Thursday, April 30, 2015

Easter 5 B - 1 John 4:7-21

1 John 4:7-21
“Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.” You would think the church could get this right since the command to love God and one another is the foundation of our faith. Some say the reason the church is in decline today is because those on the outside have finally figured out that the petty jealousies and judgmental attitudes that have come to characterize so many Christian communions are a direct contradiction of the teaching of Jesus. Individual Christians and whole communities elevate their particular doctrines or preferences to the denial of the one law that is in fact binding. Even Unitarians fight over doctrine for God’s sake!  But “the commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.” So what can we do that we have not done already? Maybe we should stop doing what we've been doing and learn the lesson of love so that “as he is, so we (will be) in this world. I know it is passé now but for all the hype around WWJD bracelets and bumper stickers but there was only one answer to the question What Would Jesus Do? LOVE.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Easter 7 B - Psalm 22:25-31

Psalm 22:25-31
Psalm 22 begins with a lament. “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?” In the verses that follow human suffering is spelled out in detail. “My heart melts like wax within me… all my bones are out of joint… a band of dogs surround me… they pierce my hands and feet!“ Insults and mocking and spitting accompany the abuse heaped upon the one who cries out by day with no answer, at night with no rest. Yet this “man of constant sorrow” trusts that the God far off will come near and even if going down to the dust is his destiny praise will spring forth from the grave. Some might call that fool’s hope and be more inclined to go with Job’s wife’s advice to her long suffering (and constantly complaining) husband, “Curse God and die.” But then the people yet unborn would not know the sacred story of the God who came so near to humanity as to wear our flesh and die our death so that we might live God’s life.  And so we proclaim and so you believe, “The Lord has acted.” Thanks be to God.  

Monday, April 27, 2015

Easter 5 B - Acts 8:26-40

Acts 8:26-40
The Ethiopian eunuch was well respected in the court of Candice but in Jerusalem he was denied access to the temple of the faith he was so anxious to understand. Cut off from the people of God by race and circumstance he none-the-less worshiped the God whose holy word branded him unclean. (Deuteronomy 23:1) It’s no surprise then that one so excluded would be drawn to the suffering servant described by Isaiah and wonder if the word about “the prophet or someone else” might also be a word for him. So God sends Philip the Greek to evangelize the African official into the faith of Jesus the suffering Jew. Irony is not lost on the Lord. 

Friday, April 24, 2015

Easter 4 B - John 10:11-18

John 10:11-18
We had a Rambouillet lamb named Louie who grew up to be a sheep so tame as to be a nuisance. I’m not sure the Good Shepherd analogy works as well when the lamb won’t leave you alone and the hired hand is worn out by the constant bleating for treats. Then we tend to demand much from our Good Shepherd not the least of which is bleating for all manner of treats when we might be better without. But this text is about the Shepherd and not the sheep and whatever it is we do or say or need doesn't much matter as the Good Shepherd cares for us by both giving and withholding. Unfortunately we, like Louie, are often so tame to the way of faith as to be a nuisance to ourselves and everyone else for that matter. The good news is the Shepherd’s life laid down and picked up breaks through our “tameness” so that we come to know the Shepherd as intimately as the Shepherd know us.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Easter 4 B - 1 John 3:16-24

1 John 3:16-24
“Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can't help them, at least don't hurt them.” (The Dalai Lama) Christians don’t have exclusive rights to acts of mercy and kindness but it is clearly in our religious DNA to perform them. So I’m not saying other faiths or traditions do any better just that Christians, perhaps more than others, should get this right since it is the defining character of the Christ. Far too often the church’s adherence to dogma has allowed it to justify the worst sort of practices. But then Jesus was “despised and rejected” (Isaiah 53) for a reason and while it was certainly for our sin it was as much for his – by that I mean he sinned against the powers that be by daring to be what God had always intended them to be. “I desire mercy not sacrifice.” (Hosea 6:6) That doesn't mean we are not to resist the things of the world that pollute our lives but rather that care for the widow and the orphan (James 1:27) precedes and (perhaps) defines the way one remains pure.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Easter 4 B - Psalm 23

Psalm 23
Our souls are restored when we are guided along right pathways even if it takes a rod and staff to keep us on the path to greener pastures and still waters. That’s because we can get lost in the shadow valleys of this world where the lines between right and wrong are obscured by selfish desire and sinful pride. Truth is our sight can adjust to low light and we grow accustomed to being less than we were meant to be and before you know it we can’t tell the difference between a green pasture and a desert. But the Lord like a shepherd does not abandon us to our wandering ways but prods us with the rod of the Law even as the staff of the Gospel frees us to live into peaceful places of soul refreshing rest.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Easter 4 B - Acts 4:5-12

Acts 4:5-12
The rooster can crow till the cows come home but the days of denying Jesus are over for Peter. When one is filled with the Holy Spirit there is no room for fear and so the Peter who formerly wept bitter tears is now the Peter who publicly stands on Christ the Cornerstone and declares what he previously denied. Of course Peter is seeing things in light of the resurrection which gives him a confidence he didn't have in the courtyard. We are not nearly as hard pressed as Peter to publicly declare something that in the end led to his imprisonment and crucifixion but we are called none-the-less to be public about our faith in the name by which we are saved. That doesn't mean we are called to stand on street corners with signs. But if we truly believe in the one name by which we are saved and if we honestly care about those we encounter we will seek ways to “do a good deed” that gives glory to the crucified and risen Lord. We love others so that others will love Christ. Bottom line - your mission field is the piece of the planet you inhabit. Time to get busy.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Easter 3 B - Luke 24:13-49

Luke 24:13-49
“Peace be with you” doesn't do the trick. “Look at my hands and feet” doesn't dispel disbelief. Even touch me and see doesn't get a “My Lord and my God!” But eat a piece of broiled fish and maybe the impossible will seem more plausible to doubting disciples. In the every day necessity of nourishment the crucified, dead and buried Messiah is accepted as really resurrected. It is the final and most intimate act of the incarnation that the One who rose beyond the boundaries of death and life entered this realm again to share a morsel with those still bound by mortality so that seeing would be believing. In that sense “have you anything here to eat?” might be the most grace filled words ever spoken by Jesus. 

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Easter 3 B - 1 John 3:1-7

1 John 3:1-7
There is no way around it. Since we all sin we are all guilty of lawlessness even though in the love the Father has given us we are children of God now and when Jesus is revealed we will be like Him. That means even as children of God we do not abide in God or know God or see God by virtue of our rebellious nature. But then John will go on to say, “This is love: not that we loved God but that God loved us…” (1 John 4:10) So the ultimate consequence of our lawlessness is that God loves those who do not love in equal measure but who purify themselves with the hope that when we do see Him as He is Jesus will not see us as we are but what we were always meant to be. 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Easter 3 B - Psalm 4

Psalm 4
It is only when one stops loving illusions and living lies that one can see the wonders God desires to do for the faithful – and everyone else for that matter. Easier said than done. The trouble with illusions and lies is that they cleverly hide the truth so that even when we know the lie of the illusion is a sleight of hand we ask to see it again albeit more slowly this time. We are fascinated by a good trick and nothing is as tricky as a lie we live with so long that it feels so familiar it no longer appears to be an illusion. But one of the wonders God does for the faithful is to shatter the comfortable illusion with distress so that sooner or later one cries out for mercy. That is good news even if it feels less than that for while the truth is not as seductive as the illusion it gives one something living a lie cannot – a peaceful night’s rest where the truth of God’s love promises rest that is secure.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Easter 3 B - Acts 3:12-19

Acts 3:12-19
The scene that precedes Peter’s speech to “You Israelites” is the healing of the lame beggar at the temple gate. “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” (Acts 3:6) Now I’m sure there were some Israelites in the crowd who had not called out “crucify” and so they can hardly be held responsible for killing the “Author of life”. And even if Peter claims it as Gospel truth Pilate never intended to let the peasant preacher go free. Furthermore Peter and all the disciples deserted Jesus in his most desperate hour. But maybe Peter has forgotten his rejection of the Holy One in the courtyard. “I tell you I do not know the man!” Then again maybe being Holy Spirit anointed and preaching on Pentecost and becoming God’s agent for “lame man walking” means you forget the ways you acted in ignorance. No matter. The truth of the speech is that God will wipe the slate clean for deniers and betrayers and those who cry crucify because that is the nature of the God who desires “all people to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth”. (1 Timothy 2:4) So turn to the One who is continually turning towards you that your ways of denying and betraying and crying crucify might be wiped clean.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Easter 2 B - John 20:19-31

John 20:19-31
In the Gospel of John believing is seeing. We can speculate as to Thomas’s whereabouts that first day of the week but his absence is for our benefit as we who have no hope of seeing, let alone touching. nail scarred hands or spear pierced side are blessed by believing none-the-less. I don’t know if my “not seeing” believing is due to childhood indoctrination – my guess is I’ll be a cradle to grave Christian – or because the story continues to capture my imagination and stir my soul, but for whatever reason I have attached my life to Jesus and even when I fail to live the life in his name I trust Jesus’ life is somehow lived in mine. 

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Easter 2 B - 1 John 1:1-2:5

1 John 1:1-2:5
Sin by its very nature is deceptive so that even when we confess our sins we can continue to walk in the darkness that masquerades as light. That is why posting the Ten Commandments on every street corner of the planet won’t get the job done in the same way that speed limit signs do little to curb speeding.  That’s because we tend to think of sin as behavior which means we can do something about it. In that sense the carrot on a stick of encouragement nor the scourge and rod of enforcement can cure our rebellious ways. For sin is far more devious and demonic so that while behaviors might be modified the root cause is not. To use the old language - we are by nature sinful and unclean – which means our orientation is rebellion and resistance to the relationship God desires to have with us. So what can we do? We confess that we do not want to be all that we were meant to be and trust that God’s mercy is more than able to break through the darkness that clouds our vision and not only ours but the darkness that engulfs the whole world. When attitudes change, not by threat or reward but the compelling love of Christ, the grip of sin will be loosened and we will walk more fully in the light of love which is a real relationship with God. 

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Easter 2 B - Psalm 133

Psalm 133
In three short verses Psalm 133 states the obvious and makes me wonder why the church doesn't pursue unity with more purpose. Instead of pouring the precious oil of peace on each other we heap insults and draw theological lines in the sand staining the collar of our robes with division. You might expect this of the more strident traditions but even the Unitarians, or so I’m told, don’t always get along. Go figure. It could be that we make unity nearly impossible because we wrongly assume that unity can only happen we everyone agrees. But the psalm doesn't say or assume that. Unity is a willingness to live with and love one another despite differences of opinion. The fragrant extravagance of good and pleasant unity is the blessing that falls from heaven as unity is bestowed from above whenever it is understood from below as the very essence of what it means to claim Christ as Lord. How good and pleasant indeed.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Easter 2 B - Acts 4:23-37

Acts 4:23-37
When the believers were of one heart and mind there were no needy persons among them. When their hearts and minds went their own way members who withheld were struck down dead (Acts 5 - Ananias and Sapphira) and widows who spoke Greek were denied their portion of the distribution of food just because they spoke Greek. (Acts 6) The golden age of the Christian community didn't last very long as even those who witnessed the resurrected Christ in person went back to living as if he were still dead. To be fair they thought Jesus would come back long before they had to cash in their IRAs and truth is being of one heart and mind was not as easy as Luke made it out to be. That has been the story of the church ever since. When we are of one heart and mind we embody the Gospel that lives the future in the present where the hungry are fed and the homeless are housed and the poor are provided for and no one is in need because all are one. When one weeps all weep. When one rejoices all rejoice. But when our hearts and minds are far apart from one another we live as if Jesus is still in tomb and the only security we have is the security we can secure for ourselves which is no security at all.

Friday, April 3, 2015

The Resurrection of Our Lord Year B (the day after) Mark 16:1-8

Mark 16:1-8
It is a strange way to end a story when clearly the women who “said nothing to anyone” must have told something to someone. Then again all the Gospels agree that the reality of the resurrection was beyond the ability of the witnesses to comprehend. In the Gospel of Mark being seized by amazement and terror is the tongue tying factor. “Do not be alarmed” wasn't enough for the women walking away from the unbelievable so they kept their mouths shut not daring to ask if anyone else saw what they saw. But in the inevitable conversations that followed their tongues were loosened and they began to describe what had terrified and amazed them so. At some point a first century focus group decided Mark needed a better ending so they added verses 9-20 to include appearances and admonitions by Jesus along with speaking in tongues, miraculous healing, snake handling and the ability to drink deadly things without dying. Makes for a better movie don’t you know. Are we any different? We like our stories to dot the i’s and cross the t’s and tie up the loose ends, thank you very much. But this story is better when it’s left as it is to amaze and terrify. When we cast the resurrection in the ordinary we fail to live fully into the new reality that issues forth from an empty tomb. Death has been destroyed. Why do we fear it so much? Or more to the point. Since death has been destroyed in the forever and always why do we continue to allow it to define our reality in the here and now? I’m not saying there are easy solutions to the complex problems in our world. There is a reason God chooses a crucifixion as the world’s wakeup call. But when we either remain silent or on the flip side package the resurrection in family friendly focus group endings we miss completely the power of what happened when the young man dressed in white said, “He is not here.” God intended those who entered the reality of the “he is not here” empty tomb to come out radically changed. God is always waiting for the same thing to happen to us. If that did not terrify (and amaze) us so much maybe we’d really live it. Oh, wait, that got Jesus crucified, so… maybe I’ll just pick up a snake – a small one, please.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The Resurrection of Our Lord Year B - 1 Corinthians 15:1-11

1 Corinthians 15:1-11
“I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news…”is a recurring theme of the Corinthian correspondence. Divided loyalty (I follow Cephas, I follow Apollos, I follow Paul, I follow Christ) leads the Corinthians to argue over minor matters, treat the body of Christ with contempt by making a mockery of the unifying meal and neglect the greater gift of love in favor of flashier outward signs of tongues and puffed up spiritual pride. The good news reminder shouldn't be lost on us who have received and now stand in the story Paul proclaimed. The Christ who appeared to the long list of witnesses and lastly to Paul has appeared to us so that whenever death in all its many forms (including discord) threatens to destroy “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, whatever is excellent or praiseworthy” (Philippians 4:8) we say “NO” and hold firmly to the belief that life and love will have the last word. And reminded that the last word belongs to the life of Christ means every word belongs to Christ which clearly includes those we speak to one another.