Monday, February 29, 2016

Lent 4 C - Joshua 5:9-12

Forty years of “what is it?” manna and now finally something new! Time and again in their wilderness wanderings the children of Israel lamented of their meager fare. “We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!"” Complaining of the poverty of their present they forgot the pain of their past as the memory of fish and fruit failed to recall the disgrace of Egypt. In reality the real no cost meal was the manna God provided. The fish and fruit, the no cost meal in Egypt, was paid for by slavery and harsh treatment. Of course those who complained never did get off the manna diet and dying in the desert their only comfort must have been the hope that their children would see the land they had lost by doubting the promise. That hope did not disappoint as Joshua and the children of disgrace are set free and manna is taken off the menu in the land of milk and honey. When in our wilderness wandering we lose our appetite and in misremembering the past we long for something that never was God calls us back to faith through a no cost to us meal that cost God’s life. Sustaining us in our weakness God provides bread and wine that is body and blood for the journey until manna is taken off the menu and we sit down to dine at the forever feast.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Lent 3 C - Luke 13:1-9

There is no cause and effect between sin and a tragic death but if you don’t repent you’ll suffer a tragic death. It seems as if Jesus’ answer to why bad things happen to otherwise good people raises more questions but maybe that is the point. Jesus challenges the need for a reason for why bad things happen because for us even a bad reason is more comforting than no reason at all. But then we have been curious from creation and like the first humans not willing to live with God knowing something we don’t even if it means getting kicked out of the garden. And so we keep trying to put the puzzle together even though a good number of the pieces are missing. Jesus would have us live into God’s answer to Job’s why? “I’m not telling, but trust me anyway.” The answer that wants us to live with the question is like a fig tree that has had enough time to get busy doing what fig trees are meant to do but has not. Cutting it down to make room for another is the correct answer to three years of wasted waiting. But the gardener wants the owner to live with the question, “will it produce?” in another year with a little bit of tender care and while we would rush to the yes or no end of the parable I think as with most parables we are supposed to live with the question, which, of course, is God’s answer.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Lent 3 C - 1 Corinthians 10:1-13

1 Corinthians 10:1-13
I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, or in other words, “you better not shout, you better not pout, you better not cry, I’m telling you why…” What do we do with Paul’s warning or veiled threat, depending on which side of the line you are standing? I suppose the first thing we have to ask ourselves is do we believe what Paul is saying? That 23,000 fell in a day for getting up from the table to play and others putting Christ to the test had good reason to fear snakes while still others should have kept their mouths shut and their complaints to themselves. And more to the point that this is a Divine object lesson to keep the Corinthians, and us I suppose, from making the same mistake and suffering a similar fate? From the perspective of God’s grace these verses carry less weight than the “still more excellent way” of the thirteenth chapter of this same letter but they cannot, and I might add, dare not be dismissed so easily. The reason being, as Paul will tell the Romans, is that God has determined to be both just and the one who justifies. There will be a reckoning and a pardon will be necessary for whether we think we are standing or not we have all fallen into the ways of temptation and are without exception guilty of being less than God intended us to be. To think or claim otherwise is to engage in theological immorality by testing the grace of God without accepting the consequence of sin or acknowledging the cost of our rebellion to the Christ. But in spite of our weakness God is faithful and the strength to be tested is not our will power but whether we endure our falling by trusting the way out God that has provided.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Lent 3 C - Psalm 63

I've just come back from the Lutheran School of Theology Chicago. On the second floor of the welcome center there's a plaque on the wall dedicated to The Reverend Doctor John Tietjen "who in the midst of strife and conflict advocated the unifying power of the Gospel..." John was the pastor of Trinity Church, Fort Worth when I first came to Calvary Lutheran and I was blessed to know him as a mentor, colleague and friend. Sometimes in the watches of the night when your soul thirsts and your flesh faints God is found through the wise council or loving care of a fellow pilgrim. Maybe God always refreshes us in that way so that even years later you remember a word spoken or an embrace shared and like a drink of water in a weary land your troubles seem less troubling and your burdens are more bearable. John lives where the saints of God rejoice eternally but every February on what is typically a cold Chicago day he visits this pilgrim for a moment with warm memories that brighten my spirits and refresh my soul.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Lent 3 C - Isaiah 55:1-13

When I do the math God’s economy appears too good to be true for we know that nothing worth having is free because if something is free it’s got no resale value. The first hearers of this no money market, the exiles returning from captivity in Babylon, spent everything they had to come home to bitter wine and sour milk. Their homes were occupied by strangers, the temple remained in ruins, and the trees of the field, overgrown by thorns and briers, had stopped clapping a long time ago. Hopes and dreams of returning unto Zion with everlasting joy had all been spent on the reality of a land that was less than welcoming and in many cases downright hostile. The home again exiles, hungry, thirsty and broke had forgotten what got them home in the first place and that even in its sorry state being free in Zion was better than being exiles in Babylon. So God speaks up calling the exiles to the table for a prix fix menu of rich food, fine wine and fresh milk. But if we think God’s new economy is free we haven’t read the fine print. No money will be exchanged but getting to the table will take some effort. The Lord calls all who would come and eat to listen, look and seek and in so doing return to the hope of the promise by forsaking wicked ways and unrighteous thoughts. So we too, overwhelmed and underfunded, discouraged and downhearted, are called to remember God’s higher thoughts and ways inform ours and not vice versa. In the no money market of God’s economy, we hold on to the hope that holds us as we trust God is too good not to be true.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Lent 2 C - Luke 13:31-35

If the Pharisees, who know a thing or two about plotting to kill Jesus, are concerned maybe Jesus should pay attention. After all the only hope a hen has is in hiding and praying the fox isn’t as crafty as, well, a fox. And although the lament of Jesus, “how often I have longed...” ends with a word of judgment, “have it your way” the image of Jesus as a chicken should do more than cause us to chuckle. It is always surprising to me, and not a little troubling, that we often miss all the ways in which God’s self-revelation sets aside what we think of as God like qualities for the less than majestic and powerful. None are more striking than Jesus as a mother hen and Herod as a fox. But then if we miss the most obvious, God choosing to die exposed and shamed, hanging naked between common criminals, then I suppose it follows that we would gravitate towards what our youth and family director Janelle might call a Big Dog God for that’s what we think we need to send foxes into hiding. To be gathered under the wings of Jesus is to accept God as God chooses to be revealed which is always different from what we expect and when gathered under those wings we get it and begin to look less like foxes and more like chickens.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Lent 2 C - Philippians 3:14-4:1

Philippians 3:14 - 4:1
Pressing on towards the prize requires desire and will power and physical fitness which doesn't happen overnight. The apostle Paul had more than a little practice pressing on as many pressed in on him for his holding fast to heavenly citizenship. It may be that without opposition it is more difficult for us to keep spiritually fit as minds set on earthly things dull our desire, sap our will power and weaken our resolve. So what are we to do? Stand firm in the Lord, Paul would say, but that doesn't mean stand still. Pressing begins with our sight, not on the prize but on what made the prize possible. "Fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of your faith" or so goes another Biblical running text. So if you have taken that first step to be more spiritually fit during Lent don’t let yourself go just because Easter rolls around. The race isn't over until you cross the finish line.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Lent 2 C - Psalm

If you ask me this psalm asks too much. No Fear might work as a bumper sticker for a pick up truck but I’m afraid I would experience more than a little fear if evildoers sat down to dine on me. And while the adversaries and foes stumble and fall in verse two they are back on their feet breathing violence in verse twelve. Even the Lord’s face is hidden and to the psalmist cast off and forsaken the light of salvation should seem dim and distant. Which is why the psalm needs to begin where it ends, waiting. Wait for the Lord; be strong for the Lord is your light and salvation. Wait for the Lord and let your heart take courage for the Lord is the stronghold of your life. So is that it? We just grit our teeth and bear whatever life throws at us or take a deep breath and go to our happy place when all around is chaos? No. Confident waiting hope does not depend on our own strength or ability to endure. It depends fully on the One who has prepared a place for us and has himself waited through everything this psalm asked him to endure. Surrounded by enemies, forsaken by family and friends, accused falsely by witnesses breathing violence he was forsaken even by God. But for the joy set before him Jesus offered himself as a sacrifice as his head crowned with thorns was lifted up above the enemies he was dying to forgive. And dying our death he became our life so that our waiting would not be in vain. No Fear? Maybe so.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Lent 2 C - Genesis 15:1-18

I imagine PETA members would object to this text as in “I’d rather go childless than cut an animal in two” and I might be inclined to join them. The Bible contains a lot of material that I find odd and even offensive and when I read stories like this I can’t imagine God needs to be so dramatic just to make a promise. So if we were to demythologize this story, or take out the bits that don’t fit our view of what is real and what is not, what would be the harm? Maybe it is in making the mysterious less so. We need the mystery for the part of this story that is real to us when like Abraham we find ourselves between what is and what we hope and pray will be. If we have worked out all the details, made God fit our way of thinking, determined what is and what isn’t what do we do when we don’t fit God’s way of being? Abraham’s faith reckoned to him as righteousness, or right relationship with God, depends on believing the promise when the promise is not yet. It means trusting God is present when all evidence would indicate God is not. Faith lives between what is and the hoped for, between the revealed Word, the Bright Morning Star, and the mystery of God invisible yet present. So Abraham believed what he knew could not be and we are the offspring he was promised, counted among the stars he could not number.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Lent 1 C - Luke 4:1-13

Luke 4:1-13
Country singer Lari White sings a song about temptation but she doesn’t need any help from the devil. “Lead me not into temptation I already know the road all too well. Lead me not into temptation I can find it all by myself.” Of course she’s singing about a “good looking thing” that caught her looking at him but she’s the one who will tell him to “just get thee behind me and I’ll show you the way.” That is true for us as well. We know the road all too well and despite the best of intentions make choices based on our hunger, whatever need real or imagined, that demands to be filled. We believe the lie because it promises much and even though the lie never delivers we are willing to take whatever crumbs it offers. Tempted to live for self we turn stones into bread but are hungry still. Lusting after power and wealth and possessions we sell our soul but are hungry still. And when in the practice of our faith we look for proof of God in emotional experiences or carefully constructed theologies or lives of rigid rules with self-righteousness as our reward we find we are hungry still. That is the truth about us and the first step in a different direction is admitting we know the old road all too well. Honesty stills the voice of our hunger, whatever need real or imagined that demands to be filled, so that we hear the voice of Jesus singing a different song from another road that will one day be the only one we know. So hear the voice of Jesus say, “Just get thee behind me and I’ll show you the way.”

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Lent 1 C - Psalm 91

Psalm 91
I can’t read Psalm 91 without humming “On Eagles Wings” and rightly so. This is a psalm that has to be sung in the same way as a child I sang “I am trusting thee, Lord Jesus” walking down our basement stairs in the dark. The snare of the fowler, deadly pestilence, terrors at night, arrows by day and the charge of the light brigade can only be faced by a chorus like, “And I will raise you up on eagle’s wings.” And while it is true that the way out is up it takes some going through before the Lord can be the wind beneath your wings. That is what songs and psalms like this are for; the going through times. Such songs and psalms encourage the heart in the dark and difficult, strengthen the spirit in the unpredictable and unnerving, restore hope in the face of despair, faith in times of doubt. The only thing better than a song sung in such times is a song sung together. One day when raised on eagle’s wings, borne on the breath of dawn, shining like the sun we find ourselves held in the palm of God’s hand we’ll sing a new song with a chorus that never ends. In the meantime, this one will see us through.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Lent 1 C - Deuteronomy 26:1-11

Deuteronomy 26:1-11
Lent has always been my favorite season of the church year. I attribute it to being fed a steady diet of sad country western songs as a child and having a fondness for hymns in a minor key. Or maybe it was that all the effort put into Lent, the shrouded cross, the purple banners, the symbols of pain and suffering, just made church more interesting. I do know I first came to love Jesus during Lent because the story was so sad and Jesus did it all for me though I’m sure as a child I didn’t understand why. That is what is happening in this text. The giving of first fruits is connected to the story of Israel’s beginning so they will understand why they offer first fruits at all. We were treated harshly in Egypt but God heard our voice and saw our affliction and did something about it and so we do something in return. That distinction, the doing something in response to something , is what makes this a story of grace and not just paying for a piece of property. It is the gift of freedom, a land flowing with milk and honey as opposed to making bricks in a harsh land of bondage, that prompts giving something in return to the gift giver. Like the children of Israel we were in bondage to sin but God heard our voice and saw our affliction and did something about it. So in the giving up or the taking on, the effort we put into Lent, we give something to the gift giver and enter more fully the sad story that in the resurrection has a happy ending.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Transfiguration Year C - Luke 9:28-43

The lectionary allows the option of including the verses that describe what happens when Jesus comes down the mountain and while it might appear to be two different stories they belong together. The transfigured Jesus talking with the law giver and the end of all things prophet is sent to be with and bear the faithless and perverse generation. “How long…” is a lament not a rebuke and has more to do with Jesus than the perverse generation for Jesus knows he will be with this perverse generation until he bears their perversity in his own person. How do you give up glory when you know that? You do it for a father who cries out “Teacher, I beg you…” You do it for an only child convulsed and mauled and beaten by a demon. You do it for well-meaning but ineffective disciples. You do it because that is what love is. The beloved only Son is convulsed and mauled and beaten and killed for the faithless and perverse of every generation, every last one of us. If the disciples want to stay on the mountain and bask in the glory how much more so Jesus who has every reason to stay and doesn’t.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Transfiguration Year C - 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2

2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2
When Paul writes to the Romans of his kindred according to the flesh his sorrow is unceasing and his anguish is great. So much so he would gladly himself be cut off from Christ, go back behind the veil as it were, if it meant the children of Abraham would see clearly. The hope that makes Paul bold is a confidence that the freedom of the Spirit will work its will even on those whose minds are hardened and vision veiled. Changed from glory into glory they will one day with unveiled faces gaze upon the glory that is the Lord. That is the ministry of the mercy that makes Paul’s heart beat faster. And that is why we do not lose heart when friends or spouses or children or parents, our kindred according to the flesh, are veiled to the freedom in which we live. If one day we are blessed to see them gifted by sight it will not be by cunning or changing the Word to fit the world but by living more fully what we believe. We renounce the shameful things that promise much and deliver nothing and live the gift of freedom that is the law of love. We trust in hope that the glory to be revealed is bigger and better and more inclusive than we can possibly imagine. For the open statement of the truth is that we love others so others will love Christ who has always loved them.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Transfiguration Year C - Psalm 99

The psalm begins as one might expect. The Lord who is King, enthroned above angelic beings, terrifying in their own right, causes people to tremble as the earth quakes. When one is before the Lord, who is exalted over everyone and everything, praise is not an option. Kings of the human variety, with far less power and majesty, tend to magnify themselves at the expense of their subjects. Not so with the Holy God, the lover of justice, who hears the cries of those who pleading for mercy receive forgiveness. But we might pause before we shout alleluia, for while the Holy One forgives the wrongdoer the wrongdoing must still be avenged. Like it or not that’s the way equity is established. And as difficult and painful as that is living outside the boundaries of God’s decrees is more so. The trouble is we always seem to find ways to bear the unbearable and tolerate the painful. So the Holy God who knew no wrong becomes a wrongdoer and is avenged with a vengeance. And therein lies our salvation and God’s hope that one day we will love justice as much as God does.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Transfiguration Year C - Exodus 34:29-35

This is a strange story, but then the Bible is no stranger to strange stories. A burning bush, a plague or ten, fire and smoke on a mountain, a glowing face; the Holy shows up and things happen that can’t be explained and people change. That’s the whole point of a theophany or a close encounter of the Holy kind. You are supposed to change and people are supposed to notice. But sometimes change, like a glowing face, needs to be veiled so that nothing gets in the way of whatever it is that God wants to do. The veil on Moses’ face allowed those who were afraid to come near and hear what it was God wanted to reveal through Moses. It might be that the church in our day and age “veils” the ways that don’t make sense to those outside the faith. Veiling is not hiding. In our context it is taking seriously that the language of the church is no longer the vernacular of the common culture. So we veil what might separate us by speaking the universal language of the human condition without denying that which has caused our face to shine; the encounter with the Christ who came down off the mountain of transfiguration to climb the hill of suffering for the sake of the world.