Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Pentecost 19 B - Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12

Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12
If “in these last days” Jesus is the reflection of God’s glory and the very imprint of God’s very being” then God (in Jesus) was, for a little while, lower than the angels as well. By that I mean Jesus cannot taste death for everyone while the one Father who sanctifies remains distant. Even if we reduce the relationship of the inner workings of the mystery of the Trinity to something a little lower, like human parent and child, God experiences the death Jesus drinks. More to the point, it is not just any death that Jesus tastes. He does not die in his sleep. The cancer doesn’t get him. He doesn’t drop dead of a heart attack. It isn’t an accident. Crowned with thorns, stripped naked and nailed to wood Jesus’ death is as creative as humans can get when it comes to inflicting shame and pain on one another. And given that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, knew our nature from the beginning… (in subjecting all things to them God left nothing outside their control) it was not only fitting but really the only option that salvation for savages such as ourselves should come through suffering. And by that I mean Jesus descends into our corruption and rises above our much lower status so that we might ascend above and beyond our beginnings to become like the pioneer of our salvation. 

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Pentecost 19 B - Psalm 8

Psalm 8
The “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name” is mindful of mortals. Within the human community the mighty generally ignore the lowly. There are exceptions, of course, but more often than not human beings are only mindful of themselves. Not so with the majestic name that is above all names. God in Jesus enters the human story as a baby born to an unwed mother in a country occupied by a foreign power. He is the opposite of what we would expect. “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected, a man of suffering and familiar with pain, like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised and we held him in low esteem.” (Isaiah 53:2-3) David imagines God’s mindfulness as crowning mortals with glory and honor and giving them dominion over every living thing. Mortals crowned the majestic name with thorns and heaped scorn and abuse on that sacred head. But the glory of God was the cross (John 12:28) where God elevated mortals by being brought low. “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth…”

Monday, September 28, 2015

Pentecost 19 B - Genesis 2:18-24

Genesis 2:18-24
The trouble in paradise comes in chapter three but in the beginning everything was perfect. The “one flesh” couple lived without fear or guilt or shame or any of the ways of being and doing and thinking that rip one flesh apart and cause untold heartache. But once the two lusted after the forbidden fruit and crossed the line between creature and creator they no longer felt comfortable in their own skin. Relationships between help mate partners have never been the same despite the fairy-tale optimism of happily ever after. Not that help mate partners cannot be “one flesh” in a way that benefits both. It just takes more clinging to each other than we may care to or are able to do. So going back to the beginning is helpful. Not the first blush of love, though that is very nice, but the beginning of this story. It was not good for the first human to be alone and so God gave the gift of the other who can be “one flesh” with us. If we think of ourselves as taken out of and given to each other we might cling to one another in ways that make the best parts of the fairy-tale come true.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Pentecost 18 B - Mark 9:38-50

Mark 9:38-50
I’d rather not give up my hand, foot or eye even if the consequence of keeping what causes me to sin is hellish. That’s the literal truth of this passage and one that is not that hard to understand. Giving up what causes us to sin is as difficult as cutting off a hand or a foot or plucking out an eye. The fact that the text makes us uncomfortable is a good indication that we know we have grown accustomed to stumbling through life and are not all that anxious to do the painful but necessary work of removing from our being the thoughts, words and deeds with which we harm ourselves and others and ultimately offend the Lord.  But when the word of the Lord salts us with fire we hear the truth about our faltering footsteps which is always an invitation to be set free from whatever impedes peace within ourselves. And if we are at peace within ourselves we are more likely to be at peace with others and that always pleases the Lord.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Pentecost 18 B - James 5:13-20

James 5:13-20
I am confident Elijah was a human being but I’m not so sure about “quite like us.” On the other hand he was fully dependent on God for rain or lack thereof in the same way that those who suffer pray and those who are cheerful rejoice. There may be some who think it is the righteousness of the one who prays that determines the outcome but I prefer to believe the “powerful and effective” nature of the prayer has more to do with persistence in the face of circumstances beyond one's control. We know that we were not meant to live forever in bodies of flesh and blood and bones and so the healing that happens in the temporal is not nearly as “powerful and effective” as the healing that allows one to take life as it comes without being overcome. Every day is a gift despite the difficulties we face when we recognize we are in this thing together. So Elijah was indeed just like us even though some folks that farm and ranch in west Texas might like to have his ability to make it rain.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Pentecost 18 B - Psalm 19:7-14

We tend to think of the law as limiting, for good reasons of course, but restrictive none-the-less. The psalmist sees the law as the kind of freedom that revives, rejoices and enlightens. That is because the law of the Lord reveals the truth about the One who desires all good things for us including clearing us from hidden faults, which is not all that pleasant for us (there is a reason our faults prefer to remain hidden) but it is certainly a good thing to know oneself well enough to avoid being dominated by errors that are not easily detected.  So when we embody the perfect law of the Lord we live the love of the Lord which Jesus said is what the law and the prophets are all about. Love God. Love others. Such words and thoughts of the heart are always pleasing to the Lord, our rock and redeemer.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Pentecost 18 B - Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29

Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29
The children of Israel, subsisting on manna and quail, weep in the wilderness because they long for the days in Egypt when they imagine they dined on finer fare. Truth is they were slaves in Egypt so it is unlikely that their task masters gave them fish to eat “for nothing”. We tend to color the past in ways that fill in the blanks of our present complaints. Sometimes we imagine the past was better than it could have been. Often we imagine it was worse than it was. But either way we are not satisfied with whatever is and therefore we long for what never was. And so the children of Israel throw a temper tantrum and Moses becomes despondent and the Lord becomes exceedingly angry and the dysfunctional Exodus family tries to figure out how to live together in the desert when no one is happy. When the very angry Lord calms down the despondent Moses is instructed to share the load and the solution to the people’s displeasure is the Spirit of the Lord resting upon the seventy appointed along with two others who were not approved which is often how God acts because the Spirit of the Lord cannot be contained or easily explained. The person who is most moved is Moses which means he will refrain from complaining, “why have you treated your servant so badly?” at least for the time being and get back to leading which is what God called him to do. And the children of Israel will quiet down and be grateful they have something to eat even if it is “what is it” (manna) and the same bird everyday.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Pentecost 17 B - Mark 9:30-37

Mark 9:30-37
On Christmas Eve 1988 I attended worship in the Anglican Cathedral in Liverpool, England. I sat somewhere in the middle of the second longest nave in the world that houses the largest pipe organ in the United Kingdom. The organ lived up to its reputation while over a thousand voices sang “O Come All Ye Faithful” and choirs and cantors and canons processed down the center aisle with considerable pomp and circumstance. At the very end of the liturgical parade, resplendent in garments of gold and crowned with jeweled miter while leaning on an ornate shepherd’s crook, the bishop of Liverpool walked with a small child in his arms. December 24, 1988 is by far my favorite Christmas Eve ever but I’m guessing the bishop of Liverpool carrying a borrowed baby is not what Jesus meant by “whoever wants to be first must be last…” I don’t mean to disparage that experience but the truth is the institutional church has not only pursued power but on far too many occasions has been consumed by it. I think the current crisis of declining participation in the life of faith in the church is due to the lack of faith people have in the life of the church. And even if we embrace and live into being last our sinful nature will likely turn it into a strategy for being first. The good news is that resurrection is always on the other side of death and that even if wonderful spaces like the Cathedral of Liverpool were to crumble into dust the faithful people who created such spaces have already been built into living stones. (1 Peter 2:5)

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Pentecost 17 B - James 3:13-4:8

James 3:14-4:8
If “submit yourselves to God, resist the devil and he will flee from you” was as easy as it sounds the devil would be forever on the run. But then it’s the first part “submit yourselves to God” that is the most difficult to do which is why we are always dealing with “the devil inside.” (INXS) We might be tempted to think that God holds back until we act since “draw near to God and God will draw near to you” seems to be all about us. But if submitting to God is predicated on the belief that God gifts us with wisdom from above then what we become in submitting to God is what God is – “pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy” and the devil cannot long endure such good gifts. So perhaps submitting to God is not about denying oneself but rather choosing to become the child of God we already are. (St. Augustine) 

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Pentecost 17 B - Psalm 54

Psalm 54
The lectionary often skips over verses that call for the destruction of enemies even if there are good reasons for enemies to be destroyed. Repaying evil with evil doesn’t fit the pattern of following the Christ who instructs his disciples to turn the other cheek and pray for those who persecute them.Truth to be told we are sorely tempted to ignore Christ's pacifist teaching in a world where people believe inhuman acts of violence are justified to defend their religious world view. But the psalmist does not advocate for actively striking his enemies and even though his prayer is not for their welfare he leaves vindication in the hands of the Lord. (Romans 12:19) That is because “vindicate me” assumes that the psalmist is in relationship with the Lord and that in their rising against the righteous the ruthless are rising against God as well and God can take care of God's honor, thank you very much. We can and should pray for the ruthless to experience just consequences for what they have done to others. But in the spirit of the Christ we might also pray that the ruthless be freed from the ways of deceit and violence for their own sake because a merciless life hell bent on the destruction of others already reaps what it sows. 

Monday, September 14, 2015

Pentecost 17 B - Jeremiah 11:18-20

Jeremiah - Marc Chagall
Jeremiah gives voice to the cry and complaint of the un-numbered and un-named throughout human history who led to the slaughter have looked to God (or anyone who will listen) for help. But help does not always arrive in a timely fashion as Jeremiah himself will find out when his story of lament and complaint ends in obscurity. Despite all indications to the contrary we believe justice will have its day and the cause of the righteous will be upheld by the God who judges the heart and the mind. However, it may be that we who will have to pray forgiveness for things done and left undone, things said and left unsaid. It may be that we who waited for God to act on behalf of those who suffer while God waited for us to act will be judged as equally guilty. “It was the Lord who made it known to me” means we are God’s agents of mercy and justice in a world that devises evil schemes against the weak and powerless. Too often Christian backs bristle at slights against the practice of our individual piety while the plight of those literally “led to the slaughter” hardly registers a reaction. Granted, the world is not willing to conform to the kingdom of God and indeed actively works against the principles of God’s reign but when we are silent in the face of suffering we acquiesce to the evil schemes that would cut off the word of life from the land of the living. 

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Pentecost 16 B - James 3:1-12

James 3:1-12
James does not mean to discourage “brothers and sisters” to become teachers, nor does he expect them to be perfect, he just wants them to be aware that teachers (and preachers) are held to a higher standard by virtue of the task they have taken on. I’ve had some great teachers in my life but one of my favorites was Miss Kruse. She was my fifth grade teacher at Grace Lutheran School in River Forest, Illinois and years later I had the great gift of being her student teacher. She was a remarkable educator, well ahead of her time, but more importantly she embodied this text. I imagine there were days she found it difficult to be gracious and kind but as far as I could tell her way of being was her way of saying. That is, you cannot simply decide to be more disciplined in your speech while harboring anger and resentment in your heart. In the same way springs of water draw from what is down deep and not from what is on the surface. So if Miss Kruse is the bar for who should presume to teach most of us should look for some other work. However, since Christ is the well she drew from we can all tap into the same source and be as gracious as she was (and still is) although I imagine very few will be as remarkable. 

Pentecost 16 B - Mark 8:27-38

Mark 8:27-38
If Jesus thought of his generation as adulterous and sinful what would he say of ours? I know there are a number of well-meaning people of faith who think we’ve gone to hell in a hand basket and fear that it’s fixin’ to get worse. But since the rebellion in the garden there has never been a time in human history when we have not been an adulterous and sinful generation. That doesn’t mean there are not degrees of separation when it comes to what was meant to be and what is. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” (A Tale of Two Cities – Charles Dickens) Peter publically confesses the Christ; “you are the Messiah” and then privately rebukes Jesus when Jesus defines what it means to be Messiah in a way that does not conform to Peter’s preconceived notion. Messiahs are not meant to undergo great suffering and be killed even if they promise to rise again. If Peter missed the Messiah boat before the resurrection we, who are on the flip side of the crucifixion, are more likely to cast Jesus in our own image of power and glory. No one is ashamed of the mighty Messiah coming in power and majesty to smash the enemies of God to pieces.  But if we preach Christ crucified the King of Glory is never far removed from the place where the world was saved. “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” It was God’s design that the Messiah should be stripped naked and nailed to wood by Roman soldiers so that the Jewish rabbi from the Gentile region of Galilee could change all our ideas about power and prestige. Our problem is that we belong to an adulterous and sinful generation that holds on to this life with a death grip and denies everything except ourselves believing we understand the divine mind when really we are mired in human things.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Pentecost 16 B - Psalm 116:1-9

Psalm 116:1-9
Do we love the Lord because we are heard or are we heard because we love the Lord? It sounds like the psalmist would opt for the former but then there are plenty of passages that lean towards the latter. I’m going to do the Lutheran two-step and say it is both. We love the Lord because the cords of death that choked the life out of us have been loosened. But then we wouldn’t have called on the name of the Lord in our anguish and distress if we didn’t trust the Lord to hear. And trust is just a five letter word for love. The Lutheran song is that the Lord loves us regardless of whether we love the Lord or not (that grace thing) but maybe the Lord is equally adept at dancing the both and. The Lord answers because we love the Lord and the Lord loves because we call out. Grace certainly exists apart from the call and response relationship of love but it is not nearly as noticeable as when faith two steps with the Lord.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Pentecost 16 B - Isaiah 50:4-9

Isaiah 50:4-9
The word that sustains the weary is that the teacher knows a thing or two about suffering. He has endured far more than verbal ridicule and yet morning by morning remains confident of God’s presence and help. It is one thing to suffer and quite another thing to suffer alone. That is a disgrace one cannot long endure which is how laments become songs of praise even when one continues to suffer at the hands of the unjust. The teacher who endured the cross for the sake of the world is more than able to sustain us with a “morning by morning” word of peace that surpasses the world’s ability to understand. Therefore we do not turn back or rebel against difficult things done for the sake of the weary for the One who was wearied for the sake of the world is the living Word that sustains us all.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Pentecost 15 B - Mark 7:24-37

Mark 7:24-37
It is a difficult story to deal with if you wonder what Jesus was thinking when he called the desperate woman a dog. She didn’t object to being called a dog which you might be willing to do when your daughter is possessed and you’ve got nowhere else to go. Pr. Nick Billardello of Abiding Grace Lutheran says she barked. At any rate Jesus recognizes the kind of need that leads one to bow down low and accept ridicule and insult for the sake of someone you love and so he banishes the demon from her daughter. The second story is similar to the first as the deaf man with slurred speech is helped by those who beg Jesus to heal their friend. Spit and speech (Ephphatha!) do what doctors could not. Astounded beyond measure the crowds marvel at everything done well. Jesus' “everything done well” won’t be remembered when he is accused of being in league with the devil. (Matthew 9:34) And it won’t be long before people hurl more than insults at him as they strip him naked and nail him to wood. But when the world is possessed and you have nowhere else to go you’ll go to the cross to save those you love.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Pentecost 15 B - James 2:1-17

James 2:1-17
What good is it my sisters and brothers if you supply the bodily needs of those who are hungry and do not wish them well by warming them with the sharing of peace? What good is that? I’m taking some liberties with the word from James but only because there is a tendency for well-meaning people to provide for people in need without ever getting to know or appreciate the person in need. Calvary’s participation in the Room in the Inn ministry attempts to meet both the relational and physical needs of the guests who spend the night in our family life center and if you ask them I think they appreciate the relational aspect as much as the physical. The homeless need help, no doubt, but what they long for is dignity and that doesn’t come to anyone as charity. It can only be found in true friendship and genuine love that looks past possessions or lack thereof to value another as a human being created in the image of God. 

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Pentecost 15 B - Psalm 146

Psalm 146
Trusting in the temporal is no help at all when what one hopes for is eternal. That doesn’t mean we do not put stock in the here and now. And the Lord does not care for the stranger or sustain the orphan and the widow or frustrate the wicked without in some ways enlisting our help. Even opening the eyes of the blind and lifting up the bowed down calls for the righteous loved by the Lord to be involved. But when I’m finished praising the Lord “as long as I live” I hope there is a refrain that follows my life long singing. That means we live our lives anticipating what will be while being fully engaged in what is.