Friday, May 29, 2015

The Feast of the Holy Trinity Year B - John 3:1-17

John 3:1-17
The truth of “God so loved the world…” is diminished when we add conditional clauses that limit the ability of the wind of the Spirit to blow wherever it chooses. In the same way we demean the sacrifice of “he gave his only Son” by insisting that the Spirit wind of God’s love must blow everywhere for everyone. We do not know the extent or the limitations of God’s mercy although to insist on a verbal confession of a personal relationship with Jesus and a particular way of being baptized would seem to usurp God’s ability to do whatever God pleases. The ironic twist is that in Jesus day it was religious people - Pharisees and Sadducees and teachers of the law- that failed to see what God was about. The good news for those of us who are blessed to believe and those who do not is that the wind of the Spirit blows where it will and if the cross is any indication of God’s intent it will be a mighty merciful wind indeed. 

Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Feast of the Holy Trinity Year B - Romans 8:12-17

Romans 8:12-17
I will admit I’m in hock to the flesh and cannot conceive a payment plan that will get me out of debt anytime soon. Based on Paul’s struggle in the previous chapter “I do not understand what I do…” (7:15 ff) my guess is that Paul was paying down his debt his whole life as well. But putting to death the deeds of the body is not as much about freedom from the flesh as it is trusting that the cry “Abba! Father!” is heard no matter what. It’s like paying a mortgage on a house we get to live in as if it were our own even though the bank holds the note. But unlike human lenders the Lord doesn’t evict us if miss a payment and truth to be told the permanent dwelling is already deeded to us because of the down payment Jesus made on our behalf. So, yes, we are debtors but in debt forever to Christ and gladly so.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Feast of the Holy Trinity Year B - Psalm 29

Psalm 29
Hills skipping and mountains bucking are not that pleasant when one is in close proximity. In the same way we prefer our forests leafy green as opposed to stripped bare. But the Lord enthroned above the flood is imagined by the psalmist in ways that strike terror into human hearts so that God’s glory is matched strength for strength with the little g gods who are compelled to ascribe to the Lord the glory due God’s name. For our part we count on God’s voice to be reduced to a whisper when our name is called so that the God who bursts forth in lightning blasts might bestow on us the blessing of peace. 

Monday, May 25, 2015

The Feast of the Holy Trinity Year B - Isaiah 6:1-8

Isaiah 6:1-8
The call story of the prophet Isaiah is filled with fanciful details that defy explanation. The hem of the Lord “high and lifted up” fills the temple which must mean the rest of the Lord is seated in the narthex? Why do the seraphim need wings to hide their faces and feet when they only need two to fly? And burning coals do serious damage to lips so that one might be willing to forgo forgiveness for lack of lip balm. All of that is to say the vision is like a dream and is full of bizarre imagery to elevate the high and lifted up Lord beyond this mortal coil and usher us into the mystery of God that is beyond knowing. “Woe is me!” is the proper thing to say in the sight of such power but maybe Isaiah should have held back his “Here am I. Send me” until he heard what follows. I’m sending you to people ever hearing but never understanding; ever seeing but never perceiving. Make their hearts dull, their ears heavy, their eyes shut until their cities are laid waste. To which the proper response would be, “Woe is me” if not for the faithfulness of the Lord high and lifted on the cross of Calvary.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Feast of Pentecost Year B - John 15:26- 27 - 16:4 - 15

John 15:26-16:15
Pastor Kerstin Hedlund (Calvary intern and my former co-pastor) had a favorite phrase about preaching on a text like this. “I got nothing.” There are portions of the Gospel of John that are well loved and easily understood. This isn’t one of them. So how is the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgement? The world, and that includes most of us, understands sin to be primarily about behavior but the Advocate knows sin is really about belief – or in this case lack of belief. Of course there is behavior that we can label “sinful” but all behavior begins with what one believes. But before you begin to think you can think your way out of behavior that is less than pure the Advocate Spirit convicts the world of thinking that righteousness – that is being at peace with God and oneself – can be accomplished apart from the work of the Christ. In the God so loved the world work of the only Son God reconciled the world to God’s self. (2 Corinthians 5:19) And the judgment that the Advocate announces is that “goodness is stronger the evil, love is stronger than hate. Light is stronger than darkness; life is stronger than death…” (Desmond Tutu) The other thing Pastor Kerstin would say is “that’s all I got.” Amen.  

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Feast of Pentecost Year B - Romans 8:22-27

Romans 8:22-27
When inward groaning anticipates the cry of new birth the joy anticipated is the hope that endures even if the labor is long and difficult. Even in our weakness, when confused and conflicted our patience wears thin and we know not what to pray, God intercedes for us. Sighs too deep for words match our deepest need breath for breath so that fed by the first fruits of the Spirit our hearts are lifted from despair. In that way the future adoption that is the redemption of our mortal bodies can be known in the present even as a kick in the womb allows expectant parents to imagine the life of the new born they await. Here and not yet – that is the nature this pregnant pause before we know fully the full fruit of the eternal tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Feast of Pentecost Year B - Psalm 104:24-34

Psalm 104:24-34
Psalm 104:20 is the basis of the “Come Holy Spirit” prayer of the Cursillo movement. “Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of the faithful and kindle in us the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and we shall be created and you shall renew the face of the earth…” The Spirit filled community (aka the church in all its various forms) is created by the coming of the Holy Spirit to renew whatever portion of the face of the earth on which it is planted. That means the heart kindled with love seeks to refresh the weary with refuge and replenish the hungry with good things even as we care for “all creatures great and small” and the habitats that support them. So the song we sing to the Lord as long as we live is best expressed when the words of our mouth are confirmed by the work of our hands. 

Monday, May 18, 2015

The Feast of Pentecost Year B - Acts 2:1-21

Acts 2:1-21
It is a lay reader's nightmare lesson and even those who wear the collar often tread lightly in the linguistic territory of “Phrygia and Pamphylia.” But then the confusion of language has spawned more trouble than mispronunciations and divisions that begin with the inability to understand what the other is saying are too often translated into the universal language of bigotry and violence. In whatever way we understand the historical Day of Pentecost the meaning could not be clearer. The lines of language that divide humanity were erased by the “Spirit poured out on all flesh.” Of course the language that was understood on that day was discounted as tongue tied drunkenness but there was a moment when the confusion of the Tower of Babel was reversed and suddenly every tongue was translated into the powerful deed of God that is the cross of Jesus Christ. Unfortunately it didn't take long for the universal language of mercy to be confused and confined and the ability to speak in tongues became more important than understanding what was said. But the Day of Pentecost was not about speaking in tongues. It was about declaring the powerful deeds of God in ways that people could understand no matter where they came from or what language they spoke. Pray God we speak that language again.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Easter 7 B - John 17:6-19

John 17:6-19
If you've read the other Gospels you might agree that John’s Jesus is less than human or if you won’t go that far you might acknowledge that no one in real life makes speeches like the Jesus in John. That doesn't mean it isn't true. It just means that John remembers a different Jesus than Matthew or Mark or the “orderly Gospel” historian Luke. But the purpose of John’s Gospel could not be more clearly stated. “These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:30) So all this “I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together” makes as much sense as “I am the walrus goo goo g’joob”. (The Beatles) unless you understand that believing what cannot be fully understood, namely that the “in the beginning” Word became flesh and dwelt among us, means the beginning and the ending can be fully known in the present in such a way that the joy of the future is fully realized in the here and now. I know it might sound like a less melodic version of goo goo g'joob, but truth is if we could live today as if the forever tomorrow was already here our present might actually begin to look like future God has in mind.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Easter 7 B - 1 John 5:9-13

1 John 5:9-13
The trouble I have with texts like this is that they sound a lot like human testimony. There are those who are in and those who are out (eternally no less) based on what they believe. I wouldn't have so much trouble with that if God hadn't given the password to paradise to a human institution that can be bound to human testimony so far removed from what God is about as to be demonic. Can we say the Spanish Inquisition? Don’t get me wrong. I've bet my life on the testimony into which I was baptized. But if the testimony of God does not come to us except through the filter of the human institution we have to find ways to filter the human institution out of the testimony of God. That is why “we preach Christ crucified” (1 Corinthians 1:23) for if for the sake of love God gave up life I hope and pray that God won’t give up any life for the sake of love.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Easter 7 B - Psalm 1

Psalm 1
We know the counsel of the wicked is nothing but trouble and lingering in the way of sinners is a dead end street and the seat of the scornful is uncomfortable at best but we still listen and linger and pull up a chair. Even those who delight in the perfect law of the Lord - the counsel of love, the way of righteousness, and the mercy seat of peace - can find themselves listening and lingering and longing for that which in the end withers the soul and saps the spirit. But then the tree doesn't plant itself by streams of water and so we, too, depend on the One who creates and cultivates a right spirit within us – sometimes with refreshment and sometimes with reprimand - always intending to bring new life to dead limbs as the prosperity of hope enriches impoverished faith to meditate on “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) 

Monday, May 11, 2015

Easter 7 B - Acts 1:15-17; 21-26

Acts 1:15-17; 21-26
I wonder if the church today would be okay with calling pastors, electing or appointing bishops, or even choosing the next pope in the same way that the eleven (or about 120 persons) choose the thirteenth disciple? The first thing the disciples did was to set some parameters. Whoever the next disciple was going to be had to have seen the same things the eleven remaining disciples saw. Jesus turning water into wine, Jesus stilling the storm, Jesus walking on water, Jesus giving sight to the blind, mobility to the lame, hearing to the deaf and life to the dead. But just as important was that they had witnessed Jesus’ way of being with the outcast and the excluded and the condemned. The woman weeping at his feet, the Samaritan woman at the well, the woman about to be stoned. The final qualification was that whoever was chosen had witnessed the inevitable and the unbelievable. You don’t do what Jesus did without getting crucified but then the Romans never saw the resurrection coming. The beauty of this disciple election is that even though the disciples rarely understood the things Jesus said and did they did understand that whoever God would choose to replace Judas needed to have seen and heard the same things that they had. So they vetted the candidates according to what made sense to them but then they let God do the choosing. I’m sure Joseph wondered why God preferred Matthias but then if he was truly qualified he wouldn't question the outcome. Since both were equally qualified it took the politics out of the process. Casting lots is not casting votes. It’s drawing straws. Or flipping a coin. Or rolling the dice. No matter because it takes us - or in this case the 120 persons - out of the process.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Easter 6 B - John 15:9-17

John 15:9-17
It is significant that this “status update” from servant to friend occurs in the Gospel of John. After all Jesus’ status was updated from mostly “Messiah” in the synoptic Gospels to “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” (John 1:1) So the God of Sinai (fire and smoke on the mountain don’t come near lest ye die) is now revealed as the Word made friend. Since true friendship does not operate as a hierarchy Jesus’ statement is as radical as anything uttered in the scriptures. We are on a first name basis with the God whose name could not be spoken - lest ye die! The flip side of this new arrangement is that our continuing in the ways of our first parent’s garden rebellion is that much more damaging to ourselves and the God come near who is our friend. Friendship can only endure so much before the one whose heart is open to the other is hurt in such a way that the real benefit of friendship, “that my joy may be in you that your joy may be complete” is exhausted. Not that God abandons us but “I've got friends in low places” (Garth Brooks) is not nearly as friendly as it sounds and Jesus desires a relationship that blesses Jesus as much as it blesses us. Nothing blesses Jesus more than when you and I, and everybody else for that matter, friend each other in ways that go beyond “likes” on a page. Jesus’ joy can only be complete when our joy is. Which means my joy can only be complete when your joy is complete and your joy can only be complete when my joy is complete and that joy begins and ends with acting more friendly towards the One who chose to call us friends.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Easter 6 B - 1 John 5:1-6

1 John 5:1-6
The way faith conquers the world is not the way the world conquers. Despite the apparent militancy of “Onward Christian Soldiers” the way of faith “is not by might nor by power but by my Spirit, says the Lord.” (Zechariah 4:6) That is why the victory of faith often appears first as defeat. “We preach Christ crucified.” (1 Corinthians 1:23) But it is a “magnificent defeat” (Friederich Buechner) that the world cannot see or understand and which the world cannot ultimately overcome. “Were they to take our house, goods, fame, child or spouse; though life be wrenched away; they cannot win the day; the kingdom ours forever.” (Martin Luther) That faith conquers the world is not a panacea for the pain and suffering experienced when one is on the losing end of Luther’s list of things to be taken away. No. Faith is often pushed to the limit and indeed beyond. But though the blood lust of the wicked may hold the field today the final outcome has been predetermined and the faith that is tried in the here and now will triumph in the forever tomorrow. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Easter 6 B - Acts 10:44-48

Acts 10:44-48
Acts chapter ten begins with God telling Peter that shellfish is now in season and he is free to eat whatever he wants. To which Peter replies, “Heaven forbid!” which is the proper response when one is tempted by all manner of culinary delights denied to law abiding Jews. But God insists that Peter sit down and dine and before you know it Peter is acting like Jesus and eating and drinking with tax collectors (aka Romans) and sinners (aka Gentiles). “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean” is true for all manner of animals as well as people so that Peter, who often appears dumb as rock, suddenly perceives that God shows no favoritism which is shocking given the restricted relationship God demanded from the children of Israel. That is not to say the early church welcomed the new neighbors with open arms. Even Peter had to defend his Acts chapter 10 actions to James and John and the Jerusalem council. And if you believe Paul’s account in Galatians chapter 2 Peter went back to a kosher diet and began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of the circumcision group”. When we make what is binding arbitrary (the law of love) and what is arbitrary binding (the love of law) we miss the point of this passage. I wonder what acts of God might astound us in this day and age so that we ask the question, “What is to prevent us from suspending the rules we have come to rely on and welcome the new thing God is doing?” Heaven knows.

Easter 6 B - Psalm 98

Psalm 98
A new song about marvelous things the Lord has done means before there was this song there were times that were less praiseworthy. Singing the rejoicing refrain is preceded by times of lament and righteousness revealed means there was a time when it was hidden. “You turned my wailing into dancing” is how Psalm 30 describes the reversal of fortune. At the dawn of that new day the long night is forgotten so that even the sound of the crashing sea and rushing rivers are in harmony with harps and trumpets and human voices. The good news for those still waiting for steadfast love and faithfulness to be revealed is that God gives us each other so that my new song can be heard in your time of silence and when life conspires to still the song in my heart perhaps you will be in a place to sing me into a marvelous new day. In that way the song never ends and at the same time is always new.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Easter 5 B - John 15:1-8

John 15:1-8
What choice does a branch attached a vine really have? It doesn't choose to grow and it can’t control what nutrients come to it. It just is. Which means all the branch can do is be attached to the vine. Maybe that is real point of the passage. To abide is more about the vine then the branch. so what if we were to think of abiding in Jesus like breathing? We do it every moment of our lives and hardly notice it until we can’t catch our breath which makes us very aware of how essential it is. When abiding in Jesus is a noun – a state of being instead of a state of doing – it describes who we are instead of what we do. Of course who we are determines what we do which is to say apart for Jesus we can do nothing.