Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Pentecost 6 B - Psalm 123

Psalm 123
Have mercy upon us, O Lord, for we have had more than enough contempt from the proud and those who are at ease except that in our context “we have met the enemy and he is us.” (Pogo) Not that we are the “indolent rich” only that in comparison with the vast majority of those who inhabit the planet we have won the lottery a few times over. So if we were to translate the lament of the psalm it might be that we have had more than enough of lusting after the lifestyle of the rich and famous (Robin Leach) Or keeping up with the Joneses. Or competing to be the “winner is the one who dies with the most toys.” But when with eyes lifted up to the heavens we search for God’s mercy we are set free from the allure of possessions and the siren song of power. In that way we have had more than enough of the ways of this world and long for the day when with eyes lifted up we shall see the salvation of the Lord.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Pentecost 6 B - Ezekiel 2:1-5

Ezekiel 2:1-5
This is not the sort of job description one wants to receive but then it seems to be the prophet’s lot. Ezekiel is sent to speak truth to a nation of rebels, obstinate and stubborn. Isaiah is sent to a people “ever hearing but never understanding… ever seeing but never perceiving.” (Isaiah 6:9) Jeremiah is made to be a “fortified city, an iron pillar, a bronze wall” to stand against the kings of Judah, the officials, the priests and the people of the land. (Jeremiah 1:17) I’d prefer to be a kinder, gentler prophet like the “Comfort, comfort, ye my people” Isaiah (40:1) or the “I know the plans I have for you says the Lord” Jeremiah. (29:11-13) But the healing words cannot not be heard unless harsh ones till the soil of stubborn souls in the same way that the “Thus says the Lord” truth to be told about us makes us receptive to the good news of the Gospel. “Come let us reason together. Though your sins are scarlet they shall be as white as snow…” (Isaiah 1:18) Bad news becomes good news when we receive the corrective word of the Lord as an invitation and not a condemnation. Or as Ezekiel will say much later  ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.” (33:11)

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Pentecost 5 B - Mark 5:21-43

Mark 5:21-43
It is a story of two women healed (even if one is girl). Both are anonymous – one named by a condition – the other by a relationship. The bleeding woman is as dead as Jairus’ daughter will soon be. She is cut off from the community by her unending flow and has been impoverished by physicians whose skills have failed her. She would have been invisible to those who did not know her and those who did would have shrunk back for fear of contact contamination. In her desperation she doesn’t care. “If I but touch the hem of his robe…” I imagine through twelve years of bleeding she’s had faith in other options. The reputation of the Mayo Clinic of her time, a perfect sacrifice offered in the Jerusalem temple, the dedication of her first born if God made it possible, etc. etc. That is until they failed to live up to her hope. That means the faith of this moment has less to do with her and everything to do with the One in whom she has placed her trust. The faith that follows and is more remarkable than a desperate act is that after having been made well she is free to walk away without anyone being the wiser but instead steps forward and admits to touching a man in public while she was bleeding and that Jesus did what no one else had been able to do in twelve years of trying. The daughter of Jairus has been alive as long as the woman has been bleeding. Her father shows the same sort of courage born of desperation that the woman did. No doubt members of the synagogue have heard of the Galilean preacher and wonder if their leader has lost his mind but Jairus believes Jesus is his and his daughter’s only hope. Even when the dreadful news reaches Jairus he listens to Jesus (who by the way is now unclean by virtue of the woman’s touch) and no doubt urges him on, “hurry then!” Jesus passing through the wailing crowd, ignoring the ridicule of their prognosis, takes the hand of “the little girl” and speaks life into her dead body.  So it will be with us, maybe in the here and now if God chooses to gift us with healing of earthly aliments but most certainly in the life to come when with our hand in his he will say, “get up!” And so we shall. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Pentecost 5 B - 2 Corinthians 8:7-15

2 Corinthians 8:7-15
The context for this portion of the Corinthian correspondence is the collection for the saints in Jerusalem who were suffering extreme poverty during an extended famine. The fundraising has stalled and the weekly installments (1 Corinthians 16:2) have come up short. I image there were a good number of wealthy Corinthians who used the occasion to point out the foolishness of selling all your possessions and holding everything in common. (Acts 2:44-45) Paul, ever the pragmatist, appeals to their pride, the very thing he has previously argued against. But maybe this is where the thirteenth chapter of his first letter “If I speak in the tongues of men and angels and have not love I am a noisy gong and a clanging cymbal” is wedded to the words of Jesus’ half-bother James. “Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed, “but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? (James 2:15-17) If we have been made rich by the poverty of Christ how can we not be generous toward the needs of others? Paul would not have said it that way but James, who as blood kin is closer to Jesus than Paul, states the obvious. Faith without works is no faith at all. Maybe that is why James sounds more like his half-brother than Paul does. If someone is hungry give them food. If someone is thirsty give them something to drink. If someone is naked clothe them. If someone is in prison visit them. If someone is without shelter house them. If your brothers and sisters in Jerusalem are in need, do whatever you can to help them. It's a no-brainer. But Paul, ever the politician, cleans it up a bit and says, in doing so you will excel in the generous undertaking of doing for others as has been done for you. Which is Paul's way of speaking like James. "Just do it."

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Easter 5 B - Psalm 30

Psalm 30
Psalm 30 knows a thing or two about suffering. Enemies threatened. Health was lost. The mouth of the grave was wide open. The night was filled with weeping. But Psalm 30 sings of sorrow from the perspective of deliverance. You lifted me up. You restored my health. You denied death its due. You met me in the morning with joy. That is good news for anyone on the other side of trouble. But can we sing the song of deliverance before the song of suffering is stilled? As difficult as it may be the answer is yes. Because Jesus was surrounded by enemies, pierced by nail and thorn in hand and foot and forehead and descended into the grave we can be confident that there is nowhere that we will go that God has not been. And more that Jesus broke free from death's grip so that we can be confident that even when all of life is dressed in sackcloth and wailing we are destined for an eternity of dancing dressed in garments of joy. That will be the day when the song without ceasing is fully sung. In the meantime if all we can do is hum a few bars of the forever song it will be enough to get us through the night of weeping until we are welcomed by the eternal morning of joy.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Easter 5 B - Lamentations 3:22-33

Lamentations 3:22-33
Lamentations is not the happiest book in the Bible. It may be the most honest. The good news is that honesty can be encouraging without being “happy” so that Lamentations can proclaim God’s never ceasing love and mercies while keeping the parenthesis in place - (there may yet be hope) vs. 29. Wes Word, a Fort Worth, TX singer songwriter, sings it this way, “Tomorrow is just another yesterday – don’t worry ‘cause it’s all over soon.” I suppose you could hear that as a depressing commentary on life but when you wed it to his comment “we are the community we create” it is really an invitation to live fully into the day that exists between tomorrow and yesterday. So we wait quietly (or maybe not so quietly) for the Lord to act trusting that in the life between the forever tomorrow and all our yesterdays the community God creates in us through the Christ for the sake of the world is abiding grace, confident hope, enduring love.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Pentecost 4 B - Mark 4:35-41

Mark 4:35-41
It was Jesus’ idea to sail across the lake but it was the disciples who took him in the boat “just as he was.” It’s an odd thing to say but perhaps that explains why Jesus is sleeping in the stern while the disciples struggle to keep the boat from sinking. Just before setting out to sea Jesus was teaching all day. Before that he was hemmed in by crowds trying to touch him. He was “outed” as the “Son of God” by demonic spirits and at the same time accused by Pharisees of being in league with the devil. And to top it off his own mother told him to stop acting like a lunatic. No wonder he needed a nap. But “just as he was” is more than a reference to how he was at that moment. Jesus is the voice in the whirlwind “where were you when I laid the earth’s foundations” (Job 38:4) and yet he cannot keep his eyes open and sleeps like the dead in the center of a cyclone. He is weakened and wearied by wearing human flesh, not as a garment one can take off and send to the cleaners, but rather he fully dwells in real life flesh and blood, skin and bone, muscle and sinew, organs and beating heart. When the storm causes the disciple’s courage to melt away and they “stagger and reel like drunkards at their wit’s end” (Psalm 107:27) they wake him to question his motives and ability. “Don’t you care..?” means they need him to be more than “just as he was.” Hum? Maybe we do too? Perhaps we’d prefer a superman Jesus who swoops in to save us or a supermarket Jesus who provides for all our needs or a problem solving Jesus who resolves all our dilemmas. I’m not saying Jesus doesn’t save or provide or address dilemmas. Jesus stills the storm for the disciples and for us as well for He is a very present help in times of trouble. (Psalm 46) But an equal if not greater truth is that Jesus became just as we are so that we might become just as he is. Or better, maybe his being as we are allows us to be “just as we are”? Frail and foolish and yet filled with faith that on a good day might even still a storm or two for people who are perishing. 

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Pentecost 4 B - 2 Corinthians 6:1-13

2 Corinthians 6:1-13
If the contentious Corinthians were not the proverbial “thorn” in Paul’s flesh they were certainly a pain in his you know what. And yet his heart “wide open” is willing to endure ridicule and rejection for the sake of these people puffed up with pride who have accepted the grace of God in vain. Not that Paul is without fault. Lord knows he can be arrogant and rude but in this case I believe he is genuine in his affection and his desire that the grace of God overcome the obstacle the Corinthian Christians have put in its way. That’s because the unity within the body of Christ is essential to the mission of the church. So it is with us when relationships within the body of Christ are strained and divisions and dissent cause us to close our hearts to one another. But if we recognize that today is the acceptable time, today is the day of salvation, then the temporal matters over which we argue lose their import and we are able to live the freedom found in the grace of God. That means we live today in the way we will when all things will be made new. There will be no divisions in the forever future. The vast multitude of every race and language will sing the same song and eat from the same table on the holy mountain and no one will be greater or less than anyone else. The church is meant to be a reflection of that future so that those outside the church will come to believe that the Lord has listened to them as well and the acceptable time is always now, the day of salvation always available.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Pentecost 4 B - Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32

Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32
Psalm 107 is a long song that details the troubles the people of God get into when they rebel against God’s commands. They wandered in desert wastelands, were imprisoned in darkness, afflicted with sickness and set adrift on stormy seas. But when they were humbled by oppression, calamity and sorrow they cried out to the Lord and every time they did the Lord delivered them. We might not be set adrift on the sea but we experience times when we stagger and real like drunkards and all our skill is to no avail. When hope hangs on by a thread we cry out to the Lord in our distress and whether God stills the storm or us the truth is God is always present with steadfast love and wonderful works that are worthy of thanks and praise. 

Monday, June 15, 2015

Pentecost 4 B - Job 38:1-11

Job 38:1-11
After 37 chapters of complaining and fending off "un-friend" Fb advice Job finally gets his day in the celestial court although after God’s opening argument Job surrenders and cops a guilty plea; “Surely I’ve spoken of things too great for me to understand.” (Job 42:3) God’s “where were you when…” might mean the question “why did this happen to me?” is not even ours to ask. It certainly means God doesn’t have to answer our “why?” We, like Job, his wife and his friends, would prefer a more predictable process where we can explain and in that sense control what happens to us. At the very least being the cause of what happens to us means we have someone to blame and in a weird way there is some comfort in that. But when life refuses to play by any rules we can identify or codify we are tempted to complain bitterly like Job does while protesting his innocence, or hold onto our theologies more tightly like his friends do, or take Job’s wife’s advice and “curse God” (Job 2:9) and let faith die. But I think living “I have spoken of things too great for me to understand” allows us to face circumstances beyond our control with a faith that depends fully on the One who was there when the foundations of the earth were laid. And the reason we can live without question or answer is because the God revealed in the cross asked the question for us “My God! My God! Why have forsaken me?” and answered it in “It is finished.” That does not mean we live through sorrow and pain as a prelude to the hymn of heaven but rather that we sing the forever future song even if our “light and momentary troubles” (2 Corinthians 6:17 are heavy and drawn because we.believe God is present in both the suffering and the song.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Pentecost 3 B - Mark 4:26-34

Mark 4:26-34
I think explaining a parable is like repeating the punch line of a joke and asking “get it?” It never works quite as well because it loses the element of surprise. And so without explaining it I think a parable of the kingdom is like the kingdom in that it is plainly stated and yet remains hidden. It is fully visible in unselfish acts and deeds of kindness that sprout from hearts and minds animated by the wind of the Spirit especially when like a seed that sprouts it appears out of the dry soil of everyday lives. And yet a good bit of the time it is barely perceived in the same way we have a dream that upon waking lingers for a moment before being erased from our conscious memory. That is because our part is simply to participate in what already is. “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” We pray the reign of God come down wherever and whenever and for whatever reason God so chooses so that we can live it. That happens when human beings get caught up in the mystery of God’s acting out in our world and act and speak in ways that mimic what God does which is always about life and love. When we participate in what already is the branches of mercy are extended well beyond anything we could imagine or manufacture or explain. Surprise!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Easter 3 B - 2 Corinthians 5:6-17

2 Corinthians 5:6-17
Before you get overly concerned (and therefore less than confident) with “all of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ” read on to verse 14. “The love of Christ urges us on….” When we are motivated by fear of punishment or desire for reward we do not live the life of love even if we are as obedient as is humanly possible. If your first thought upon reading that is I’m am trying to excuse disobedience you are still thinking in terms of judgment. There is no freedom in that dynamic and therefore no Gospel. Every religion invented by humanity works on the principle of reward for good behavior and punishment for bad. But if we regard Jesus “no longer from a human point of view” – the innocent One died for the guilty multitude - a new creature is born who loves for the sake of love, which is to say for the sake of God because God is love. Now there may eternal consequences for choosing to live otherwise (there are without doubt temporal consequences) but thinking that the sum total of the Christian life is to get to heaven or to avoid hell is equally damning because in the end it’s all about you and that means even an act of love is self-serving. So let’s leave the future in God’s hands and trust that in Christ everything has indeed been made new for only then can we be “always confident.”

Pentecost 3 B - Psalm 92:1-4, 12-15

Psalm 92:1-4, 12-15
Psalm 92 is a song for the Sabbath day but it is a good thing to give thanks to the Lord every day, morning, noon and night. Or as pop culture icon Spongebob Squarepants sang in Attitude of Gratitude. “Oh, I’ve got a whole new attitude, a life-time subscription to gratitude…I’m grateful for the life I am living, who knows how long I will have it...” Of course you can’t manufacture such an attitude but you do have the option to decide to live each moment as best you can considering each breath as a gift. Maybe that is how we continue to bear fruit even in our old age.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Pentecost 3 B - Ezekiel 17:22-24

Ezekiel 22:17-24
The prophet Ezekiel imagines the Lord as the One who provides shade and shelter and sustenance for all creatures great and small. More to the point, the Great I AM is not far off and removed but intimately involved in the process of planting the noble cedar that produces boughs and fruit. “I myself will take a sprig…” I will set it out...” I will break off a tender one…” I myself will plant it…” In the same way the trees of the field recognize their vitality is determined by the Great “I will accomplish it.” The tall and green tree is brought low and made dry even as the dry and low tree is made green and tall. Not as a preference but as God’s prerogative so that all will have to acknowledge God is master of seed and sun and soil and moisture. So we too acknowledge that we are planted and sustained by the life giving Lord who heals all our diseases and mends our broken bones.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Pentecost 2 B - Mark 3:20-35

Mark 3:20-35
So much for family values! It is clear from the scriptures that Jesus raised a ruckus. People have been trying to quiet him down ever since. It’s not hard to do. Jesus isn’t around to object to whatever we claim WWJD. Even the church has a vested interest in the status quo, especially where pensions and tax breaks for the clerical class are concerned. But Jesus was a radical in his time and upset everyone, even disciples who followed and his family who tried to understand. That’s because Jesus was living the limitless future in the far too constrained present where risking radical love gets you crucified. So how might we be brother and sister and mother to Jesus in our time? It might be by radical generosity or acting with more grace, thinking with less judgment, loving with fewer restrictions. That being said just getting push back for one’s beliefs is not proof that you and Jesus are on the same page. But if we transform lives like Jesus did – fishermen who become fearless preachers, tax collectors who stop cheating, women who are welcomed as leaders, or a Pharisee who born from above steps out of the shadows – you can bet eternity we are doing the will of God.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Pentecost 2 B - 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1

2 Corinthians 4:16-18 is found in the occasional services book and is suggested for use in times of illness or when one is near death. I tried to read these words to a friend and colleague at Harris Hospital in July of 2007 a few days before he died. I don’t know what I was thinking. His “slight and momentary affliction” was neither slight nor momentary and witnessing his body wracked in pain mocked these words meant for comfort. As I began to sob uncontrollably Pastor Tom stopped me with a hand on my shoulder and despite the obvious pain he was enduring said, “It’s alright Phil. The gospel I’ve preached my whole life was good enough for me then and it’s good enough for me now. I’m not afraid. And when I get there I’ll mention your name.” I can never read these verses without thinking of that day and I’m grateful for the grace extended to me by one who was infinitely more courageous and faithful than I am which is why I’m glad Saint Tom intercedes for me even now though he might need to do more than mention my name. Just sayin. Then again Jesus is the One who did the heavy lifting for both St. Tom and me so that even our “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me” moments are ultimately slight and momentary. So I guess I'll see you when I get there, Tom. 

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Pentecost Year B - Psalm 130

Psalm 130
I’ve kept the long night's watch for more than one morning and if your experience is the same as mine you know that the coming day you wait for is always too slow to dawn. That is the nature of waiting while one cries from the depths of sorrow or despair or guilt, or worse, shame. But the psalmist trusts that the sins that are continually accusing us are not counted by the Lord which is why waiting can be endured with the hope that with the light of each new day the sins of the past are erased from God’s memory. For with each new dawn the steadfast love of God is expressed in plenteous redemption which means there is no limit to the depths God will go to hear and answer our cry.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Pentecost Year B - Genesis 3:8-15

Genesis 3:8-15
The story of our beginning does not have to be literally true to tell the truth about us. We, like Adam and Eve, would not be satisfied with paradise as long as there was one tree we were not allowed to touch. And so they believed the lie and acted on it thinking that the One who created them and provided for them was too good to be true. We’ve been living the lie ever since trapped in self-serving ways that are self-destructive while blaming each other and everyone else when we are the ones who are responsible for our own folly. Of course when paradise was lost to the ones created in God’s image it was lost to God as well. But the mercy of God is this - when the first humans were cast out of the garden God went with them.