Friday, December 30, 2016

Christmas 1 A - Hebrews 2:10-18

                    Descent from the Cross, 1435 by Rogier van der Weyden(1399-1464)
The scriptures are silent on the subject but I imagine in sharing our flesh and blood the Almighty must have caught a cold now and then. My good friend and colleague, The Reverend Doctor Ryan Mills (Trinity Lutheran Church, New Haven, Ct.) has been known to describe Jesus becoming like us in every respect in graphic terms that include bodily functions of which I will spare you. Suffice to say the mystery of the incarnation is in the how and not the what. He inhabited human flesh fully, subject to physical needs and limitations. Sharing our life he suffers our death, for us, ahead of us, instead of us. And while we still may be held in fear by the process of dying death itself has lost its hold on us because the grave could not contain Jesus. More than that, since he became like us in every way we believe we will become like him. (St. Augustine) “Changed from glory into glory till in heaven we take our place; till we cast our crowns before him lost in wonder, love and praise” (Love Divine All Love’s Excelling) But why wait? When we are merciful and faithful despite the trials and temptations of our flesh and blood lives we are already like him in the ways that truly matter for this life and the next. 

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Christmas 1 A - Psalm 148

This is an “all God’s creatures got a place in the choir” praise the Lord psalm, though I’d rather not be included in the choir when sea monsters get to exalting the name of the Lord. But then psalm 148 doesn’t discriminate. Young and old, women and men, fire and frost, creeping things and flying birds, wild animals and domestic livestock, kings of the earth and peasants (you get the idea) all are commanded to exalt the name of the Lord who created sun and moon, stars and heavens, etc. etc. etc. But one wonders why the whole world should join the chorus if the horn raised up is only for the people who are close to the Lord. Is everyone else supposed to praise Israel’s God from a distance? This is the part of praise the Lord that the psalmist didn’t see coming. Simeon saw it when Joseph and Mary brought the horn “raised up” to the temple on the eighth day for the rite of purification. “Let your servant depart in peace for my eyes have seen your salvation… light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.” Apparently God does not discriminate either. Preparing for something beyond the psalmist’s imagination God intended the horn raised up for Israel to be raised up for those outside Israel as well. It meant the end of things Israel thought essential to praising God; circumcision and keeping kosher to name but two. So what might that mean for us who also believe God has raised up a horn, formerly for Israel, but now exclusively for us who are close to God by virtue of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ? If God determined the law of circumcision and keeping kosher unnecessary for right relationship what else might be on the table? Well if the psalmist couldn’t see it coming neither will we. That’s the nature of God whose ways are not our ways and whose thoughts are not our thoughts. Maybe that’s why the psalm commands everything that is and ever will be to praise the Lord. Bring it on sea monsters just don't bite me when I'm boogie boarding.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Christmas 1 A - Isaiah 63:7-9

Recounting the gracious deeds of God in the past is helpful when the homecoming is not as hospitable as one hoped it would be. Isaiah 63 is written at a time when the ransomed of the Lord had returned unto Zion with singing (Isaiah 35:10) but their song had been stilled by the harsh reality of a Zion laid waste and neglected during their long exile in Babylon. Which is why they sing the old songs, the ones their captors mocked, (Psalm 137:3) because in the singing of the familiar the present sounded more like the past even if it was not nearly as sweet. But they were free, no longer weeping by the waters of Babylon, and even if their freedom was as difficult as their captivity it would be lived on their terms. It is same for us held captive by situation and circumstance. We remember God’s faithfulness in our past to trust that God will remember us in our present and move us into that more perfect future for the God who has carried us “all the days of old” is more than able to carry us every day.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Christmas Eve - Luke 2:1-20

I don’t mean to “bah humbug” the Christmas story when I point out the fact that God chose to enter our reality in abject poverty while we often celebrate the birth of Jesus’ with eggnog excess. Not that there is anything wrong with family celebrations that pull out all the stops. One would hope that family gathering and gift giving would rise to the level of all the best sentimental Christmas stories where the brightest and best of all our hopes and dreams really do come true. And the charity that happens on the day of celebration is certainly welcome to those receive it. But we miss the point of the birth narrative when we dress it up in tinsel and lights and a single day or season of kindness. There was no place in the inn for the God of creation clothed in human flesh because Joseph and Mary weren’t the sort of family that had reservations at the Bethlehem Hilton. They weren’t even the best Jews as they hailed from Galilee. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46) I don’t know if our gold card status in this life means we’ll be washing dishes in the next ala Luke 6:24 but we might do well to recognize that God has a heart for the poor. After all, Jesus could have been born into the house of David through Herod or better he could have been born into a world of power through Augustus. But God chose a different way so that we would choose the same way and maybe make our Christmas charity last more than a day.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Christmas Eve - Titus 2:11-14

I call it the Lutheran two-step. God acts. We respond. The first step is God’s whereby the grace of God leads without any help from us. God acts out of God’s own being which is “gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Psalm 145:8) and God’s own desire to “be the one who is just and the one who justifies.” (Romans 326) It’s a done deal and cannot be reversed for in the person of Jesus we see the lengths that God will go to convince us that we are loved. You don’t have to be afraid of a God that you can strip naked and nail to a piece of wood. Of course, you don’t have to listen to a God you can kill unless on the third day that same God says “Ta Da!” and walks out of the grave as good as new. The second step is ours. Do we follow God’s lead and deny death any power over us including those deaths we die every day by believing worldly passions can deliver and in believing the lie give ourselves over to impious attitudes and behaviors or do we dance with “the one who brung ya” and become zealous for good deeds? The grace of God is that the first step is not dependent on the second and even if we have the proverbial two left feet God’s lead is more than able to overcome or lack of rhythm.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Christmas Eve - Psalm 96

Maybe the church is not singing the “new song” well enough because it often sounds like we are stuck in a sound loop where shepherds compete for the same sheep and each flock believes itself to be more authentic or pious or worthy or whatever. No wonder the world looks at us “with a scornful wonder.” (The Church’s One Foundation) What the “new song” calls us to do is to harmonize our unique expressions of the song that God has put into our mouths for the sake of those who follow small g gods. Maybe if we sing a song in harmony of the big G God present in the Christ the song of the little g gods will be silenced. We’ve not done that well even though we claim the same Christ. Instead we each profess to know the big G God a little bit better than the other and refuse to acknowledge we are all known equally by that same God. We restrict access and reserve sacraments and argue over adiaphora.  But sometimes one is surprised as I was on Monday morning when at the funeral of Alice Machos Father Brendan Murphy of Saint Paul the Apostle Catholic Church River Oaks invited me to sit next to him in the altar area. But it gets better. He then invited me to stand with him at the altar while he recited the Eucharistic liturgy and consecrated the elements. But it gets better. He reached out to hold my hand while we prayed the Lord’s prayer together. But it gets better. After we shared the peace he returned to the altar where he ate the host and drank some of the wine in the chalice. He then motioned me forward and held out the host. I whispered, “I’m a Lutheran.” He held out the host again so I received it and then he whispered to me, “you can finish the wine in chalice.” (Only the priests drink the wine) Then Father Brenden stepped down to offer communion to all who wished to receive it including Calvary Lutheran members who figured they were welcome even if they weren’t pastored up. It gets better. Father Brenden has a slight Irish accent as you might have guessed given his surname. He is seventy-seven years old and serves a congregation that has multiple services in Spanish. He learned to speak Spanish when he was seventy years old so he could continue serving Christ in a changing church. Sing a new song. Amen. Alleluia. Cheers to you Father Brenden from one priest to another.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Christmas Eve - Isaiah 9:2-7

Isaiah’s vision has yet to be realized even if you believe the great light was Jesus Christ. The boots of the trampling warriors have not been burned and their garments continue to be rolled in the blood of the innocent desperately trying to escape Aleppo. It would seem the deep darkness continues to grow while the light of justice is continually being extinguished. But that is the way of this world where the weak are marginalized if not outright murdered and only the ruthlessly strong seem to survive. The trouble of our time, and maybe every time, is that the vision of Isaiah needs more than a strong arm of the Lord to make it come true as even the babe of Bethlehem, the child born for us, was put to death by the tyranny of the Roman state. I know Jesus didn’t stay dead and there’s certainly great hope in that but it hasn’t done very much to change the nature of this violent wicked world. It’s not a very Merry Christmas message but then for a good portion of our planet Christmas Eve will not be a night of candles and carols. It will be a night of hiding in the shadows and praying for another dawn. I don’t know what the answer is except to say I will not give in to despair although my heart is breaking. I will not succumb to hopelessness even if there seems to be no solution. And I will continue to trust that in the end we will so long for an end to the madness that we will live more fully into the zeal of the Lord of hosts and slowly but surely there will be fewer hell holes like Aleppo. In the meantime, I will do what I can do to use my limited resources to help those who have even less and weep for those trapped in Aleppo and other hell holes so that they are not forgotten. It may be that the rod of the oppressor will only be broken in the final forever day of rejoicing and to that I say. Come Lord Jesus. Please.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Advent 4 A - Matthew 1:18-25

Matthew 1:18-25
Mary doesn’t need Joseph so why do we? It’s a fair question for a virgin birth. Is it just to provide cover once the baby is born? She’d be in just as much trouble as a single mother as she is betrothed and pregnant and claiming God did the deed. So what gives? Well if nothing else it’s for this dream sequence which asks Joseph to do just as much believing as Mary does in Luke’s version of the visitation. Joseph, a righteous man, could be as righteous as the law allows and point to Mary’s swollen belly as proof of the pudding and pick up the first stone to cast it as would be his right as a betrayed spouse to be. Instead he wishes her no harm, which might mean in a culture of arranged marriages where “What’s love got to do with it” is the signature song, Joseph sings “I’ll have a blue Christmas without you.” I like to think that, even if it goes well beyond what text allows. What if he wants to let her go quietly because he loves her even though when she said, “I’ve got something to tell you…” it must have come as quite a shock. “You talked to an angel who said what!?” And so God who loves lovers comes to him in a dream and gives him courage to do what he wanted to do all along but thought he couldn’t, namely take Mary as his wife. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus or in other words, Merry Christmas, Joseph.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Advent 4 A - Romans 1:1-7

Romans 1:1-7
The letter to the Romans begins with a seven verse sentence all of which serves as preface to “grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” It could be that Paul, like this blogger, likes run on sentences because periods just waste time. It could be that grace to you and peace is easier said than done and needs a seven verse sentence to remind the Romans that while they are not nearly as conflicted as the Corinthians there are some hard feelings between Jewish and Gentile Christians residing in Rome. The promise beforehand through the prophets in the Holy Scriptures about the Son descended from David (think Jew) is also declared the Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness for the obedience of faith among the Gentiles, so that both Jew and Gentile might be called “God’s beloved in Rome.” I think there a lot of things the church can get wrong and still claim the cross of Christ but living together in grace and peace as God’s beloved is not one of them. The inclusion of Gentiles into what was a Jewish religion goes beyond any of the denominational divisions that define the church today and we would do well to note that those outside the church see our inability to live together in grace and peace as proof the Gospel is not worth the paper it’s printed on. “Christian unity is not an ideal which we must realize; it is rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate” or so said Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Does that mean the divisions that define us are not essential and we should all join hands and sing Kum by Yah? Well, why not? Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. Or in other words, Kum by Yah. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Advent 4 A - Psalm 80

Psalm 80 is a lament for the Northern Kingdom of Israel that in 722 BCE was conquered by the Assyrians. It started as a family feud between Judah and Israel but after Israel allied with Aram and threatened Jerusalem King Ahaz of Judah sold his soul to Tiglath-Pileser of Assyria and Israel was history. Of course the psalmist thinks God had something to do with it but the truth is this story is repeated throughout the history of the human race. The pride of kings inevitably leads to the bread of tears for common folk. It’s the poets and the prophets that give voice to the people’s pain pleading “Restore us, O God” and promising “then we will never turn back from you.” Sad to say Israel never does come back and Judah will eventually meet the same fate at the hands of the Babylonians. Not a very happy post for a Tuesday morning but then laments are meant to name the pain and not shy away from the reality of suffering albeit from the perspective of faith that holds onto hope that the God who is angry with the people’s prayers will hear their plea and regard their plight with pity. That is how not so happy posts can still be hopeful for laments give voice to faith in the face of sorrow and suffering, so that when scorned and derided by circumstances beyond our control, fed on a diet tears, we pray none-the-less “Restore us, O God!” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Advent 4 A - Isaiah 7:10-16

Ahaz is weary of prophets getting in the way of his politics and so even the offer of a sign as high as the heavens and as deep as Sheol can’t get him to swallow his pride and ask the God of Israel for help. God who is wearied by Ahaz’s feigned piety offers a sign anyway, a sign that Matthew will apply to Jesus even though Isaiah was most likely speaking of Hezekiah, neither of which are named Emmanuel, by the way, but then that is the way of prophecies. They point to a truth larger than the literal one and the same word that finds fulfillment in Hezekiah and Jesus finds fulfillment in our everyday. Emmanuel, God with us is the point of the promise. God with us when we go our own way, choosing the evil and refusing the good. God with us when we feed ourselves with false promises and illusory hopes. God with us for the day when we tire of wearying God and turn again to the promise as high as the heavens and as deep as Sheol and recognize that the hope of God with us is that we would finally and fully choose to be with God. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Advent 3 A - Luke 1:46-55

Luke 1:46-55
This is the song of Zion, the song sung at the Christ’s conception, the song Jesus would sing with his life, the song that would condemn him to death. “It is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish” is how the high priest Caiaphas justified the murder of the One who raised Lazarus from the dead. Power does not care for protest songs and will take any measure to silence them. But Mary’s song will not be silenced. The humble are lifted up. The rulers are brought down. The hungry are fed with good things. The rich are sent empty away. Sung by a peasant girl, impregnated by the Holy Spirit come upon her, she risks her life to carry the light of the world to term. Sooner or later some busy body in Nazareth will notice that Mary is “beginning to look a lot like Christmas” and no one will be around to confess the virgin birth as an alibi. And yet she sings. She rejoices in God’s favor. She sings of the Savior mindful of her humble state who has blessed her for every generation. She sings rejoicing for her people because the Mighty One has remembered to be merciful. She sings the life within her before Bethlehem, before Golgotha, because Mary believes that in the conception of the Christ the future forever promise has already come true. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Advent 3 A - James 5:7-10

We’ve been patiently waiting for almost two thousand years. Of course, every now and then people find a way to profit from predictions of gloom and doom but then the point of patience is left behind. There is nothing you can do to hasten the day, or delay it for that matter, but you can make the wait weary for yourself and others by grumbling, judging, or connecting conspiracy theory coincidences and claiming to know the time and place the Lord himself said is none of your business. No. We are called to wait as those James calls “Beloved” three times in four verses, which means we wait with a lover’s longing. And not only for ourselves but for the sake of those the Lord loves which I’m guessing includes those we don’t. After all, the Judge who stands at the door is the same One who spoke “Father, forgive them” upon those whose fear and envy and self-righteousness nailed him to the mercy seat in the first place. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Advent 3 C - Isaiah 35:1-10

Isaiah 35 was written to the children of Israel in exile, weeping by the rivers of Babylon, tormented by their captors who demanded they sing happy songs of Zion. It is a vision of a better day, a promise for those who were worn down by adversity, weakened by suffering, feeble and fearful of heart, without help, without hope. In the vision cast by the waters of Babylon a new song of Zion is composed where the wilderness rejoices in the glory of the Lord revealed and a way is made through the burning sand and haunt of jackals so that even those who don’t have a lick of sense will not get lost on the holy highway. Of course, a good portion of those whose hands were strengthened and knees steadied by the hope of the promise died by the river where they wept. But for their children born in Babylon the promise did come true and they returned to Zion singing the songs their parents taught them which would have been forgotten forever if their captors tormenting them had not demanded they sing them. As it was for them so it is for us; a promise for unsteady hands and knees that give way, hope for all held captive to doubt and fear, trial and trouble, a promise that inspires holy imagination where sorrow flees from the promise of everlasting joy. Sing the songs of Zion, songs of hope and happiness, joy and peace, even if you are weeping by the waters of your own Babylon for the children are listening and learning. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Advent 2 A - Matthew 3:1-12

Matthew 3:1-12
It appears to me the Pharisees and Sadducees should at least get points for trying. Instead John verbally attacks them for being all repentance and no fruit. (All hat and no cattle) But to what end? Granted, the Pharisees and Sadducees, teachers of the law and keepers of the temple, come out together overcoming their natural animosity towards each other and they give up their respective positions of power to be subject to the poor people’s prophet, but it’s just a weekend excursion for them. The diet of locusts and honey and camel’s hair clothes with leather belt identify John as one who has forsaken the world for the wilderness, which is always the place of preparation for Israel. So when the city slickers come slumming he calls them on it. Who warned you to flee? Confession by itself is not worth the words used to say I’m sorry unless accompanied by a change of heart and hand. That is John’s point. You can’t come out to do a wilderness weekend of wailing and then go back to the city of business as usual. To bear fruit worthy of repentance is to live into the conclusion of confession – the amendment of the sinful life. The One who is coming after will do something more than John and though he will burn the same Pharisees and Sadducees with words like blind guides and brood of vipers and white washed tombs he will gather them in with “Father, forgive them…” And so it is for us. Our confession needs a word of judgment before absolution so that we will not be satisfied with an “I’m sorry” that does not in some measure lead to “I can do better.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Advent 2 A - Romans 15:4-13

The instruction and encouragement of the scriptures were meant to reveal the God of hope so that inspired by the living word we might abound in what the God of hope is all about… which is hope, of course; but what kind of hope? If the incarnation of God in the Christ is any indication of what the God of hope is all about then there is nothing God will not do, nowhere God will not go, to be reconciled to us so that reconciled to God we would be reconciled to each other. Or in other words, “May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another…” And again, “whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.” (1 John 4:20) For this reason Christ became the servant of the circumcised and the mercy and hope of the Gentiles so that with one voice Jew and Gentile would glorify God. Or as Paul will write to the law bound Galatians, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female...” (Galatians 3:28) So if in Christ God has erased the dividing lines of race, status, and gender might it be a safe bet that God’s brightest and best hope is that we would do the same?

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Advent 2 A - Psalm 72:1-7; 18-19

Psalm 72 concludes the prayers of David, son of Jesse and is a prayer for his son Solomon. In many ways, David, the man after God’s own heart (who broke God’s heart time and again) is a tragic figure. Guilty of adultery and murder and intrigue the sword never left his house and while he was not “cast away from God’s presence” he experienced the penalty of his sin in heartbreaking loss, no more so than in the rebellion and death of his son Absalom. “O my son Absalom! O Absalom, my son, my son!” His cry of grief for Absalom stands in stark contrast to his prayer for Solomon. Born out of the disappointments and difficulties of his reign David prays that Solomon would be a better king than he was. Make my son a just and righteous king who remembers the poor and delivers the needy from the oppressor, whose rule like rain on mown grass will bring peace and prosperity to your people. “Teach your children well, their father’s hell did slowly go by, and feed them on your dreams the one they picked, the one you’ll know by” (CSNY) David dreamed of a dwelling place for God in the midst of the city named Peace, a temple he was not permitted to build, but the son for whom he prayed would make the dream come true. David’s prayer that Solomon would do better than he is the prayer of every parent learning from the whole of life, wishing, hoping, praying their child will make fewer mistakes and know twice the joy and only half the pain they did and that well taught lessons and dreams picked will help the prayer come true. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus 

Monday, November 28, 2016

Advent 2 A - Isaiah 11:1-10

It is one of my favorite visions of the future and I marvel at the heart and mind of the prophet who brought it to life by putting it to pen. The One who delights in the Lord will pair wolves with lambs, leopards with goats, calves with lions, bears with cows, infants with adders. It’s a recipe for carnage but in the imagination of the prophet the predator lies down with the prey for a nap not for lunch. The prophet envisions the accepted order of the natural world radically transformed by the One upon whom the Spirit of the Lord finds a resting place, who judges the poor with righteousness, who decides with equity for the meek and slays the wicked without breaking a sweat. We are baptized into the vision of Isaiah and anointed with the spirit of wisdom and understanding, counsel and might, knowledge and the fear of the Lord, joy in God’s presence. It is no small thing to be birthed again in the midst of the assembly and publicly joined with Christ and all who have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever. Welcome to the kingdom! Of course to be baptized into the vision is to be claimed by the future and called to live it in the present. The whole creation groans for us to do more than just recycle, as helpful as that is. It is a small planet we share and whatever we do to preserve and protect anticipates the peaceable kingdom in the “not yet” in which we live. And as we do the whole creation, subjected to frustration because the first humans were not satisfied with paradise, breathes a little easier even as it waits in eager expectation for the day when paradise lost is found and once again the earth is home for all creatures of our God and King. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Christ the King Year C - Luke 23:33-44

Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. The guilty one anticipates the kingdom of the innocent one. Without hesitating Jesus answers the prayer that is a plea with the promise of paradise, today. Of all the stories told of Jesus; walking on water, feeding five thousand, healing the blind, lame, and deaf, exorcising demons and yes, even raising a dead friend, this story at the end of Jesus’ life defines the royal character of Christ the King. “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them… I am among you as one who serves.” The one Jesus called Abba said it this way “I desire mercy not sacrifice.” In light of God’s own stated preference how can one continue to hold onto the idea that the righteous rage of Abba could only be appeased by the blood sacrifice of the innocent Son dearly loved? No. In the promise of paradise to a criminal justly condemned, in forgiving those who sure as hell knew what they were doing, the character of God is revealed and by descending to the place of the dead we are guaranteed there will be no where God is not. Jesus. Remember me.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Christ the King Year C - Psalm 46

This is a psalm for difficult days; a refuge and strength psalm for earth changing, mountain shaking, rock your world, waters foaming, troubled times. Of course, troubled times don’t need to be that noisy. Difficult days are more often suffered in silence and those tottering on the brink of despair are “still” but not in the “Be still and know that I am God!” silence. The stoic stiff upper lip isolation in the face of those things that rightly make one tremble is not what “therefore we will not fear” is all about. The help that comes at break of dawn is the Lord of hosts with us, as in we not me. When one rejoices, all rejoice. When one suffers, all suffer. We’re in this thing together. So be still before the Lord but do not be silent about the very present help you need in times of trouble.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Christ the King Year C - Jeremiah 23:1-6

Jeremiah 23:1-6
I don’t know about the shepherds of Jeremiah’s time but the ones I know work like dogs to shepherd their people. But with the large population of aging sheep or sheep leaving small pastures for larger ones or sheep who’ve stopped grazing altogether, or worse, lambs who have never been brought to the pasture at all, shepherds find themselves the ones scattered and sometimes even destroyed. We hear this is the new normal of the post Christian era and that our decline is a done deal and nothing short of the second coming will restore the church to its former position of prominence. But then maybe this is just the time that is surely coming, when a post Christian age allows shepherds and sheep to see Christ raised again to the only prominent position that counts. “We preach Christ crucified,” is how the apostle Paul said it. Martin Luther offering advice to a fellow shepherd said it this way. My dear Friar, learn Christ and him crucified. Learn to praise him and, despairing of yourself, say, 'Lord Jesus, you are my righteousness, just as I am your sin." Christ the King crucified, the shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep, the righteous Branch executes justice and righteousness by virtue of his suffering and death on the cross in every age, no matter what we call it. Perhaps the word that Jeremiah had for the sheep of his day might be the word needed for shepherds of today. Do not be afraid. Do not be dismayed. I am your Shepherd. Take a day off.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Proper 28 C - 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13

2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
Ouch! Paul is not pulling any punches. Get to work you busybodies otherwise you are going on the idleness diet and you’ll lose more than pounds, I promise you. It should be some comfort to the church of our time that the church of Paul’s time, which included at least a few charter members of the resurrection, had to deal with conflicts. And not just doctrinal disputes but practical people problems which in many ways are more difficult to deal with. Who left the sanctuary AC on last week and why am I the only usher who knows the proper way to pass the plate? The good news is that the idleness conflict did not destroy the Thessalonians which is the reason the church of today is still around to deal with its own version of "brothers and sisters let us not grow weary in doing what is right."

Monday, November 7, 2016

Proper 28 C - Malachi 4:1-2

The arrogant evil doers in Malachi are identified in chapter one as priests who show contempt for the Lord’s name by offering sacrifices of blind, lame and diseased animals on the altar of the Lord. In chapter two the priests have wearied the Lord with words and their lying lips have turned from the teachings that preserve knowledge. In chapter three they have robbed the Lord by withholding tithes and offerings so that the storehouse that should be full stands empty. Therefore, says the Lord, a day is surely coming… So I guess that means unless you are a priest in postexilic Judah (or a present day pastor?) you can breathe a sigh of relief. Well maybe not entirely for this is a word about maintaining a right relationship with God. When we are less than faithful our spiritual life is like stubble with neither root nor branch. But the word of judgment is always an invitation. “Return to me and I will return you.” (3:7) Which is followed by a word of promise, “Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.” (3:10)

Friday, November 4, 2016

The Feast of All Saints Year C - Luke 6:

Luke 6:20-31
Luke’s version of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is a little more difficult to deal with than Matthew’s, depending on which side of Luke’s line drawn in the economic sand you are standing. Poor or rich, hungry or well fed, weeping or laughing, despised or rejected? Like many of the stories and sayings in Luke’s Gospel the plight of the poor gets special attention and the Good News for the poor is generally Bad News for the rich. But that’s not to say it’s all good news for the poor, for the down payment on future rewards is rejoicing in being hated, excluded, reviled, and defamed, all the while turning the other cheek and doubling down on coats taken away. As my seminary professor Walter Bouman liked to say about such things, “Yes, but will it play in Poughkeepsie?” So what do we of the “God loves everyone, saved by grace party” do with such a seemingly partisan text? Unfortunately we have to say the Bible is very clear. God takes sides. We can choose to ignore that or soften it but we cannot escape it. On the other hand what if God’s taking sides is to counter the sides we take? It may be that God as ultimate parent is not that different from human parents who in loving their children attempt to create and maintain environments where siblings are encouraged to share. So no matter which side of the line you currently stand God’s ultimate purpose is for us all to stand on the same side because in the end that is a parent’s greatest joy.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Reformation - John 8:31-36

John 8:31-36
Freedom: i.e. "the power to determine action without restraint." Even in a nation founded on the principle of freedom we are constrained by laws that limit our power to determine action. But then personal freedom, to do and say and act as I desire, is ultimately a selfish ambition that in some ways denies others their freedom to do and say and act as they like. So Jesus is not speaking about personal freedom to do and say and act as we desire. He is speaking of a freedom that changes the way we understand our relationship with God. The Jews “who had believed in him” were still depending on their connection with Abraham to claim their non-slave status as God’s own people even while their land was occupied by the Roman Empire. The freedom Jesus offers is summed up in the idea that those who believe have passed from death to life. (John 5:24) No one is more free than the one who by believing can confess “whether we live or whether we die we are the Lord’s” (Romans 14:8) trusting that “nothing can separate us from the love of God”. (Romans 8:38-39) Here’s the twist. Being made free by the Son makes you the slave of all. (John 13:12-17) Go figure. 

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Proper 25 C - Luke 18:9-14

The Pharisee standing by himself is imprisoned by his piety and for all his tithing and fasting and righteous living he is farther away from God than the tax collector standing far off. The tax collector in the company of thieves, rouges and adulterers is equally imprisoned by his impiety but closer to God because of his humility (or is it shame?) which is entirely appropriate for the life he lives and the company he keeps. Of course, he is still far off, physically and spiritually, despite being justified for knowing who he is. He will never be able to lift his head or give his breast a break until being justified goes beyond saying I’m sorry. But the parable is not about the tax collector nor does it encourage us to “go and do likewise.”  The parable is about people whose pride in practicing religion makes the practice of religion meaningless despite all the effort put into ordering life by religious practices. One cannot be close to God standing by oneself. So perhaps being close to God is to live like a Pharisee and pray like a tax collector?

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Proper 25 C - 2 Timothy 4:6-8; 16-18

The lectionary skips verses 9 – 15 but as usual I think the lectionary people have made a mistake. The laundry list of names and places and the cloak and books and parchments left in Troas make Paul’s fighting the good fight and finishing the race sound a lot like ours. Granted Paul accomplished more than we have but verses 9 -15 reveal the apostle who wrote most of the New Testament as a man who forgets his cloak in Troas and asks a friend to bring it to him because presumably he’s cold. But more important than identifying with his forgetfulness we understand how faithful friends become the agents used by the Lord to rescue us from the lion’s mouth. Paul, deserted by Demas and harmed greatly by Alexander, is rescued from evil attacks because of friends like Luke who is with him and Mark who is useful and of course Timothy who sends cloak and books and above all the parchments so Paul’s ministry of letter writing may continue.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Proper 25 C - Psalm 84:1-7

If you Google the valley of Baca you’ll find out we’ve all been there. Baca is Hebrew for weeping, but the point is not that we are familiar with the geography but that in the passing through God promises to turn the valley of tears into a place of springs and pools of peace. It is not a pie in the sky the sun will come up tomorrow bet your bottom dollar promise, but God’s guarantee for souls that long for lovely dwelling places. Strength in the Lord will not disappoint. It is in the “as they go through” that we “go from strength to strength” and though the song of hope might be sung for a time with weeping eyes through clenched teeth joy will come on the morrow as pilgrim clasps the hand of pilgrim and the song of victory swells to fill the valley of tears with shouts of joy for the living God.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Proper 25 C - Jeremiah 31:27-34

Jeremiah 31:27-34
Every now and then the prophet Jeremiah was given a good word to speak and that makes the promise of “the days are surely coming” noteworthy. Even though none of the people to whom these words were written saw the day that would surely come. They died in the land of their enemy sitting by the waters of Babylon weeping the songs of Zion. Or they were the remnant who returned home only to find ruins not easily rebuilt and vineyards destroyed that were difficult to replant. But because “the days are surely coming…” was believed despite sour grapes setting teeth on edge it was more than just a fairy tale ending for a people plucked up and broken down. Believing the promise was the difference between giving up or going on, between living in spite of or dying because of, and whether they knew it or not it is what it means to know the Lord. And so it is for us who endure hardship and persevere through difficult days knowing in part and seeing dimly all the while waiting for another day that will surely come, when we catch up with the least and the greatest who have gone on ahead of us and know the Lord fully for they see him face to face.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Proper 24 C - 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5

The trouble with itchy ears is you can’t hear very well and wandering into myths that distort the truth is bound to follow when one creates God in one’s own image. The God who is love, first last and always, also puts limitations on liberty and demands more than just the desire of one’s heart with consequences to come should one fail to live up to the sound teaching of the truth. Sound teaching doesn’t always sit well with us, partly because we prefer not to hear the truth about ourselves. But the sacred writings reveal the God who is both and. Both the one who is just and the one who justifies is how Paul puts it to the Romans. Which is why the sound teaching of the Lutheran doctrine of Law and Gospel is the cure for hard of hearing, itchy ears. The Law is not diminished by the Gospel rather it is the necessary first word about us and our world so that convicted by the just God we are drawn to the God who justifies for the Gospel trumps the Law and its demands and reveals the ultimate truth of God’s desire that all would be saved and come to the knowledge of truth. (1 Timothy 2:4)

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Proper 24 C - Psalm 121

Psalm 121
Sometimes even lifting one’s eyes to the hills to ask the question, “from where is my help to come” is more than we can manage. Worn down and weary of weeping, abandoned by friends and surrounded by foes (real or imagined) the hope of help seems a cruel joke. But it is precisely when we cannot go on and maybe no longer even care that the promise is most present, whether we recognize it or not. That is because the promise does not depend on our asking or our recognition. It depends fully on God’s desire to deliver and the nature of the help that is God always present exists beyond the reality of our sorrow and suffering. That means when our ability to believe is passed out on the floor of doubt God is wide awake and preserving for us the life that endures forever.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Proper 24 C - Genesis 32:22-33

It is the story of a younger brother who stole from his older brother and then ran away. After a long time, he comes home and anticipating the worst puts off meeting with his brother one more day. All night long he wrestles with a man he cannot overcome and in the morning blessed by the struggle he crosses the river to do what must be done. It may be that the story is literally true and a cage match with God was necessary for Jacob to be Israel, but I think on another level we’ve all camped by that river and wrestled with that man until finally sick and tired of losing sleep we did what needed to be done.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Proper 23 C - 2 Timothy 2:3-15

                              (Uncle Ernest at Peace Lutheran, Columbus, Nebraska)
"Share in suffering like a good soldier of Christ Jesus." (2 Timothy 2:3)
The only solider in our family is my mother's brother Ernest Smith who was a chaplain in Korea. Uncle Ernest gave me his army cap that had ear flaps because apparently you need ear flaps to suffer like a good solider through the Korean winter. Truth is I don’t know anything about what it means to be a solider but I know a thing or two about suffering and my guess is you do as well. Not that I like sharing it all that much and therein lies the problem for me and for you. We suffer stoically or silently or medicated rather than recognize that suffering is as much a part of life as celebration. But the heart of the Christian message is that the Christ entered fully into the suffering of human history so that we could share in the salvation that will happen when “gladness and joy overtake us and sorrow and sighing flee away”. (Isaiah 35:10) But you cannot have one without the other. No one likes to suffer, or share it for that matter, but if the choice is walk together or go it alone I’m thinking our shared sorrow might just make our ultimate joy more complete. So when life is cold put your ear flaps down by all means, but keep your life open to those whose care and concern will keep you warm. 

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Proper 23 C - Psalm 111

The last verse of Psalm 111 should come first as “the fear of the Lord” or better, the reverence of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. That is not to say it is unwise to be afraid of the Creator of the Universe only that the small g gods have the terror market cornered and truth is any two bit god can make a mortal tremble. But to reverence the Lord with a holy fear is to have a proper perspective on the order of things. God is God and you are not. So the wisdom that comes with reverence, as opposed to terror, is that God does not delight in our being fearful but rather desires us to be in right relationship which in a word is to be faithful. To be afraid of someone, be it God or anyone else for that matter, is not helpful or healthy. But when we stand in awe of the One who is “full of majesty” because the “power of his works” are “faithful, just and trustworthy” we live wisely. Jesus’ baby brother James will say it this way: “Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom.” And that sort of wisdom “is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.” (James 3:13, 17) Fear of the Lord indeed. I’m shaking in my shoes with praise!

Monday, October 3, 2016

Proper 23 C - 2 Kings 5:1-17

She is a minor character, not even named; a little girl stolen from home and made a slave in the house of her enemy. But she has pity on her mighty master afflicted with a skin disease that diminishes all his accomplishments. At her bidding he goes to her little land with gifts expecting to be greeted royally but the little girl’s prophet sends his servant to give instructions to the mighty man. Insulted, he would leave as he came but his servants convince him to do what he was told; wash and be clean in a dirty little river. Humbled by his disease, desperate to be clean, he obeys and is made whole. The little girl sends the mighty man to a little country with a mighty prophet so the mighty man might regain the skin of a little boy. It is as Jesus said. “I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it."

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Proper 22 C - Psalm 37:1-9

Psalm 37:1-9Wicked wrongdoers appear to have it made, prospering in their own way, living large, as they say. The righteous are tempted to fret that the wicked get away with wrongdoing or even envy the life of ease produced by evil devices. But the Lord promises the ways of the wicked will fade while those who trust in the Lord and do good will never whither. Trusting in the Lord and doing good, while waiting patiently for God to act, is itself a reward that does not disappoint and the desire of the heart that delights in the Lord is a life free from fret. Now that’s living large.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Proper 22 C - Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4

Habakkuk cries out his complaint into the silence of God and wonders “what’s the point?” I wonder the same thing when evil events paint a cruel caricature of the human race. But the truth is I know more decent people than the depraved ones that dominate the news and even though good people do not make the headlines they make the world a better place simply by being in it. Even so Habakkuk’s complaint is that God is not doing enough to see that the wicked are diminished and the decent flourish. God’s response is to give Habakkuk something to do. “Write a vision on tablets a runner can see.” Our “make a sign a runner can see” means we speak God’s “wait and see” in the face of all that troubles us and put all our effort and energy into transforming this world to look more like the world God promises is coming. In that way we act out the hope that God’s deliverance is not delayed whenever decent people act decently.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Proper 21 C - Luke 16:19-31

It appears there is a great chasm between the table of the rich and the poor at the gate that is as fixed as the one between Hades and Abraham’s bosom and the only thing the rich man can count on is that his brothers will be joining him sometime in the future. The lesson to be learned seems to be a Christian version of Karma which means we would do well to make a down payment on a mansion in glory by moving into a homeless shelter in the here and now. But that’s the problem with paying too much attention to the details of a parable which are only there to set up the punch line. According to Luke the crowds to whom Jesus first told the joke included money loving Pharisees but I doubt many of them laughed when they heard it. While they claimed to listen to Moses and the prophets their love of money and neglect of the poor at the gate violated the very teachings they claimed to follow. The irony is that the raising of the real life Lazarus led them to believe Jesus had to die in order to save the nation (John 11:45-53) and because of that we, who believe because someone rose from the dead, listen to Moses and the prophets today. But if we don’t want the joke to be told on us we will bridge the chasm between the table of the rich, where we often sit, and the poor at the gate, which we hardly visit, with acts of charity, mercy and kindness motivated not by a need to avoid Hades but the desire to make the world we live in look a little more like Abraham’s bosom.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Proper 21 C - 2 Timothy 2:1-14

The sincere faith that first lived in Lois and Eunice might not be the best thing to rekindle in Timothy given the suffering Paul is experiencing. But something about that faith was so compelling that a presumably loving grandmother and mother believed Timothy would be better off confessing the faith even though it might lead to imprisonment or death. The spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline was not for cowards in the first century. According to church tradition Timothy was beaten, dragged through the streets of Ephesus and stoned to death for preaching what Lois and Eunice and Paul persuaded him was sound teaching of which one should not be ashamed. In twenty-first century America participation in the sound teaching of faith and love carries no threat of persecution and yet according to a decade worth of polls is in serious decline among those in both the Eunice and Timothy age demographic. A whole generation has been lost to the holy calling of God’s purpose and grace and Lois is wondering why. It could be that the most dangerous threat to the faith was to neuter it by making it mainstream until a majority of people could claim to be Christian without practicing or participating in any communal expression of it. So what do we do? We do what Paul preached to his beloved child Timothy - rekindle the gift of God, the sound teaching of the faith and love that is in Christ Jesus. Move out of the mainstream and into the marketplace. Do not be ashamed to give a reason for the hope that you have and with gentleness and respect be people of persuasion for the good treasure entrusted to us is worth sharing.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Proper 21 C - Psalm 146

The Lord does not operate in a vacuum and the vision cast by the psalm cannot be realized without corrective lenses. In the real world the oppressed do not see justice without assistance and the hungry are not fed without being invited to dinner. The only praise of the Lord that makes a difference to the Lord is the praise that makes a difference to those the Lord loves; the blind, the prisoner, the stranger, the orphan, the widow, the ones bowed down by the weight of the world. In the meantime the wicked would helped by those who love the Lord when reminded that the only hope they have is that the Lord will revive them once their plans perish.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Proper 21 C - Amos 6:1-7

Amos’s “alas” could have been written for our time when bad loans repackaged in new paper brought the mortgage industry house of cards crashing down and the rest of the economy with it. Those most responsible got a “get out jail free” card and while the politicians pointed fingers at each other no one grieved over the ruin of “Joseph” except the “Josephs” who lost jobs and homes and for many any hope of finding gainful employment again. In the land of endless distraction, we can be like those lounging on couches listening to idle music oblivious to the fact that shuttered storefronts represent real people who longue not in luxury but for lack of a job and whose only song is a lament. The word of Amos was a warning that went unheeded by those at ease in Zion secure on Mount Samaria until the Assyrians came knocking on the door with an eviction notice. Whether you think we have fully recovered from the great recession or not the way we heed this warning of Amos is to grieve with and for those who still suffer loss of home and livelihood while at the same time acting on the word of James 2:14-17 by providing comfort, support and shelter as we are able. In so doing we anticipate the day when “alas” will be “alleluia” and we will find our place in the many rooms of the Father’s house.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Proper 20 C - Luke 16:1-13

Luke 16:1-13
I don’t know what Jesus is thinking as friends made by dishonest wealth are more than likely “friends in low places” (Garth Brooks) and one wonders what sort of eternal home they own. But that’s the problem with this parable. It doesn’t fit any of the familiar parable patterns where the characters are clearly defined and the conclusions to be drawn are obvious. In this case compound cheating with interest is commended and the children of light are encouraged to imitate the children of this age. But maybe we are not to put much stock in the master’s admiration of the dishonest steward, after all he is still without employment and there is no guarantee that the friends gained by dishonesty will prove trustworthy. What if we are not meant to put this story into a neat parable package that can be filed away and forgotten? Maybe the point of the parable is in the unsettling nature of it and the lesson to be learned is that it reveals the truth about our attempt to serve two masters by neither hating wealth nor fully loving God.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Proper 20 C - 1 Timothy 2:1-7

Can we make supplication, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings for a king, or in our time elected officials, while at the same time engaging in the time honored American tradition of treating those voted into high positions with disdain or outright contempt? The first Christians had no such choice. The kings and people in high places for whom they were urged to make supplication, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings were actively seeking to put them into the low place of the grave and frankly their most ardent prayer was simply to be left alone. The wisdom of this pastoral letter is not about temporal politics but eternal destiny. God’s most ardent desire is for everyone to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. If our practice of politics contradicts a quiet and peaceable life then we are to choose godliness and dignity above partisan positions for the sake of the One who gave himself as a ransom for all. Even so this text does not prohibit passionate engagement in the political process. It just reminds us that what is right and acceptable is to make supplication, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings for people in positions of authority keeping in mind that God passionately loves the person we might disagree with as a politician.