Friday, October 30, 2015

The Feast of All Saints Year B - John 11:32-44

John 11:32-44
The lesson picks up the story at the point where Mary, the one who was commended for sitting at Jesus feet while Martha took care of the catering, comes to accuse Jesus of not acting in a timely manner. "If you had been here my brother would not have died" is how she greets the One at whose feet she had previously sat in adoration. Truth is she sent word two days earlier and Jesus took his time. So she is right. If he had come when called Lazarus would not have died. Martha on the other hand, despite all the needs of funeral arrangements, met Jesus as he arrived to tell him God would do whatever he would ask. Such is the nature of grief. It changes us. Martha previously intent on serving is compelled to seek and Mary previously intent on seeking withdraws. In the end Mary and Martha's grief is met by the change in Jesus. Jesus wept. That is the Gospel in two words for up to this point the Jesus of John's Gospel is God incarnate who is more Word than flesh. But when Jesus weeps it is God weeping for the pain we endure and in that shared grief we like Lazarus are revived.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Feats of All Saints Year B - Revelation 21:1-6

Revelation 21:1-6
The “making all things new” promise that was “trustworthy and true” made it possible for people to endure the worst sort of “all things” that got old pretty quickly. When your everyday is filled with sorrow and suffering you need something to hang onto. The promise that the tables will be turned has always been a powerful promise to the persecuted and revenge served warm or cold is just as sweet when your cause is vindicated and your tormentors are themselves tormented. All the better if their punishment is permanent and yours only lasted a lifetime. The trouble we should have with that promise is that it sounds like a very human response to a very human problem. The first sin outside the garden was fratricide and the human family has been killing each other ever since. So for God to enter the fray in the same way does not make sense to me. I’m not saying there is no judgement. I will be judged guilty no matter how tightly I cling to the cross of Christ because I am guilty. And so are you. And so are they whoever your “they” may be. The whole damn lot of humanity. Guilty. The hope that gives me comfort is that God’s promise to dwell with mortals is bigger than my limited imagination can conceive and that in the cross God truly was “reconciling the world to God’s self not counting people’s sins against them.” It is not a get out a jail free card. It is God entering our prison and transforming it into something new. It is the hope that the new Jerusalem will finally live fully into its name – the city of peace.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Feast of All Saints Year B - Psalm 24:1-6

Psalm 24:1-6
The psalmist might proclaim that the earth is the Lord's but we live as if everything belongs to us. It's more than not taking care of the portion of the planet we inhabit. Rather our neglect of good things is a symptom of a more serious disease. As the old confession goes we have sinned against the Lord in thought word and deed by what we have done and left undone. Our hands are unclean, our hearts are impure and deceit comes naturally to us. And so it was for the unclean and impure that the King of Glory climbed a hill called Calvary where his clean hands were nailed to wood and his pure heart was broken. The blessing of the Lord we receive is the answer to the prayer of another psalm. Create in us clean hearts, O Lord, and renew in us a right spirit. Such is the company of those who seek the Lord. Not those who are pure in their own right but those who have been vindicated by the God of their salvation and that is good company indeed.

Monday, October 26, 2015

The Feast of All Saints Year B - Isaiah 25:6-9

Isaiah 25:6-9
The psalmist laments, “by the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept… when our captors mocked us making us sing songs of Zion… while we imagined those who dashed the children of Babylon upon the rocks blessed.” (Psalm 137) It is to captive people whose hope is the ugly vision of revenge that Isaiah speaks the hope of God where all people are gathered on God’s holy mountain for a feast of rich food and fine wine. That vision would have been mouth-watering for those whose daily bread was uncertain but to imagine their tormentors seated at the same table was beyond their ability to comprehend. But then God always thinks outside the human box. Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you. Father forgive them for they know not what they do. God in Christ Jesus invites humanity to the greatest dinner party ever where the guest list is not about status or income or privilege. All are invited. All are welcome. And while the “all people” party on the holy mountain God dines on death and licks the plate clean. Party on Wayne. Party on Garth. Excellent.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Reformation Sunday - John 8:31-36

John 8:31-36
I suppose I should have said something about being Lutheran this week, after all Reformation is the Lutheran 4th of July and you wouldn’t celebrate independence without some flag waving and fireworks. So here is a Luther quote that might make a bang, “If I am not allowed to laugh in heaven I don't want to go there.” Which I think he was only able to say because of this flag waving quote, “Faith is a living, bold trust in God's grace, so certain of God's favor that it would risk death a thousand times trusting in it.” Radical trust is what it means to be a Christian of the Lutheran flavor even though Lutherans, like everyone else, would prefer a cross the t and dot the i system where God had to play by rules we understand and ultimately control. But to trust that God loves with no strings attached, no down payment required, because God’s very nature is love means God’s love is truly free. I don’t mean all paths lead to the same truth. Jesus is the only one who crossed the t and dotted the i in the way that means no one else has to. There is only one way, only one truth, only one life that makes this life and the forever life possible. So what if we were to say this Reformation Sunday that we’d be willing to risk death a thousand times if the laughter in heaven came from more people than our limited knowledge and doctrine allows for? But then why wait? A bold trust in God’s grace means we don’t have to wait for heavenly laughter for whenever we are so certain of God’s favor to live at peace with all people, especially those who disagree with us – even fellow Lutherans – the laughter in heaven is God’s.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Reformation Sunday - Romans 3:19-28

God is the One who is just and the one who justifies; period, end of sentence. So why do we work so hard for what is none of our business? I don’t mean sin; we don’t have to work at disobedience or doubt or self-centeredness or disregard for the needs of others or neglect of the planet or any of the ways we are guilty of being less than what God intended humans created in the image of God to be. No. Sin is all about us which is why the just One who intends to justify the creation gone its own way enters the fray to contend with the inevitable consequence of our rebellion, namely, death. Faith does not activate or complete what God has already done in entering the human story. Faith means we enter God’s story in the Christ and stop working for what is already ours because we no longer doubt what is beyond comprehension. We are already justified, made right with God, because God won’t have it any other way, which means we are free to be what it means to be fully human.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Reformation Sunday - Psalm 46

Psalm 46
No Fear. It is more than a bumper sticker declaration of one’s willingness to engage in reckless behavior. The “No Fear” of Psalm 46 is not found in bravado but in being still in the refuge and strength of God’s very present help. Be still when mountains tremble. Be still when waters roar and foam. Be still when nations collide and kingdoms totter. Be still when your place on the planet is less than secure, when troubles rise and circumstances conspire against you. Be still. The help that comes in the morning is available through the night for the Lord of Hosts with us stills us. Don’t get me wrong. There is plenty to fear and much to lament. But God in our midst, like a stream that makes one glad, flows through times of trouble turning them into holy habitations. Living into no fear means we do not wait for a day to come but live fully into the present by pausing in stillness inviting the eternal into the everyday so that with the psalmist we will not fear even if…

Monday, October 19, 2015

Reformation Sunday - Jeremiah 31:27-34

Jeremiah 31:27-34
“The days that are surely coming” where the Lord “remembers sin no more” arrived a long time ago by the way of a hill called Calvary. Unfortunately, we are very good at remembering what the Lord forgets. By that I mean we crucify ourselves again and again with guilt, shame and regret over the very “sour grape” thoughts, words and deeds that were nailed to the cross with Jesus. But the new covenant of the cross means that God continually renews the covenant we break so that we might come to know the One who desires nothing more than to be in relationship with rebellious children such as ourselves. Not sure what God gets out of it. But I am glad to know such a Lord. Maybe we need to write a new covenant with ourselves whereby we are as forgetful, and by that I mean as forgiving, as God.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Pentecost 21 B - Mark 10:35-45

Mark 10:35-45
“When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John” presumably because the ten were sorry they hadn't been as bold as the two. All twelve imagined the cup was power and the baptism the laurel wreath of victory but Jesus is destined to be enthroned on a cross and the places on the right and left of that throne were reserved for criminals. Jesus stills the sons of thunder with the promise that they will drink the cup of suffering and be baptized with death without getting anything in return except the promise that being first for the follower of Jesus is like being last in the ways of the world. In so many ways that lesson has been lost on the church where rich church rulers are vested fully in the ways of the world provided by people in the pews who like the widow with a mite can hardly afford to tithe. Thank God that the “ransom for many” serves and saves in ways that go beyond the limited understanding of the two and the ten and the church so that Jesus is proclaimed despite our propensity to translate the Gospel into ways that make us great.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Pentecost 21 B - Hebrews 5:1-10

Hebrews 5:1-10
I’m not a high priest but I suppose according to the writer of Hebrews I qualify as one chosen to be “put in charge of things pertaining to God” so as to “deal gently with the ignorant and the wayward.” Of course the people of God at Calvary are neither ignorant nor wayward. If you want to read some ignorant and wayward ideas just Google Melchizedek. The trouble with obscure Biblical characters is that people feel free to fill in the blanks. Can anyone say Jabez? What we do know is that Mel, the King of Salem, blessed Abram with bread and wine after Abram’s victory over the Elamites and Abram introduced the tithe – although the passage could be read in such a way that it could be King Mel who gave the tithe to Father Abe. (Genesis 14:18-20) That would be an interesting twist. What if in dealing with a wayward and ignorant humanity it is Jesus, the King of Peace, who gives the tithe to us? Except he didn’t just give ten percent but with loud tears and cries gave his whole life so as to deal gently with those who dealt cruelly with him. Maybe we need to do more than tithe as well?

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Pentecost 21 B - Psalm 91:9-16

Psalm 91:9-16
I’d rather not tread upon the lion cub (they’re so cute!) or trample down the serpent (Why’d it have to be snakes – Indiana Jones) but I wouldn’t turn down a dwelling free from affliction. The fact of the matter is we all experience times full of trouble where the Lord as a refuge with angel hands to bear us up are a welcome relief from all the things that threaten. That does not mean we don’t have to deal with the evil all around us. It does mean that in the holy habitation that is the Most High we are delivered and upheld by the salvation that ultimately satisfies. 

Monday, October 12, 2015

Pentecost 20 B - Isaiah 53:4-12

Isaiah 53:4-12
Isaiah’s vision of the suffering servant seems to indicate God does not deal with transgressions the same way we do. We hold onto grudges and make people pay for momentary slights and hardly ever forgive unless we are sure the offending party is sufficiently sorry. God in Jesus does what no one expects by entering into and bearing the pain that must grieve God the most; the beautiful and terrible human mind that imagines and constructs ways to maximize pain and shame while delaying death as long as possible. But God picks up the pain of all of our inhuman history and bears the suffering we consider a sign of God's judgment or bad karma or rotten luck so as to bring peace to all including those who could care less about anyone else. So aren't there consequences for transgressions? In this life the consequence is found in the transgression itself. A life of corruption can never relax. A life of violence is never safe. A life of excess is never satisfied. But the poor and the put upon and those who bear the brunt of the transgressions of others wait for another day and in that day – if we can believe the scriptures – the last will be ushered in ahead of the first. Whether they are also gatekeepers remains to be seen. If they are I hope they are as merciful as the God who let them cut in line ahead of us. 

Friday, October 9, 2015

Pentecost 20 - Mark 10:17-31

Mark 10:17-31
The rich young man’s wealth and life-long obedience to the law means he has every reason to believe his eternal life inheritance is in the bank and yet he still asks the question, “what must I do?”  The disciples who don’t understand his question or Jesus’ response for that matter have their deposit in the same account. If he’s not in the money what hope do we have? Even their response “we have left everything…” is a way of gaming the “what must I do” system so that God has to pay out on whatever winning hand we think we have. But “for God all things are possible” means we have nothing to do with whatever God has decided is possible for God to do which of course is all things including the unthinkable. God can give eternal life to whomever God pleases to give it to. But that also means God can withhold eternal life from whomever God chooses to withhold it. Truth is God can do whatever God wants to do. Of course in the cross we see the One who was obedient since the beginning give up all he had for the sake of a world impoverished by sin which might lead one to believe the love God has for the human family makes the question “what must I do?” meaningless. That doesn’t mean obedience to the commandments or giving up everything for the sake of the poor are not desirable things to do only that in God’s way of gaming there are no winning tickets to eternal life except Jesus Christ.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Pentecost 20 B - Hebrews 4:12-16

Hebrews 4:12-16
It is more than a little frightening to know that we are laid naked and bare to the eyes of the One who can judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And even more so since it is to that One that we will have to render an account. Shortly after the beginning the first humans hid in the bushes because they heard the sound of God walking in the garden and they were naked and ashamed and afraid. We hide behind bushes of our own design hoping that no one will notice our nakedness and while we are pretty good at disguising our dysfunction from ourselves and one another there is no hiding from God. But then the One who is just is also the One who justifies (Romans 3:28) and was himself stripped naked and nailed to wood so as to be fully sympathetic to the weakness of human flesh. Therefore, we have no fear of and no need to hide from the One who invites us to approach the throne of grace with confidence – not because we are worthy but because God was willing to enter the bushes in which we hide.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Pentecost 20 B - Psalm 90:12-17

Psalm 90:12-17
I don’t need to be a math major to know there are more days behind me than ahead of me 
so I’d rather not number the days I have left, thank you very much. Of course a heart of wisdom isn’t troubled by the passing of time because it understands each day is a gift and no one is guaranteed another when the current day is done. So the heart of wisdom awakes each morning grateful that it has been given a new dawn to greet. That is not to say the burden of each day is easy to bear when days are full of trouble and nights are wearied by weeping. But maybe the heart of wisdom is able to endure them all because the days of trouble are numbered and the future day of resurrection dawn is endless. So satisfy us this day, O Lord, with unfailing love that anticipates the eternal song of joy.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Pentecost 20 - Amos 5:6-7; 10-15

Amos 5:6-7; 10-15
You can’t seek the good God desires without seeking the good that blesses others. That is not to say you don’t have your own “personal Jesus” (Depeche Mode) it’s just that God is personally concerned with more people than just you. Like a parent who desires competing children to not just play nice but deeply care for one another the fact that some of God’s children live in luxury while others live in poverty is upsetting to God. There are no easy answers to income inequality and we are less than honest if we don’t acknowledge that even the most generous of us have far more than we actually need. But God doesn’t deal in half measures and if Amos speaks for the Almighty the day of reckoning will be same sort of reversal of fortunes that Jesus preached about on more than one occasion. So what if we were not distracted or discouraged by the issues that are beyond our ability to deal with but instead provided for the needy in the “gate” we pass through every day? We can change the part of the planet we inhabit one person at a time and in doing so we will more fully love the God who fully loves the people we pass by in the gate.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Pentecost 19 B - Mark 10:2-16

Mark 10:2-16
When the disciples ask Jesus about this matter he invokes the “thou shall not…” to what Moses allowed for so that the hypocrisy of the Pharisee test might be exposed. The secondary law that is a concession to the hardness of the human heart is easily coerced so that the “from the beginning of creation” purpose of God is corrupted. That does not mean the “from the beginning of creation” purpose of God is not in place when the one flesh of marriage is separated only that like so many other things about our present circumstance divorce is not what God intended. The second half of this week’s lectionary might seem unrelated but like the perfect law corrupted the human heart hardens the gift of the kingdom of God into something we put in a doctrinal box of human rules and regulations. So a little child is the image the Almighty chooses to take up so that the hardness of the human heart might be softened in the same way that Jesus takes little children into his arms and blesses them.