Monday, August 31, 2015

Pentecost 15 B - Isaiah 35:4-7

Isaiah 35:4-7
Isaiah 35 begins with the parched land rejoicing and ends with the ransomed of the Lord returning unto Zion with singing as they are overtaken by joy and gladness. Between the parched land rejoicing and the ransomed returning are feeble hands and weak knees and fearful hearts that long for redemption. But since the chapter begins and ends with a promise Isaiah can say, “Be strong” to the feeble and weak and fearful instead of “suck it up.” The ability to “be strong” comes from living into the future promise in whatever circumstance we find ourselves so that hands and knees become steady even when the ground is shaking. We are able to endure because we believe the present difficulty will be overcome by the future promise. It means we can deal with what is because we anticipate what will be. In the here and now the blind are still blind. The deaf still cannot hear. The lame still limp and the dumb are still speechless. It is as simple and as difficult as that because we are more accustomed to “suck it up” than what Isaiah means by “be strong” or perhaps we think they are the same thing and therefore are always running too fast in the present for the future to catch up. But when God’s ultimate vision becomes our eternal imagination the future bursts into the present like a rainstorm in the desert and the blind see and the deaf hear and the lame leap and the dumb shout for joy. What will be already is when by faith we stop “sucking it up” and allow the “be strong” of future gladness to overtake us. 

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Pentecost 14 B - Mark 7:1-8, 13-14, 21-23

Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
Thank God we’re back to the Gospel of Mark! Don’t get me wrong. I’m not into gluten free Gospels but five weeks of bread, even bread from heaven, is more than I can stomach. Okay, that might be a little over the top for a lectionary based joke but I don’t think the lectionary needs five weeks to deal with John chapter six. Be that as it may it turns out the Gospel lesson for this week still has something to do with food and the rituals that surround it. I find it noteworthy that necessary things, the everyday act of eating and drinking, are given additional layers of meaning but maybe that is the point. Things basic but necessary are always more than ordinary. Most of us are far removed from the production of our food so that we can grab a burger from In and Out and think nothing of the sun and soil and rain and crops and cattle and rancher and farmer and slaughter house and silo and purchaser and packager and shipper and cook and wait staff that eventually put the burger on the bun with fries on the side so that we could wolf it down without thinking about it. Maybe if we were more aware of how fortunate we are we would become more aware of those for whom the every day act of eating is not a given. Of all the religious things we do being generous with the ordinary gifts we’ve been given brings the most joy to the God who desires the honor of our lips to be a true expression of the devotion of our heart.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Pentecost 14 B - James 1:17-27

James 1:17-27
Martin Luther called James “an epistle of straw” for its less than solid declaration of the Gospel but every time I read it I can’t help but hear Jesus speaking. I bet that’s because James knew his half-brother better than Luther did even if Luther had the apostle Paul to tell him what he needed to know. (Luther was born again while reading Romans and practically gushes over Galatians) That might be why James reads more like Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) than Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. Of course we Lutherans tend to read everything through the Pauline lens but that being said we’d be well served to apply the lesson of James to the way we live the Gospel. If you look at it that way the epistle of straw is the brick and mortar of the Gospel house. “So be doers of the word and not merely hearers.” (James 1:22) That sounds a lot like “You will know them by their fruits.” (Matthew 7:16-20) 

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Pentecost 14 B - Psalm 15

So I guess verse 5a (do not lend money at interest) means all the bankers are out of luck when it comes to real estate on the holy hill. I’m not a Hebrew scholar but I’m willing to bet very few people lent anything without expecting something in return so either the holy hill is a vacant lot or there must be another way to walk blamelessly. I think the key verse might be 4c (who stand by their oath even to their hurt) Walking blamelessly and doing what is right while speaking heartfelt truth and not slander is a way of being that considers the needs of friends and neighbors and the needy to be as great as one’s own need. The reason those who do these things are never moved is because they embody the heart and soul and will of God. From the very beginning God refused to abandon those who were made in the image of God even though those made in God’s image chose to abandon God. God’s oath led God to the “hurt” of the holy hill of the cross and if there is interest owed on the loan of Jesus’ life I certainly can’t pay it. Speaking of not being able to pay back what is owed I was set apart for the ministry of Word and Sacrament twenty four years ago at Calvary Lutheran Church. I have not served blamelessly but I think I have always spoken the truth from my heart giving no occasion for false security or illusory hope. I don’t think my labor has been in vain but it has been laborious. It is only by grace and the goodness of the people of God that I can say today I am grateful for the call to “pastor up” twenty four years ago. In the blessing and the burden of serving Jesus is found and in Him I found the truth of Martin Luther’s Sacristy prayer; “…you see how unsuited I am to meet so great and difficult a task… do not forsake me for if ever should I be on my own I would easily wreck it all.”

Monday, August 24, 2015

Pentecost 14 B - Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9

Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9
It sounds fairly straightforward. Obey and live. Don’t and die. For some it was as simple as that. But then the wise and discerning people figured out that going through the motions worked just as well so that God speaking through the prophet Isaiah laments, “these people honor me with their lips but their hearts are far from me.” (29:13) Maybe it was the do or die that confused them. That’s not the best basis for a relationship. Of course there are consequences and rewards in any relationship but what God earnestly desired was for people’s hearts to be close because they wanted to be close; because they remembered when they were slaves in Egypt God heard their cry; because God led them through the waste land and did not abandon them even though continually complained. It turns out the burden God bears are the people God loves. And so God continually reworks what the relationship is supposed to look like – dumbing it down if you will. Like the prophet Micah speaking for God - how about if you just act justly; love mercy, and walk humbly with me. Would that work for you?  (6:8) Jesus reduces the whole of scripture and the 613 mosaic laws to two - love God and love neighbor.  Now if we do that we’d really be wise and discerning and I bet folks would notice. So take care and watch yourselves in such a way that you love the God you cannot see as best you can and love the neighbor you can see even a little better.  

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Pentecost 13 B - John 6:56-69

By the end of chapter six the five thousand fed on loaves and fishes have gone home and “many of his disciples” desert him. Only the Twelve are left and as usual Peter gives voice to what they’re thinking. They have come to accept what the crowds cannot and because they believe Jesus is the Holy One of God they aren’t turned off by his “eat my flesh and drink my blood” talk. I don’t think they understand what he is saying any better than those who declare it to be “a hard teaching” but then accepting doesn’t require understanding. Not that they don’t have limits to what they will accept as in Peter’s “God forbid it!” when Jesus says he is destined to suffer and die and rise again. And when the mob comes to the garden to grab Jesus the Twelve (minus one) find another “to whom shall we go” place to hide until the risen Jesus breaks in on their pity party to prove with nail scarred hands that death itself has died. But for now they are the ones enabled by the Father to believe. We too have been enabled by Spirit filled words to believe what we cannot fully understand and only dimly perceive, that all our best hopes and dreams for the here and now and the forever future are found in the Holy One of God.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Pentecost 13 B - Ephesians 6:10-20

Ephesians 6:10-20
Being strong in the Lord is not the same thing as being strong. In fact the only way to be strong in the strength of the Lord is to let go of whatever strength you think you might have. Even the self-discipline of daily devotionals or spending time in the word and worship can get in the way of surrendering self-sufficiency in order to pick up what God would have us put on. Don’t get me wrong. Acts of piety are helpful but they are not the source of strength that allows one to stand against all that is against us. So the first piece of armor to put on is the belt of truth because everything else attaches to it. We admit the truth about ourselves (that we are our own worst enemies) while confessing the truth about the God who dies so that enemies might be called friends. The breastplate of righteousness cannot be attached to dishonesty therefore our admission and confession makes a place for being right with ourselves and God. The mission of the church is often mired in mud and would have the world worship at its altar but the truth of the Gospel compels feet to go to proclaim peace to those who would never darken the door of our sanctuaries. The shield of faith allows us to live with all that threatens without being threatened by those very same things. And heads fitted firmly with salvation means the “here and now” is fully fitted with the “there and then” which is to say we live the forever future in the present whenever we think of ourselves as eternal creatures.  

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Pentecost 13 B - Psalm 34:15-22

Psalm 34:15-22
Psalm 34 declares that the name of those who do evil will be blotted out from the face of the earth while the Lord will remember the brokenhearted and save those whose spirits are crushed. Of course broken hearts are often brought about by those who do evil and as the prophet Habakkuk points out the wicked prosper long enough for the righteous to wonder why. (Habakkuk 1:1ff) But the psalm declares it is the act of evil that slays the wicked while those who patiently endure troubles (albeit while crying out for help) will be rescued from whatever condemnation is reserved for those who oppose the way of righteousness. While we might interpret this psalm as being willing to wait for the scales of justice to ultimately and finally balance the equation between good and evil the psalmist sings of justice in the present tense and will not stand idly by while the wicked prosper. That means Psalm 34 might respond to Habakkuk’s question, “How long, O Lord, will the wicked prosper?” with a defiant, “no longer.” And so we live the future, which is the present tense of Psalm 34, whenever we tip the scales of justice in the favor of the troubled while setting our face (and our energy and resources) against those who do evil. The petition, “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” has as much to do with our will as it does with God’s.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Pentecost 13 B - Joshua 24:1-2, 16-18

Joshua 24:1-2, 16-18
“Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other god’s” turns out to not be too “far be it from" them at all. In the future the prophets speaking for God will lament, “These people honor me with their lips but their hearts are far from me.” (Isaiah 29:13) I suppose after forty years in the wilderness you’ll say anything to get some relief in the Promised Land. I’ve read the Old Testament more times than I can count and far be it from me to find times these people pledging faithfulness made good on the promise. Oh there are times they listen to what the Lord is saying (as for me and my house we will serve the Lord) and experience blessing, but the land promised (albeit taken violently from others) is ultimately divided between two kingdoms who hate each other more than they fear their enemies. The truth of the scriptures is that they don’t sugar coat the story of the people of God who turn out to be just as unfaithful as everyone else. But in the same way that the scripture speaks the truth about them (and us) it reveals the unique nature of our God.  Every other god would visit vengeance on promises made but not kept.  This God declares through the crucified and risen Christ, “far be it from me” to forsake you. 

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Pentecost 12 B - John 6:51-58

John 6:51-58
This is the Gospel of John’s take on what Jesus meant the meal to be. More than a ritualized remembrance the living bread from heaven is the life of God in bread baked and grape fermented that at the same time is the real flesh and blood of Jesus.  When she was young and her brother younger still Michaelann Berry told Austin, “I know it tastes like bread but it’s really Jesus’ body” to which he replied, “Ewwwww.” (and rightly so) That’s the trouble with texts that want to be taken literally and figuratively at the same time. It is bread but it is really Jesus body. It is wine but it is really Jesus’ blood. Or we might just as easily say it is Jesus’ body but it is really bread. Or it is Jesus’ blood but it is really wine. The Lutheran take on what Jesus meant the meal to be proclaims the paradox and accepts both statements to true at the very same time. In the same way the simple meal of bread and body, wine and blood, transcends time and space so that joined with Christ we are united with those who are and those who were and those who will be. That is how the future forever feast is fully found in our present even as we remember the past event, “in the night in which he was betrayed Jesus took bread…”  It tastes familiar,  like the things of the earth we eat at home but as the bread we will eat in heaven it declares what no eye has seen, no ear heard, no mind conceived…. (1 Corinthians 2:9) 

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Pentecost 12 B - Ephesians 5:15-20

Ephesians 5:15-20
If the days were evil when the apostle Paul wrote these words to the Ephesians what are they now?  Truth is every age competes in the evil age idol contest and seems to believe their days are more evil than the ones that came before. There was at least one moment in history when a good number of Christian people thought the world was getting better and better but that dream died in the trenches of World War One and the church has never fully recovered its optimism for the kingdom come on earth. So should we occupy the street corners and the air waves with doom and gloom and prepare for the worst declaring our age to be the evil age idol contest winner? I think that would be unwise. If anything is evil it is living comfortable lives singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among ourselves while others suffer and we do nothing about it. If we understand what the will of God is we will sing the song sung among ourselves as loudly as we are able outside the confines of the church. We will sing the song of suffering that declares evil cannot overpower it; the song of hope that dares evil to defy it; the song of redemption that challenges evil to limit it. The “making melody to the Lord in our hearts” is the song the world needs to hear and if we sing it clearly and with compassion we might, by God’s grace, lose the evil age idol contest.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Pentecost 12 B - Psalm 34:9-14

Psalm 34:9-14
Pleasure and prosperity comes from pursuing peace. We tend to equate pleasure and prosperity with possessions or at least the resources to live free from want. But it seems no matter how much one has there is always room in our wanting for just a little bit more. Those who seek the Lord and live in reverent fear – which simply means acknowledging that God is God and we are not – lack nothing that is good. That is not to say life is free of difficulties but rather that one’s perspective changes about the pleasure the world pursues when one seeks the peace that passes understanding. To turn from evil and do good is to be at peace with God and self and neighbor which is as good as it gets.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Pentecost 12 B - Proverbs 9:1-6

Proverbs 9:1-6
Wisdom is a feminine noun in Hebrew and what she offers, along with wine and bread and roasted meat, is order. The book of Proverbs is dedicated to the premise that the world is ordered along predictable paths and Wisdom knows the rules for living that will make life follow the rules. The book of Ecclesiastes begs to differ and calls that sort of wisdom "vanities of vanities" but that is a lesson for a different day. So let’s just say that laying aside immaturity, even when the world is not orderly and predictable, is a good thing and leads one to live through less than predicable times in a more orderly fashion. Which is to say a more faithful way – and on that I believe Ecclesiastes and Wisdom would agree.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Pentecost 11 B - John 6:35, 41-51

John 6:35; 41-51
“Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know?” It is a legitimate question for those in the crowd “who knew Jesus when” even if they have followed him across the lake expecting to see something more. Of course they didn’t ask any questions when the meager meal was multiplied into a feast for five thousand plus (and twelve doggie bags besides). Everyone likes a magic trick and even if you ask to see it again (but more slowly) you can suspend disbelief for the thrill of the illusion or in this case your fill of fish sandwiches. But when the magician claims a higher status than “watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat – presto - oops wrong hat!”” (Bullwinkle Moose) objections soon follow. After all a good trick accomplished with mirrors is one thing; claiming to be the trick is quite another. “I am the bread of life come down from heaven” is a bigger trick than the crowd can believe or even understand. But then are we any different? We live comfortably within the confines of our religious systems that determine WWJD (What Would Jesus Do) on the basis of personal preference or denominational bias or desire to demonize whoever is not like us. Is it any wonder the world has wearied of the Christian trick and has determined we follow Jesus to feed our belly or ease our conscience or maintain the status quo? But there are moments when we are so captured by the mystery of the bread of life from heaven that we change the way we distribute that bread in the world. Since Jesus claims to reflect the will of the One he calls the Father then God the Father is no different from God the Son and “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do (even though they seemed to know exactly what they were doing) is a bigger deal than feeding five thousand with a few loaves and a couple fish.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Pentecost 11 B - Ephesians 4:25-5:2

Ephesians 4:25-5:2
Falsehood is a hard thing to put away since it is so deceptive and evil speech often comes out of our mouths masquerading as truth spoken to neighbor. (The proverbial log in the eye that is blind to everything except the speck of sawdust in the eye of the other – Matthew 7:3) So we need to make an effort to “put away” what comes naturally and “imitate” what does not. Maybe if we were painfully aware that in grieving others we grieve the Holy Spirit of God we would make every effort to imitate God for God’s sake. So being angry without sinning means we do not nurse resentment or wrap ourselves in indignation as if it were a comforter but seek to resolve whatever grievances we have against each other for the sake of God. And if as beloved children we are truly members of one another then we cannot be whole without forgiving one another as we have been forgiven. So loving the other for God’s sake turns out to be a very good thing for us as well and since we are most often motivated by self interest... forgiving others may be the best way of being selfish.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Pentecost 11 B - 1 Kings 19:4-8

1 Kings 19:4-8
Elijah is despairing under the solitary broom tree because Queen Jezebel is determined to kill him which makes sense because Elijah killed all her prophets and burned up the altar of Baal with fire from on high. (1 Kings 18) Of course Elijah despairing means he doesn’t believe God is able to repeat the feat and his fear of Jezebel is more present than his faith in God. I’ve not called down fire from heaven to consume a wet sacrifice or slain any prophets of Baal but I will admit to failing faith in the face of circumstances that make me forget God’s faithfulness. What is forgotten in those circumstances is that faith is not about our ability to believe. While Elijah is ready to lie down and die God is not and so God provides what is necessary for the journey. So it is with us on this journey of life that would be too much for us were it not for God who gifts us with companions, like a cake cooked on hot stones, who warm our way and give us courage to face each new day with confidence that we will have the strength to meet whatever challenge lies ahead of us. In the end faith trusts that God’s faithfulness is all that is necessary for the forty days and nights of however long our life lasts until we will reach the promised mount of God. (Isaiah 25:6)