Friday, February 27, 2015

Lent 2 B - Romans 4:13-25

Romans 4:13-25
Abraham “is the father of us all” is how Paul puts it. Three faiths claim what Paul proclaims. Father Abraham and Mother Sarah birthed Judaism through Isaac. Islam’s claim came through Ishmael, the son of Sarah’s slave. And Christianity got in through adoption. I wonder if God intended us to consider the children of the father of many nations as extended family. I don’t mean all branches of the family tree are able to hope against hope as the adopted children do. The legitimate children depend on what they do to be acceptable in the God of Abraham’s sight while we who didn’t have a prayer to be included recognize (I hope) our fortunate son and daughter status is due to what has been done for us. Therefore we hope against hope because truth is we were as good as dead before the mercy and grace of God appeared in the Christ who was handed over to death for our rebellion and raised for our justification.  Given the grace extended to us there may be room within our faith tradition to embrace the entire human family as brothers and sisters and work towards the good of all so that the faith of the adopted child becomes the way the other children of Abraham and Sarah and Hagar can also hope against hope and be reconciled by the only legitimate Son who is Abraham’s Lord. 

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Lent 2 B - Mark 8:27-38

Mark 8:27-38
The divine thing Peter’s mind could not comprehend was how his idea of a butt kicking, conquering hero Messiah could undergo great suffering, rejection and death. That was not the Messiah program that Peter signed on to when he left his nets to follow. And more to the point, his earthly idea was to be the rock upon which the Jesus church would be founded even if the two blowhard brothers, James and John, were lining up to sit at Jesus right and left. In the end he is the only disciple brave enough to follow the bound and gagged Jesus into the courtyard even though when push comes to shove his courage fails him and Jesus. Perhaps his bitter tears have as much to do with being ashamed of Jesus as hearing the cock crow. We’re not so different and much of what passes as priestly piety is really about power. Earthly boundaries erected around font and table and pulpit and pew can be ways we save our life instead of losing it for those God came to save.  Even claims of “Love wins!” might miss the point of what God is about when you consider that winning only happens when someone else loses. So if love does win, which I believe it does, it’s only because Jesus was willing to be the biggest loser.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Lent 2 B - Psalm 22:23-31

Psalm 22:23-31
The Gospels only record Jesus crying out “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1) but I imagine he recited the rest of Psalm 22 under his breath. His cry of dereliction (and deliverance) was for our sake as the “people yet unborn” so that we could believe the proclamation “The Lord has acted!” But I wonder if it wasn’t for himself as well. Hanging naked, bleeding, dying while the multitudes mocked him Jesus sought out the psalm that spoke to his agony “a pack of villains encircles me; they pierce my hands and my feet; all my bones are on display; people stare and gloat over me.” (vs. 16, 17) as well as the psalm that would strengthen his resolve “the Lord does not despise or abhor the poor and the Lord’s face is not hidden from them; when they cry out, the Lord hears them.” (vs. 24) So it is with us when faced with suffering and sorrow beyond our ability to bear. Just like Jesus we pour out our complaints to God trusting that God hears so that commending our spirits into God’s tender mercy we are confident God will deliver on the promise of peace in the here and now and the forever future.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Lent 2 B - Genesis 17:1-7; 15-16

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
Ninety-nine is not too old for a new life and a name change although Abraham might have preferred to be circumcised as an infant. I’m just saying. Of course Abraham wouldn’t be the father of many nations without Sarah and even if Isaac is named for her laughing at the thought of a child in her golden years it should be noted that Abraham laughed out loud at the thought as well. But that’s the way it is when you’ve spent a lifetime waiting for a promise to come true only to be disappointed time and again. And I imagine it became more difficult after Hagar bore Ishmael for then there was no doubt as to who was to blame for Sarah’s barren womb. But somehow through all the years Abraham and Sarah endured the sideways glances and whispered comments for the sake of the promise they barely believed. When the promise came true they were just as surprised as everyone else. We are as blessed by their laughing as their believing for if God allows room for disbelief in the mind of father Abraham and mother Sarah perhaps our believing has room for the doubtful laugh.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Lent 1 B - Mark 1:9-15

Mark 1:9-15
When immediately after hearing “You are my Son, the Beloved” you are driven into the wilderness where Satan and the wild beasts hold sway the temptation is to doubt one’s “Beloved” status. Satan doesn't have to do much more than ask the question in the same way Satan asked the first humans, “Did God really say…?” The question sowed the seed of doubt in their minds and it was intended to do so in the mind of Beloved as well. The first humans gave way to doubt and denied the relationship with the One who walked with them in the garden of perfection. The Beloved denied doubt and believed the voice “You are my Son” so that it spoke louder than his hunger or the tempter’s deceit or the wild beasts in the wilderness. We are tempted in the same way when we find ourselves driven into the wilderness of circumstances beyond our control or the difficulties we design that are destructive. Doubting our “beloved” status leads us to live in ways that devalue self and others so that we buy the lie and lose the paradise of peace and joy and love. The good news is that Jesus abandoned paradise to live in the wilderness of our world so that when we believe "the kingdom of God has come near" we might repent and believe the Good News. We are loved. 

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Lent 1 B - 1 Peter 3:18-22

1 Peter 3:18-22
I am freezing my ashes off in Chicago where I am interviewing for Calvary’s 2015/16 intern. I’ll tell you this. We would not be doing ashes outside at the train station or on the street corner in Chicago. First of all there aren’t any exposed foreheads and secondly Chicagoans have elevated avoiding eye contact to an art form. Probably because they’re all rushing to get indoors. To be fair I had some helpful (and even friendly) interactions today including a very nice waiter who noticed the way I frowned at my bowl of chili (it has BEANS!) and asked if I’d like some jalapenos. I’m finally warm or at least my mouth is. The reminder of our mortality (Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return) can only be fully heard and accepted when heard through the promise of resurrection for all who are imprisoned by the fear of death. Aubree Blomgren, yoga instructor extraordinaire, says it this way: the only reason we dare to enter the corpse pose (Shavasana) is because we are confident we will get up again. So today we acknowledge our death but are confident that in Christ our end is but the beginning. 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Lent 1 B - Psalm 25:1-10

Psalm 25:1-10
“Do not remember the sins of my youth” is the psalmist plea to God for the sins the psalmist cannot forget. It is often true for us as well. The sins of the past haunt the present and color the future a darker shade of grey. Even those of us who claim grace abounds and that God forgives ad forgets find ourselves mired in the mud of the past where we willfully decided to step off the path of the Lord and reject the ways that were made known to us. But God, mindful of mercy, is always present to shed light on that which we prefer to hide so that in the confession of regret and guilt and shame God might make “a new beginning from the ashes of our past.” (We Are Baptized in Christ Jesus by John Yilvisaker) When God instructs sinners in the way the first lesson is that whoever we were and whatever we may have done or left undone has been forgotten and no longer defines our present or predicts our future for when we put on Christ we are a new creation. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

Monday, February 16, 2015

Lent 1 B - Genesis 9:8-17

Genesis 9:8-17
It is not stated plainly but I think “never again” carries with it a certain amount of regret. Or if not regret at least a determination that extinguishing all life on the planet earth by drowning is not the final solution to the reality of evil. Our time is no more or less evil even if the scripture states that in Noah’s time “the whole earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence.” (Genesis 6:11)  Surely there were innocent children in Noah’s age?  And what of the multitude of animals that didn’t win the two by two lottery?  The evil of every age has always presented the righteous with a dilemma. Isn’t flooding the earth and killing every living creature on it as evil as whatever prompted such a response?  That is why in an equally evil age God remembered the covenant and chose to do the dying himself rather than making the whole world the scapegoat for sin. Not as an excuse for sin but an invitation for the righteous to live in such a way that invites others to climb aboard the ark of salvation that is life in the Lord. 

Friday, February 13, 2015

The Feast of Transfiguration Year B - Mark 9:2-9

Mark 9:2-9
There is nothing in this text that indicates the disciples intended to build dwelling places of worship so they could stay on the mountain even though preachers often go there. “We can’t stay on the mountain! We are called to the valley.” Bottom line - Peter, James and John were desperate to get off the mountain. The Jesus they knew as a real human being was glowing like a nuclear reactor and talking with ghosts. The offer of three booths is Peter’s way of saying, “please don’t hurt us.” So the story is not about mission or ministry per se. It’s all about the nature of Jesus who throughout his time on earth was always able to “Shine, Jesus, Shine” but choose to be the One who hung out with the least and the lost and the lonely. I think we (myself included) always get God wrong. We are either afraid of what God might do because of what we have done or on the flip side not done. Or we think that God is not intimately involved with the least and the lost and the lonely and is more concerned with the way we color inside or outside the lines. Truth is God just wants to know and be known by us because God knows when that happens we who are terrified on the mountaintop will be courageous in the valley. And when we are courageous in the valley we will color inside the lines where the least and the lost and the lonely (including ourselves) live outside the line of the life that denies us all the life of abundance.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Feast of Transfiguration Year B - 2 Corinthians 4:3-6

2 Corinthians 4:3-6
I think sometimes the minds of unbelievers see the Gospel more clearly than those who have been given the light of the knowledge of the glory of God. Of course they don’t know what they are saying or doing is what the Gospel is all about and in that sense they are near sighted and in need of the Christian lens. It is only because the image of God lived and died in the flesh that you and I dare to believe and proclaim that God is desperately and ultimately in love with the people who inhabit this planet. The god of this world that blinds the minds of unbelievers and believers alike also inhabits human flesh, namely yours and mine. You don’t need to look any farther than the human heart to find the devil inside. But the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness” is more than able to overcome our love of sinning in all its devious forms so that what we become is the lens through which unbelievers see the Christ. 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Feast of Transfiguration Year B - Psalm 50:1-6

Psalm 50:1-6
The God far off comes near in fire and smoke and tempest to judge those who think their sacrifices will keep the righteous judge at bay. It is a common complaint of God. “These people honor me with their lips but their hearts are far from me.” (Isaiah 29:13) God is done with the sacrifices that have no heart and is tired by those who recite the statutes but fail to live the covenant. So God rebukes those who hate discipline and live without a concern for the consequences of deceitful lives. But “the Gospel is always bad news before it is good news” (Friederich Buechner) and for the sake of the creation gone horribly wrong the perfection that came out of Zion was abandoned by the faithful and disfigured by the cross only to shine forth from the empty tomb. Because of God's self sacrifice our sacrifice that is pleasing to God is a contrite heart and a life of thanksgiving that honors the God of salvation.

Monday, February 9, 2015

The Feast of Transfiguration - 2 Kings 2:1-12

2 Kings 2:1-12
This is a weird story of water partings and whirlwinds and pregnant pauses – “Yes, I know: be silent." But when the moment comes Elisha sees the chariots and cries out, “Father! Father!” both for Elijah’s passing and the promise “if you see me… it will be granted." Tearing his clothes is a break with the past in the same way that picking up the mantle embraces the future. The passing of the mantle is what the church has been doing for thousands of years. In many ways we inherit a double (or more) portion of what has come before by building on the foundation of everyday saints and sinners all the way back to the first witnesses of the resurrection. Even in this time of uncertainty the story of “God with us” is more than able to preserve the traditions of the past while propelling us into the uncharted future. Of course some garments will be left behind having served their purpose but when we invoke the name of the God of those who gifted us with their prophetic spirit the waters that block our way and threaten to overwhelm us will part and the church will cross over into God’s forever future.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Epiphany 5 B - Mark 1:29-39

Mark 1:29-39
Jesus needed to get away for awhile just to pray. He wasn’t escaping from the burden of being a blessing to a feverish mother-in-law or a city full of sick folk or from the work of putting demons in their place. The whole city that gathered at his door at sundown would be back at sunrise and Jesus knew that the healing he needed was to get away for awhile. He got up in the darkness and went to a deserted place so that he could commune with the One who sent him to be a blessing. We live in a 24/7 wired world and even when we are alone we tend to be distracted. But what we really need in our down time is holy time by which I mean a silent sacred space to commune with the One who sends us out to be a blessing. I don’t do it very well since it takes some practice and maybe that’s the point. I don’t know if a 2015 Jesus would tweet or text or Facebook or blog but I’m sure if he did he’d find time to turn it all off in order to reconnect with the One who sent him to proclaim the “kingdom of God has come near” message. So if Jesus needed down time to fuel his up time it follows that people and pastors whose lives are a blessing to others need it as well.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Epiphany 5 B - 1 Corinthians 9:16-23

1 Corinthians 9:16-23
“I have become all things to all people” is not such a good thing to be unless it is “all for the sake of the Gospel” but even then it’s a dangerous thing to do. Of course proclaiming the Gospel is a noble and worthwhile endeavor but I wonder how many professional proclaimers have sacrificed health and home by trying to be all things to all people while never being true to themselves. I’m not confessing. I’m just asking the question. But truth is according to all sorts of surveys we clergy are a pretty unhealthy lot and it’s not because the devil’s out to get us. I think it has something to do with the misapplication of this text by a profession with high expectations (mostly unspoken) and low reward (at least in the way the world measures it) and, more recently, diminished respect so that the clerical collar is often an object of ridicule in the wider culture. But there is a greater truth and that is that the obligation to proclaim cannot be escaped and “woe to me if I do not proclaim” means the call is not an option. That being said we can be better on both sides of the pew of being true to ourselves while being all things to each other for the sake of Gospel.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Epiphany 5 B - Psalm 147:1-11, 20c

Psalm 147:1-11, 20c
The God of abundant power, who can hurl down hail like crumbs and whip up a winter storm like the one that buried Chicago is the same God who heals the brokenhearted and lifts up the downtrodden. The big G God does not delight in the things that we do and although I love my strong horse Seraphina and always hope for speedy 5k when I run the Cowtown every February Psalm 147 reminds us to pay attention to the things that God cares about. God delights in those who hope in the steadfast love that speaks peace to Jerusalem. Even though the God come down was cast out by his own people who knew his ordinances God did not deal with them as any other nation for the One cast out by Israel was the One who was destined to be a blessing to every nation. To fear God, then, is to be people who care for the weak and weary and work for peace while singing praise to the gracious God of infinite patience. But if God doesn't mind so much I'd still like to run a speedy 5k. 

Monday, February 2, 2015

Epiphany 5 B - Isaiah 40:21-31

Isaiah 40:21-31
The One who sits above the circle of the earth and stretches out the heavens like a curtain, who brings princes to naught and dismisses the rulers of the earth abandoned the place of ultimate power to inhabit human flesh. Isaiah didn’t know it when he spoke these words to the exhausted captives in Babylon but that is the way by which the Holy One would become intimate with the ways of the weak and powerless and exhausted. The little g gods bluster and bray “to whom will you compare us?” but the big G God demonstrates ultimate power by giving it up. The Holy One will grow faint and weary and as a young man will stumble and fall on the way to the hill of crucifixion. And when the powers of darkness rejoiced at such foolishness the Holy One stepped out of the tomb and banished them to hell. Have you not heard? Do you not know? Our way is not unknown to the Lord and our cause is not disregarded by the One who knows us so well. The unknowable, unsearchable God is as close as our own breath because the Holy One of Israel has lived our life and died our death “for us, ahead us, instead of us” (Walt Bouman) so that when this flesh is finally worn out we might rise on wings like an eagle and fly away. In the meantime we are encouraged to live the future in the present until “some glad morning…”