Thursday, July 30, 2015

Pentecost 10 B - John 6:24-35

John 6:24-35
John is the only Gospel that details the aftermath of the multiplying feast. The people (well fed) are apparently not satisfied with leftovers (2 baskets of barley loaves) and so chase after Jesus to see what is on the breakfast menu. Jesus rightly calls them out when they say, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” which means, “Have you baked the bagels and cured the lox?” But Jesus should not be surprised at their desire to be fed on the cheap as we all enjoy a happy hour now and then. That is to say we’d all like to be taken care of, provided for, live in the lap of luxury, etc. etc. etc. But Jesus would have us look beyond what is to what will be so that the work of God, that is believing Jesus was sent as the sign of what will be and already is, means we no longer lust after that which cannot satisfy. “You wanted breakfast?” Jesus asks. “How about a feast that never ends?”

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Pentecost 10 B - Ephesians 4:1-16

Ephesians 4:1-16
Living “a life worthy of the calling” is often understood in terms of personal piety reflected in a disciplined life especially as it relates to resisting behaviors identified as the ways of the world. But the apostle Paul defines a “life worthy of the calling” in ways that relate to living in relationship with others. Living in “humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” cannot be accomplished unless one bears with those whose life is less than one’s own “holier than thou” or on the flip side bearing with those whose life is “holier” than you are or perhaps care to be. The point is patience is not necessary when others are as you are and there is no need for humility or gentleness or making any effort at all when the bond of peace does not require negotiation. But then we tend to “speak the truth in love” loudly without first quietly growing up in every way into Christ so the truth spoken has little to do with love and everything to do with pride or prejudice or one’s own particular point of view. But when “each part is working properly” those who are patient assist those who require patience (and vice versa) to grow and in doing so all are built up in love. Easier said than done and that is why one must make “every effort.”

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Pentecost 10 B - Psalm 78:23-29

Psalm 78:23-29
Not satisfied with water from the rock the children of Israel wondered aloud about the ability of God to provide meat and make bread. (78:20) God was furious (78:21) and yet responded to the people’s complaint with quail and manna. They ate and were filled for God gave them what they craved. Of course at the time what they craved was anything that would satisfy their hunger. It would not be long before they tired of quail and complained about the detestable manna. I remember a night at our ministry to the homeless - Room in the Inn - where one of our guests offered a prayer before dinner and gave thanks for the goodness of the Lord with whom all things are possible and without whom nothing can be accomplished. It was a profound and yet simple prayer of faith and thanksgiving for the everyday miracle of God with us and the warmth of friendship. Our guests continually tell us how much they appreciate Calvary and that our Room in the Inn has serious street cred. I don’t think it’s the food or the accommodations as good as they are. I think it’s the hospitality and the genuine love expressed through smiles and conversations and generosity of spirit. When it comes right down to it that is what we crave and that is what God provides whenever God’s heart is expressed through human hands. 

Monday, July 27, 2015

Pentecost 10 B - Exodus 16:2-15

Exodus 16:2-15
Those who complain in the wilderness, “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt” forget the family members who never made it out of Egypt alive and that the Egyptians didn’t need the Lord’s hand to help kill them. But then we tend to reconstruct the difficult days of the past in the light of present troubles thinking that what was was not as bad as what is even though what is and what was are often the same thing. Dying at the hands of the Egyptians or of starvation in the wilderness is still dead. It is to God’s credit that this constant complaining does not lead God to “walk like an Egyptian” (The Bangles) and be done with the whole assembly. It is a preview of God’s struggle with a people whose “love is like the morning mist.” (Hosea 6:4) The God who provides manna and quail to ungrateful people will continue to give them bread to eat, even if it is the bread of tears, in the hope that they will recognize that freedom in the wilderness is better than slavery in Egypt. God’s hope for us is that in following the way of the Lord we would prefer to live in radical freedom, no matter how difficult it is, than to dwell in the comfortable prisons of our own design.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Pentecost 9 B - John 6:1-21

John 6:1-21
The feeding of the five thousand is found in every Gospel which means it was a big deal to the early church. My guess is it was the Galilean Woodstock of sorts (without the music and drugs) so that it occupied the popular imagination and even those who were nowhere near the mountain that day wished they were until the five thousand magically multiplied and everyone claimed to have been there for a bite of fish and a morsel of bread. Well, maybe not, but it really was a big deal. In fact those who actually were there ran around the lake to meet Jesus (who walked across) thinking that the one who provided supper might also make them breakfast. (John 6:26) Of course we do the same thing when with limited vision we value temporal needs over eternal truths. Not that God is disinterested in our everyday. But the miracle of the story is that God takes what is and multiplies it into what can be. We are tempted to tell the crowd to go away which devalues both our own resources and the multiplying effect of faith. But the story of the first century Galilean Woodstock is that what appeared to be too little was more than enough.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Pentecost 9 B - Ephesians 3:14-21

Ephesians 3:14-21
If we are able to comprehend the breadth and length and height and depth of God’s love for us in Christ Jesus we have a clue as to what God can accomplish beyond the limitations of our imagination. Far too often we turn this all surpassing power into a temporal wish list thinking that what we ask is what God will provide. I think the clue to what God is about is in the “far more abundantly” clause of the contract rooted and grounded in love. Our vision is limited at best and more often than not myopically distorted so that what we want, need, or desire has little to do with the love that surpasses knowledge. But if we take our cues from Christ we might begin to understand that what God intends to accomplish is for us to act “far more abundantly” than we otherwise would so that every family in heaven and earth might experience the benefits of God’s grace.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Pentecost 9 B - Psalm 145:10-18

Psalm 145:10-18
This is a reprint from 2012 because even with the rains in Texas this year Lake Abilene is still only 3.4% full. And also because I greatly admire (and in many ways envy) the faith of my sisters and brothers who steward the land God gave them. 

The eyes of all wait upon you, O Lord, especially if those eyes run cattle or grow cotton in Texas. We’ve had more than one cotton farmer and cattle rancher in the Northern Texas Northern Louisiana Mission Area Parish Lay Academy and I’ve always thought they have more to tell us about faith than we could possibly teach them. I’d like rain now and then so I don’t have to water my lawn but they pray for rain to sustain their livelihood and then frustrated week after dry week endure moisture laden clouds that pass over them with nary a drop. I wonder how they can hold onto to the notion of a benevolent God when their crops are shriveled or when they have to sell their breed stock to save the farm that can’t survive without water no matter what they do. But then we of the wired world weary if our 4G slows down to 2G or heaven forbid, doesn’t “G” at all. The closer you are to the land the more dependent you are on things you can’t control and the more we understand that there are things we depend on that we can’t control the more our eyes look to God.  It might not make it rain and it certainly won’t make our 4G download faster but as my cotton farming friends have taught me it will uphold you when you fall and sustain you when you are bowed down

Monday, July 20, 2015

Pentecost 9 B - 2 Kings 4:42-44

2 Kings 4:42-44
Twenty loaves of barley and unnumbered fresh ears of grain that feed a hundred foreshadow a boy with five loaves and two fish that feed five thousand. Theologians apply eschatological significance to the feeding stories recorded in the Bible but they might not need to do that if we were more familiar with hunger. A good number of us are well fed enough to diet. But in these stories God provides real food not as some future kingdom come down but as a real need satisfied by real food in the real here and now. Again some make sense of these stories by saying the real miracle is in the sharing and not some magical multiplying of meager resources but however you do the math the meal was enough that the satisfied multitude asked for doggie bags. I’ve been on the receiving end of such sharing and it does not discount the miraculous moving of God to multiply what is not into what can be and in that miracle we are always well fed. 

Friday, July 17, 2015

Pentecost 8 B - Mark 6:30-34; 53-56

The people of Gennesaret recognize Jesus because the Gerasene demoniac is in his right mind and wearing clothes and won’t stop talking about the One who set him free from the chains of insanity. (Mark 5:1-20) My guess is only the swine headers are sorry to see Jesus again. The apostles sent and returned have also experienced rock star status and along with Jesus are no longer anonymous. Of course it is not a good thing to have no leisure (even to eat) but it might be nice to be known once and awhile as a disciple of the Christ. We don’t have to have Holy Spirit power to heal or the ability to teach with wisdom and authority. The command of Christ is to love one another as we have been loved and love will get you noticed if we love consistently and without reservation. Even a chance encounter with a stranger affords us the opportunity to be friendly or generous or welcoming and although we might not see the result there is healing in a smile or a gesture of kindness. We have spent a good bit of time practicing the faith in and with the faithful. It’s time to get in our boats, so to speak, and cross to the other side, which today might mean the Starbucks across the street from the sanctuary. I wonder if anyone would recognize us as disciples of Jesus? 

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Pentecost 8 B - Ephesians 2:11-22

Ephesians 2:11-22
I’ve read this passage more times than I can remember and have always celebrated it as good news and of course it is. But then I am a “citizen with the saints” who otherwise would have been an alien and a stranger cut off from the covenant with no hope and without God. I imagine it was read differently by those who saw the “dividing wall” as faithfulness and not hostility, who waxed poetic about the perfect law that revives the soul and makes the simple wise. (Psalm 19:7) Truth is even the apostle Paul originally resisted the new arrangement with violence by breathing “murderous threats” (Acts 9:1) against those who claimed Christ as Messiah and Lord.  Years after Paul breached the dividing wall the commonwealth of Israel was expelled from the household of God by the aliens and strangers who erected a new wall of hostility. I’m guessing God hoped for a different outcome but like the “in the beginning” gone wrong this was a moment when all the possibilities of the perfect future were available in the present and humans chose to remain mired in the past. That does not mean we need to stay there. We can embrace this text from the other side of history and tear down the walls we have erected to divide and conquer. We can stop defining “us” by denigrating “them” whoever they may be. We can choose to be people who proclaim peace to those who have been exiled and by living the hope of the future truly become a holy “dwelling place for God.” 

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Pentecost 8 B - Psalm 23

Psalm 23
“The Lord is my shepherd” isn’t limited to a pastoral landscape or an agrarian lifestyle. That may be why a culture specific song speaks to every time and place. The valley of the shadow is not a foreign experience as we all have felt its cold grip about our necks. We have been surrounded by enemies who overturn our tables and drain our cups to the dregs.  Goodness and mercy have fled away and our heads have been anointed with scorn. The psalm is not spoken to those who lie on beds of ease or rejoice as in days of comfort. There is a reason the 23rd psalm follows the psalm 22 cry of dereliction, “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?” for “the Lord is my shepherd” is the promise that the shadow was never meant to be our dwelling place. Green pastures and still waters await therefore “I shall not want”.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Pentecost 8 B - Jeremiah 23:1-6

Jeremiah 23:1-6
It appears that the days that “are surely coming” still haven’t arrived as the righteous Branch raised up for David was “despised and rejected” (Isaiah 53) and crucified by the sheep he came to shepherd. Of course the righteous Branch was resurrected and the remnant gathered on Pentecost would proclaim the reign of the righteous Branch from Jerusalem to Samaria to the ends of the earth. Unfortunately the empire figured out assimilation was the best way to stamp out the Holy Spirit fire so the remnant would be more true to Roman rule than the righteous Branch. And so even if there are days of righteousness and justice and wise dealings they don’t last as one tyrant is overthrown only to be replaced by another. So what shall we say about this promise as yet unfilled? Well maybe Jeremiah’s idea of what the Branch would accomplish and God’s “plans to prosper… with a hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11) were not exactly the same thing. In the temporal realm branches raised up are not like the capital B Branch that comes humble and riding on a donkey and in the grand scheme of things we should not look to small b Branches to be anything more than twigs. We are citizens of a realm that exists simultaneously in the finite present and the infinite future and as such are free like Jeremiah to speak truth to “the powers that be” without counting the cost even if the cost is a cross. In that way the days that “are surely coming” have already arrived and are still coming as we work to transform what is into what will be waiting with eager expectation for the day when “they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing” will have fully come.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Easter 7 B - Mark 6:14-29

Mark 6:14-29
It is a gruesome story and sad end for the Baptizer who made straight the way in the wilderness to prepare the way of the Lord. I know Stephen is the first martyr of the church but John is the first one to die for the cause. That is not to say he fully understood it even if in baptizing Jesus he recognized the One who was greater than he. (Mark 1:7) While in prison John sent his disciples to ask Jesus if he was the one or should they look for another. Jesus sent them back to tell John “the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised and good news is proclaimed to the poor.” (Matthew 11:5) Maybe Jesus’ response emboldened John to continue to be a voice in the wilderness, albeit confined in Herod’s prison, telling “that fox” (Luke 13:32) to get out of the hen house. (aka Herodias) But then John was not a “reed shaking in the wind” or one destined to wear fine clothes. (Matthew 11:7) He was born to be a prophet and “more than a prophet” but like so many prophets before him he paid the price for speaking the truth to power. Jesus will have his own day in court when the crowd demands its due and the prophet from Galilee suffers the same fate as those who went before him. The difference is that even the grave could not silence the Word made flesh. John the baptizer was blessed to know he was included in the word that Jesus sent him. We stand in that prophetic tradition as people called to speak the truth and not count the cost for the word sent to John includes us. The dead are raised.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Easter 7 B - Ephesians 1:3-14

Ephesians 1:3-14
To be chosen in Christ “before the foundation of the earth” is a long time to be loved. But we were destined for adoption for the good pleasure of God’s will. That means we are the object of God’s eternal affection so that love lavished upon us has as much to do with God’s desire to love as to be loved in return. It is a mutually pleasing arrangement. God gifts us with glorious grace and we live for the praise of God the giver’s glory. The mystery of God’s will made known to us through the apostle Paul is that God is somehow incomplete or unfulfilled without us. And we are less than we were destined to be without God. The church has not always done justice to describing this reciprocal relationship casting God as a stern judge who merely puts up with us or excusing continued rebelliousness on our part by a cheap grace that that does not count the cost of our redemption to the Christ. But when we understand ourselves to be dearly loved children we can no more be afraid of God’s wrath than a child laughing while bouncing on the knee of a devoted parent fears rejection from that same parent. And in the same way we live to make God laugh with pure delight and joy just as we desire to please a beloved parent.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Pentecost 7 B - Psalm 85:8-13

Psalm 85:8-13
Because steadfast love and faithfulness embrace righteousness and peace are bold to come out of the closet and engage in a PDA (public display of affection) so that faithfulness springs forth and the righteousness of heaven rains down upon the earth. But before these delightful verses the psalmist pleads for God’s displeasure to be put away and God’s anger to dissipate so that the people might be revived. Therefore the most important verse of the psalm is verse 8. “I will listen to what the Lord God is saying…” Revival happens when God responds to the people’s pleading and they listen and act on what they hear. Then the righteousness that springs forth to be kissed by peace is found in acts of kindness and mercy that mimic the ways of the Lord. And like a sweet embrace or a passionate kiss the world blushes at first but in the end is blessed by the PDA of God's faithful people.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Pentecost 7 B - Amos 7:7-15

Amos 7:7-15
There comes a time when the harsh word is the only word left to speak for one cannot forever endure those who continually abandon the truth and expect no consequence for living the lie. And so the Lord hijacks Amos from dressing vines to speak a harsh word against Jeroboam and the vineyard that is “my people Israel.” Even if the Lord is merciful and slow to anger there comes a day when the steadfast love of the Lord is compelled to say to the wicked, “Thy will be done.” There is a loss for God as well, like a parent of wayward child or the partner of an unfaithful spouse, as the Lord goes into exile and all the hopes and dreams begun in the rescue from Egypt – I will be your God and you will be my people – are for naught. But God’s anger does not burn eternally as God’s desire for intimacy cannot withstand exile forever. Long after Israel is abandoned and Judah is exiled and returned God will write a new covenant on the hearts of humans. The true nature of God will be revealed in the living and dying and rising of Jesus who creates for himself a people to bear witness to the grace of God. The desert will bloom like the Texas Hill Country after a rain and the dry land will rejoice and the people will prosper not because we abandon rebellious ways but because God refuses to abandon us.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Pentecost 6 B - Mark 6:1-13

Mark 6:1-13
The home town crowd is astounded at Jesus’ teachings and deeds of power. Jesus is astounded that it doesn’t make a difference.To the town-folk he is still the simple carpenter, the son of Mary, even if he can cast out demons and heal the sick and speak with wisdom which defies explanation. To be fair Jesus is asking neighbors and relatives to suspend logic and move beyond anything they could imagine about him. That is the difference between knowing and believing. They can see that there is something different about him and even name it but they cannot (or will not) believe he is more than the Jesus they have always known. That is what happens to the twelve sent out two by two as well. Called and commissioned to proclaim “the kingdom come” they do the things that Jesus does, casting out demons, healing the sick and preaching the Jesus sermon. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news.” And they receive the same reception as Jesus does. Aren’t you James and John, the fishermen, the sons of Zebedee? There is no indication that Jesus did any dust shaking when rejected so perhaps the instruction to shake the dust off their sandals has as much to do with the disciples not being discouraged as it does with the house that will not welcome them. But like the disciples sent out the message received is meant to move one from knowing to believing to doing. We might know a thing or two about Jesus and be able to recite the tenants of the faith as described in creeds and catechisms. Faith calls us to move beyond what we know in order to believe what cannot be known. Or in other words what you know becomes who you are and who you are becomes what you do and what you do looks more like the Jesus you know.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Pentecost 6 B - 2 Corinthians 12:2-10

2 Corinthians 12:2-10
“Power made perfect in weakness” is not a pleasant sort of life even if Paul is content to boast of his long list of calamities. Indeed it would seem that the thorn in the flesh is the least of his worries. But then the lesson to be learned is that the ability to endure all things does not come from a position of strength as if all one had to do was double down on spiritual steroids or stoically channel your inner Norwegian - if you happen to be Lutheran. No. It is grace that allows weakness to be strength. That means one can be content and still lament of the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” (aka - channeling the inner Dane) It means that even though you pray for what you want (three or more times if you like) there comes a day when you accept what is and there is some measure of contentment in acceptance. But that is not the end of the story. The grace that is sufficient points us to the “things that are not to be told” so that the future balm for present woes might be applied to the wounds made by thorns in the flesh. In that way “my grace is sufficient for you” transcends whatever keeps us from being too elated with the promise of whatever waits for us in the paradise “God knows”.