descends on the Son this way and that with a lot of flapping and not like a ballistic bird missile with claws at the ready. And the Voice from heaven declared what John the Baptizer and everyone else had been waiting for. “When the time had fully come…” is how Paul describes it, the Beloved born of Mary was born again in water and word. That’s good news for those of us who in remembering our baptism (even if we can’t) find a sure and certain hope that God comes to us as a dove and not a raptor and as far as God is concerned we too are beloved. 

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The Baptism of Our Lord Year B - Acts 19:1-7

The book of Acts makes it sound as easy as 1-2-3. All it takes is a one sentence explanation and these disciples of John who have never “even heard there is a Holy Spirit” become disciples of Jesus and start speaking in tongues. We live in a world where people tend to hold onto what they know a little more tightly and are suspicious of things “we've not even heard of.” But maybe these disciples of John were looking for the “one whose sandals I am unworthy to tie” just like John was and all they needed was someone to say, “we've have found the one you are looking for.” Maybe it is easy for us as well as long as we are ready to give a reason for the hope we have (1 Peter 3:15) since it seems like we live in a time when people are anxious for something to hope in. But that means we will have to do something Lutherans generally “have not even heard of” namely talking about Jesus outside of church.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Baptism of Our Lord Year B - Psalm 29

Psalm 29
Ascribe to the Lord stock show weather. It’s such a common phenomenon in Fort Worth, Texas this time of year that all you have to do is say to someone on a cold day “stock show weather” and they will nod and smile and say how much they are done with winter. I don’t want to say the folks in Fort Worth are wimps but truth is we don’t know what really cold weather is. On the other hand that is why we live in Fort Worth and not Minneapolis. Psalm 29 is the big G God doing stock show weather on steroids and maybe that is a good thing to remember for those of us who prefer God to be a little warmer and less volatile. That being said and accepted means that a God who cares for the least and the lost, who is capable of mass destruction but withholds lightning flashes, is a God whose love trumps judgment. The little g gods of this world revel in mass destruction. The big G God who can rock stock show weather on a whim revels in mercy which for us is a perfect storm.

Monday, January 5, 2015

The Baptism of Our Lord Year B - Genesis 1:1-5

Genesis 1:1-5
The debate about creation tends to focus on how long it took to get the formless void to take the shape we recognize. Truth to be told I don’t think the creation account is about how long it took even if I am perfectly willing to accept that if God wanted the challenge of creation in six twenty-four hour days God was up to it. I find the more difficult question to be why. Some will say that it was out of love that God said, “Let there be light” but I am sure the universe would have been just as happy as a formless void without the darkness humanity has visited upon it. I know I wouldn’t care if I’d never been. How would I even know the difference? So I don’t think the first act of creation was about us. It was about God’s need to bring order to chaos so that God’s creative nature could be expressed in the crowning achievement of the sixth day. Which is to say that though the scriptures record Adam’s reaction to Eve as “flesh of my flesh” I image God’s reaction after breathing life into the dust that became flesh to be so similar as to be the same. So I stand corrected. It was all about love.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Christmas 2 B - John 1:1-18

John 1:1-18
There are plenty of small g gods who have become flesh and walked among us but they tend to behave like we do which is why we don’t recognize them when they walk among us. The Word made flesh wasn't recognized because the “In the Beginning” Word didn't act like a Big G God in human flesh. The One who was a legitimate God, having created the heavens and the earth from scratch, was born as an illegitimate child to a world that doesn't value such humble beginnings and persecutes those who enter the world in such a way. But the glory beheld by the disciples that became for them and us “grace upon grace” was that the Word made flesh acted in ways God had always intended for us to act. Humility, mercy, kindness, long suffering love and self-sacrifice. That is why the world did not know him. In the end we will see that Jesus’ way of being was what has true and lasting value and that all the ways we chased after the world’s values was fool’s gold at best.  So if you are the kind of person that makes resolutions maybe you should resolve to receive the Word made flesh this New Year’s Day and live more fully into the life that is a light shining in the darkness.