Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Resurrection of Our Lord Year B - Psalm 118:1-2; 14-24

Psalm 118:14-24
The Lord is the psalmist’s strength and song because in the “day that the Lord has made” the right arm of the Lord has done mighty things. But what about in the day when “the Lord punished me sorely” and the only place left to go was to be handed over to death?  If every day is a day the Lord has made then the Lord is my strength and my song everyday even in the dark day of death. That is why we can speak the words of Psalm 118 “there are shouts of joy and victory in the tents of the righteous” when we gather under a tent at a graveside service. Granted our shouts of joy and victory are subdued by tear stained eyes and sobbing but then contrary to popular thought it is not our voice that the dearly departed hears. No. They hear the vast multitude too great too count – a hundred trillion, gazillion voices and beyond shouting Alleluia (the aloha of heaven) for while we look at a casket and wonder how we can go on without them the one who has crossed over is filled with the wonder of beauty beyond imagination, joy beyond description, love that cannot be contained, life that is pure and full of peace, holy and eternal. Those are the voices longtime Calvary member Susan Thomas heard yesterday afternoon when she took her last breath in this life only to take her first breath in the next. As beautiful as Easter services will be at Calvary this Sunday I can’t imagine Susan will be sorry to miss them this year. We will miss her. I know I will. But the promise of Psalm 118 is that one day we will know what she knows and when the gates of righteousness open for us Susan’s voice will be one of the vast multitude that welcomes us shouting Alleluia! Aloha!

Monday, March 30, 2015

The Resurrection of Our Lord Year B - Acts 10:34-43

Acts 10:34-43
God’s “no partiality” is still particular even if the promise to Jews was extended to Gentiles. That doesn't mean the nature of the arrangement wasn't radically changed. God cut circumcision, the signature sign of the covenant, along with the restricted diet, the observance of days, the sacrifices, etc. But the new “no partiality” is still only shown to those who fear God and do what is right. That means in the most important way nothing has changed in that fearing God and doing what was right was always what God had in mind even if those who lived the outward signs failed to embrace the inward ways. God desires relationship not sacrifice. So how do we who are the recipients of the new “no partiality” repay the favor? I’m afraid we write new rules and make our peculiarities particular to God. Who knows if the God who gave up kosher to include those who think everything's better with bacon might also give up all things for the sake of those God always intended to include in the “no partiality” covenant. Who knows? What we do know is that God determined to die hanging on a tree for the sake of those who could care less which may mean God is partial even to those who fail to fear God and do what is right.

Friday, March 27, 2015

The Sunday of the Passion Year B - Mark 14:1- 15:47

Mark 14:1-15:47
The Passion of the Christ according to Mark begins with a woman (name forgotten) who is remembered for her costly act of devotion and ends with two women (names remembered) who see where “he was laid”. It is a story with the usual cast of characters in a human drama; betrayers, deniers, accusers, abusers, the clueless crowd crying crucify and the faithful few fear scattered and hiding. In the center of it all is the One to whom the “beautiful thing is done” by the name forgotten woman as a sign of the burial that the women names remembered see. From the table with the twelve to the garden of “take this cup from me” the confident One who predicts his death and resurrection moves inextricably to the moment where “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?” means the Holy One bears the full weight of the world gone horribly wrong. Not that God the (perfect) Father turns his back on the (sin carrying sacrifice) Son but that God enters so fully into the human rebellion against the Divine desire for love that the power and majesty of the “in the beginning” creating Word is abandoned to the inevitable reality of “he emptied himself and humbled himself unto death.” (Philippians 2:7-8) A God divested of power is a God quickly stripped of life. So the beginning might be as important as the end. The woman (name forgotten) is remembered because the one she anointed for burial while alive came back to life after he was dead so that the women (names remembered) could point to the empty place where “swear to God” they saw him buried.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Sunday of the Passion - Year B Philippians 2:5-11

Philippians 2:5-11
I cannot say equality with God is something I would let go of and I’m guessing you wouldn't either. And if I found myself on other side of the Divine I would surely not choose the cross as an exit strategy. So God is not like me although God hopes that even if Christ is not like me I might be like Christ Jesus – “Let this mind be in you.” If God were a gambler we would clearly be the long shot but then again God is “all in” and has nothing to lose except his life – which in the end turns out to be the winning hand. So I guess “let this mind be in you” means be like God and bet everything on a losing hand.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Sunday of the Passion Year B - Psalm 31:9-16

Psalm 31:9-16
Psalm 31 is the song of sorrow for the multitudes who suffer strength failing sighs and waste away with grief. Scorned by enemies and abandoned by friends they are forgotten like the long dead though they live in plain sight. We should take note that in the Christ God chose to embody this psalm instead of “Be still and know that I am God!” (Psalm 46) even though in the end every knee will bow and every tongue will be silent - not counting that every tongue will declare Jesus is Lord. (Philippians 2:10-11) The story of the passion, from palm fronds raised in praise to the palms of his hands pierced by nails, is the story God chose to incarnate. I know in light of what I've written the old saying attributed to Mary Harris "Mother" Jones, “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable” might be apropos but I think comfort might be its own affliction when God so clearly identifies with the opposite. So I will confess that even my “worst of times” would be the “best of times” for those who “are as useless as a broken pot” and the only hope I have is that God does not hold the affliction of my comfort against me. But then “to whom much is given much is required” means those afflicted with plenty are called by Christ to use their “much is given” to comfort those who are afflicted by want and thereby enter Psalm 31 with those who live it 24/7.

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Sunday of the Passion Year B - Isaiah 50:4-9

Isaiah 50:4-9
James, the brother of the Lord, presumes teachers will be judged more strictly for no other reason than presuming to be teachers. (James 3:1) No one received a harsher and less deserved judgment than his half brother, the one given “the tongue of the teacher” who did not hide his face from insult and spitting. But the lesson the teacher learned "morning by morning" was not sufficient to sustain his life when at the third hour he was stripped naked and nailed to wood. Of course it was because he gave his back to those who struck him and his cheek to those who pull out the beard that the Word made flesh was not put to shame even when subjected to a cruel and unjust death. This is the mystery of God becoming one with all that has gone so horribly wrong with the creation. The creator is crucified by those created in the image of God. And the final irony is that he is killed for being more righteous than the religion he came to redeem. If that were the end of his story the story of the world’s suffering would have no end but since his end is our beginning the weary world will be sustained by the word that even death could not silence.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Lent 5 B - John 20:20-36

John 12:20-36
I’m not sure why but “We wish to see Jesus” has always reminded me of Dorothy asking to see the wizard in The Wizard of Oz. Truth to be told the Wizard of Oz was a very scary movie my family watched every year. Some of my very first memories are hiding my face in a pillow whenever the Wicked Witch of the West appeared on our black and white Admiral TV. The Jesus the Greeks wished to see was not nearly as scary as the wicked witch but that is not to say his way of being wasn't troubling. Hating one’s life in this world has led to all sorts of scary scenarios that have had little to do with what Jesus was about. But if we cling to the notion that God’s way of being is not like a charlatan behind the curtain but rather a way home that has heart and brain and courage then all the good things of faith follow. 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Lent 5 B - Hebrews 5:5-10

Hebrews 5:5-10
There’s not much to say about Melchizedek since he’s really just a bit player in the Bible and most of what is said about him is shrouded in mystery and speculation. But Melchizedek is not the point of the passage. Learning obedience from suffering is. During the days of our lives we experience suffering, both our own as well as the pain and sorrow of those connected to us. But submission to suffering does not mean grin and bear it since fervent cries and tears are anything but silent. Jesus' obedience is not about being stoic. It's about being steadfast. He did not cease in crying out. It was his obedience unto death that made him perfect. Hebrews is the letter that contains descriptions of Jesus like “since the children have flesh and blood he shared their humanity” (2:14) and “he was tempted as we are in every way yet without sin” (4:15) and “he suffered death…so he might taste death for everyone.” (2:9) The point of all this is that we who are flesh and blood, tempted in every way, with our days numbered, can hope that our fervent cries and tears will be heard by the One who can save us from death. Not because Jesus is like Melchizedek but because Jesus became like us so that we will one day be like him.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Lent 5 B - Psalm 51:1-12

Psalm 51:1-12
Bathsheba may have had a different opinion about King David’s Psalm 51 “against you only have I sinned” since David raped her, murdered her husband and at some level condemned her first born to an untimely death. But then sins against God are always suffered by the humans who bear the brunt of the wickedness of self-centered ways. The only way this psalm is redemptive is if David spoke it first to Bathsheba for if God was "done evil" by the “man after God’s own heart” it was Bathsheba who was “sinned against” by the King of Israel. The nature of God’s redeeming love is that those forgiven turn from their wicked ways and live different lives. David paid double for his sins as the sword never left his house and he suffered the loss of a son he loved. “Absalom. Absalom. My son. My son.” (2 Samuel 18:33) One hopes his sin was always before him as he learned to love Bathsheba beyond the first blush of his lust. We also suffer the consequences of our sin even if we are fully forgiven. But consequences are redemptive even as they are painful for they tune our ears to the sounds of joy and gladness where pure hearts created within us live and love in ways that are Spirit willing.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Lent 5 B - Jeremiah 31:27-34

Jeremiah 31:27-34
Jeremiah’s prophecy of the “days that are surely coming” came when (thanks to Cyrus the Great) the Jewish captives in Babylon “returned unto Zion with singing” even though the “everlasting joy upon their heads” (Isaiah 35) had a shelf life that was not long lived. And truth to be told their return was not nearly as easy as the prophecy imagined. So what do we do with the prophetic word that is incomplete or unfulfilled? Theologians talk about the “now and the not yet” by which they mean to say anticipating the future fulfilled promise in the here and now has some effect on the way one lives in the present. President Snow (The Hunger Games) said it this way. “Hope. It is the only thing stronger than fear. A little hope is effective. A lot of hope is dangerous.” That’s what the “days are surely coming” are all about. Hope. A lot of hope that love will win out and that all the ways that neighbors are wicked towards each other will be forgiven and forgotten by God and neighbors alike. And if our hope in God’s imagined future is dangerous enough the now will begin to look more like the not yet well before the not yet becomes the forever now. 

Friday, March 13, 2015

Lent 4 B - John 3:14-21

John 3:14-21
Hezekiah broke the bronze serpent into pieces (2 Kings 18:3-4) because the people were burning incense to it which you might have done if as a child you were told the boogie man story of deadly vipers in the desert. But in the Gospel of John God repeats the feat in a time when the poison of complaining was the contagion of religious ritual and hearts were far from God while lips piously offered praise. Our worship is idolatrous when it fails to understand God prefers real relationship to ritual or when our professed love of God does not translate into a life lived for the neighbor which is the way we love the world God so loved. Anything less turns the cross into just another snake on a pole where darkness masquerades as light. But whereas the image Moses fashioned became something that needed to be broken into pieces it is the Son of God “high and lifted up” that breaks us so that we might be refashioned to love the light and live the life that is eternal in our everyday.  

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Lent 4 B - Ephesians 2:1-10

Ephesians 2:1-10
“Children of wrath” ways are lived at one's own expense even if there is often collateral damage. That is to be expected when one is driven to satisfy the cravings of the flesh with its thoughts and desires and deny one's identity as a handiwork of God designed to do good works. The trouble is transgressions and sins are easily identified in wanton ways but are not so easy to detect when hidden behind walls of self-righteous piety. To be saved by grace means those who know they are far from God and those who think they share a bathroom with the Almighty occupy the same room, which is to say, the place we neither design nor build so that "no one can boast." The truth that escapes us time and again is that the One who could return wrath for wrath is rich in mercy but as a remedy and not an excuse. What God believes, even if we don’t, is that love is the way wrathful hearts are warmed and hardened hearts are softened so that we all become as merciful as the one who loves both.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Lent 4 B - Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22

Psalm 107 is a long song that describes the rebellious ways of God’s people. It is something most of us don't like to acknowledge but the truth is our life of faith is not consistently faithful. Like the children of Israel described in Psalm 107 we wander in the wilderness and sit in darkness and are rebellious and fearful and wicked and then in the end are humbled by oppression, calamity and sorrow brought about by the paths we choose to walk. When all else fails we turn back to the Lord who is good and whose mercy endures forever. But then we grow comfortable and complacent and conceited and find ourselves back in the dark places we had hoped never to inhabit again. The good news is that God’s goodness endures forever even when our faithfulness does not so that when we again tire of "the high cost of living ain't half the cost of living high” (Jamey Johnson) wicked ways the God whose love endures forever is waiting to bind up our broken hearts and set our captive souls free. Maybe this time we’ll have learned our lesson and stay put – but I wouldn't count on it and I bet God doesn't either - which is why we give thanks that God's steadfast love endures forever.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Lent 4 B - Numbers 21:4-9

If the Lord could talk to Moses through a burning bush, beat the great and powerful Oz (Pharaoh) at his own game and part the Red Sea with an upraised arm and a stick you’d think the Lord could come up with a better menu than manna three times a day seven days a week. I’m just saying. And even if the recently freed slaves complain about the Sinai Diet © while waxing nostalgic about the meal package in Egypt I think getting bit by vipers is overkill for what comes naturally to human beings. When push comes to shove heaven knows humans will blame or complain. Then again if God could get the children of Israel out of jail free with "a mighty word and an outstretched arm" they should have trusted that manna was just the appetizer for a Promised Land happy meal of milk and honey. Maybe that is true for us as well. Times of trouble, as difficult as they are to bear, are in the end still temporary and call for trust that the God who provided in the past is more than able to get us through the present while we journey towards the promised future.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Lent 3 B - John 2:13-22

John 2:13-22
“What a friend we have in Jesus…” doesn't harmonize very well with John’s whip wielding, table tipping, Jesus gone wild. But then this temple tantrum is about more than just bake sales and Starbucks in the narthex. In three and a half years Jesus has had plenty of reasons to react with all consuming zeal towards those who opposed his message but other than some name calling, “you brood of vipers” Jesus has shown great restraint. Even on the cross, where you or I might be tempted to cuss, Jesus forgives. So why does Jesus call out the dove sellers and go ballistic in the temple mall? “Zeal for your house will consume me” is what the disciples remember later but in the heat of the moment I imagine even some of his followers might have thought he went too far. The temple sacrifices prescribed by law were about appeasing the jealous God “who visits punishment on the children for the sins of the parents” by obeying the God who shows steadfast love towards the generations that keep the commandments. But Jesus objects to the house’s profit margin and not just because his Father holds the mortgage. No. This is about a human institution masquerading as a holy one and making monetary demands in the name of God. “Stop bringing me meaningless sacrifices” is how God speaks about the system through the prophet Isaiah. “Love justice, act with kindness, walk humbly with your God” is what God requires according to Micah. In the end it will be the human house that consumes Jesus with blood thirsty zeal. “Crucify!” What they couldn't see coming was that consuming Jesus on the cross would be the way God would make all our houses holy. 

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Lent 3 B - 1 Corinthians 1:18-25

Theyre Lee-Elliott 1903–88, Crucified Tree Form – the Agony, 1959

1 Corinthians 1:18-25
The message about the cross has become so familiar it has lost much of its foolishness to those who are perishing.  And even we who are being saved prefer a sanitized version of the real thing. The cross is decorated with gold and jewels and made to be an object of art rather than the brutal instrument of death the Romans used to control civil unrest and punish common criminals. The foolishness of the cross is that God would chose to die stripped naked and nailed to wood when twelve legions of angels were chomping at the bit to do some damage to whoever dared lay a finger on the blessed Son. But then our way would be to save ourselves at the expense of everyone else. God chooses to bear the expense of our blood lust and cruelty in the body of Jesus to save a world with suicidal tendencies, hell bent on destruction.  If God finds power in weakness and wisdom in foolishness, maybe we who claim the cross as the power and wisdom of God should live the sort of sacrificial life that shames the strong and makes foolish the wise rather than pursuing  power and prestige. But that would be foolish, wouldn't it?

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Lent 3 B - Psalm 19

Psalm 19
“Above all keep me from presumptuous sins “is how the NRSV translates “keep back your servant from the insolent” that gains dominion over us. We usually think of sin in terms of weakness but these sins are acts of avarice and pride. These presumptuous, “hidden faults” left undetected grow into the great transgressions from which the psalmist prays to be spared. It is when we live in ignorance of our complicity in the patterns of thought, word and deed that deaden the heart and whither the soul that our lives grow increasingly disconnected to the source of light and life. The trouble is we can become accustomed to life in the shadows and think that all is well when those around us can see it isn’t. As difficult as it is to hear the truth told about ourselves it is a means of grace whereby God returns us to the place of peace where the words of our mouths and meditation of our hearts are acceptable to our Rock and Redeemer.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Lent 3 B - Exodus 20:1-17

Exodus 20:1-17
I know that well-meaning people believe posting the Ten Commandments in public spaces will help society adhere to them but if clearly posting laws at regular intervals meant compliance there would be fewer speeding tickets.The Ten Commandments were given to the people of Israel after their cries for freedom were answered. “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the house of slavery.” Relationship with God is the foundation upon which the commandments stand and the only way to begin to live them is to remember that God acted first. Which means every “thou shall” or “thou shall not” needs to be prefaced with a “therefore” as in “I am the Lord your God” therefore… When we understand the commandments from the standpoint of a loving relationship with the God who rescued people for no other reason than their desperate cries prompted merciful action the commandments can be understood as a gift to be lived and not a rigid rule to regulate life or a burden we must bear to be accepted. We love God above all else and honor the name that is holy setting aside a day of rest because God loved us first. All the rules for living with each other depend on how well we live with God as in “You are my people that I love, therefore… love each other.” Jesus said it best. Love God. Love neighbor.