Friday, April 29, 2016

Easter 6 C - John 14:23-29

“Do not let your hearts be troubled” might be mistaken for a Jesus “Just Do It” theology if it were not for the peace that precedes the “do not be troubled”. In the same way that “Believe in God. Believe also in me” precedes the same command in the beginning of chapter 14, the “do not let…” does not lead. It follows. And the peace that precedes the “do not let…” is not put on a happy face and the whole world smiles with you because the sun will come up tomorrow bet your bottom dollar solution to real life strife. In the same way, “believe in me” does not mean just get over it. Nor does it minimize trouble because it could be worse even if it clearly could be. That would be worldly peace. The peace of the world is temporary and illusionary as it denies sorrow, medicates pain with costly pleasure, or seeks solace by seeing to it that other hearts are equally troubled. The peace that Jesus gives embraces suffering and dies to destroy the power of death. Called to cling to the cross by which Jesus overcomes the world, and all the trouble in it, the people of Jesus’ peace believe that trouble is temporary while peace is eternal. In the fourth chapter of his second letter to the troublesome Corinthians the apostle Paul did not let his heart be troubled even though he had more than enough of his share of difficulty. “We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” Do not let your hearts be troubled is not a command. It is an invitation.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Easter 6 C - Revelation 21:10 - 22:5

It is a strange vision of a city that is out of this world. Carefully measured and described with twelve gates of pearl, walls of jasper, streets of gold and foundations adorned with jewels, with names that will twist the tongue of Sunday’s lectors, the vision is intended to impress. Written to those suffering the pain of persecution it must have seemed a dream too good to be true. But the vision went beyond the immediate need for rescue and redemption. For those who longed for Jerusalem’s ruined temple to be rebuilt God and the Lamb will be in plain sight and no curtain will hide the Holy of Holies. There will be no need of sun or moon, or gates shut to keep out the danger that lurks in the dark, for all that threatens and practices falsehood will be banished. And the twelve tree forest will heal the world’s warring madness so that all that follows in the wake of war, pestilence and plague and famine and death, will be forever erased from the human lexicon. It may be a vision of the future but it came from someone who in this world longed for the “out of this world” reality that only peace can bring. We might have to wait for the city to come down but there is no reason we cannot be building the foundation today by dreaming the dream and casting the vision while working to make this world look a little more like the next. That really would be out of this world.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Easter 6 C - Psalm 67

Psalm 67
The psalmist was a having a good day when Psalm 67 was written. Not like the day “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me” Psalm 22 was penned. That both praise and lament are sung in the same song book is a testament to the truth telling of the Psalter for life is both blessing and bust. There is a tendency in the American mega-denomination to attribute only glory to God and prosperity to God’s people who invest wisely and often. But the graciousness of the crucified God is to be present in plenty and in want, in sickness and in health, in sorrow and in joy. The blessing of the crucified God is to shine the light of God’s face into the darkness of our lives when forsakeness has sapped our strength and doubt has overshadowed our hope. The way of the crucified God and the saving power made known to the nations is justice for the oppressed, freedom for the captive, good news for the poor. When the blessing of God is no longer seen as a right for the righteous then equity among the peoples will be established and the increase of the earth will not be hoarded or squandered but freely shared. And that will be a good day indeed.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Easter 6 C - Acts 17:22-31

A statue to an unknown god presented Paul with an opportunity to proclaim to the “extremely religious” Athenians the God “in whom we live and have our being.” It seems such an obvious mission strategy surely someone else had tried to slap a name tag on the god “yet to be named” pedestal but then maybe the Athenians were just as happy to allow this god to remain anonymous. Paul managed to persuade at least two people, Dionysius and Damaris, but the absence of a New Testament letter to the Athenians might be an indication of his lack of success. A good number of people in our time prefer that God remain unnamed even if they might go to God in times of crisis or for cultural rituals that still crop up in even decidedly secular societies. The God not served by human hands still desires humans to search and perhaps in their groping find the One who “is not far from each one of us.” It looks to me as if God leaves a lot up to chance so it hardly seems fair that a day would be fixed where ignorance is no longer bliss. On the other hand, if the world is judged in righteousness by the man God appointed and that same One named Jesus forgave even those who nailed him naked to wood maybe the rest of God’s offspring have more than just a chance in hell to bump into the God who died to be found.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Easter 5 C - John 13:31-35

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.” You would think the church could get this one right. After all, love is what we preach and teach and claim to believe in the pulpit and in the pew. In fact, if there is anything we should be able to get right it is this simple command. Love one another. Just do it. It’s not rocket science. Of course that would mean the “one another” we are commanded to love would have to be a little more loveable or in other words a little more like us or better, more like me. It is a sign of our sinfulness that loving one another is contingent on conforming to my way or the highway. But in “love one another as I have loved you” we are called to conform to the selfless way of Jesus whose love was made visible in death to rescue those who refused to be loved. So if we do not love one another it is because we do not love Jesus for we cannot love Jesus without loving the “one another” Jesus was dying to love. That is not to say love is an invitation to be abused. You can love from a distance. But to love the “one another” as those loved by Christ means we see the other as Christ does. Therefore, love one another as I have loved you means love Jesus in the unreasonable other. Love Jesus in the selfish other. Love Jesus in the spiteful other. Love Jesus in the weak willed and untrustworthy other. Then others will know that we are disciples of Jesus for we love one another, for Jesus’ sake, so that others will love Jesus. None of which can happen unless you love the Jesus in you. So I guess in that way it really is all about me.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Easter 5 C - Revelation 21:1-6

No sea on the new earth? And here I was planning on boogie boarding my way through at least half of eternity. Some read this word literally and explain that the “no sea” on the new earth is to accommodate the vast multitude too great to count. But that misses the point of the vision. The sea represents the chaos that existed before creation when the earth was formless and empty and darkness was over the surface of the deep. God’s spirit hovered over the water and in the word “Let there be…” order is called forth and chaos is contained. In this creation account the chaos that threatens is not the sea (which is good news for me.) It is death, for mourning and crying and pain and tears caused by loss can make our lives formless and empty and dark. So the new thing that God is doing here is no different from the first thing God did. In Christ crucified and risen God creates order out of chaos, life out of death, joy out of sorrow, laughter out of tears. I suppose that should enough but I’m halfway hoping for a new sea with really big waves and the ability to walk on water so I can boogie without the board.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Easter 5 C - Psalm 148

The Psalm 148 praise the Lord list is all inclusive even though not everyone on the list gets along. Wild animals eat cattle, kings make war on princes, fire and hail and wind do damage to fruit trees and of course sea monsters are not called monsters for being friendly to sailors. I don’t think the point is that if the all inclusive list spent more time praising the Lord they would spend less time preying on one another. You can over think a psalm in the same way that the marriage of melody and lyric loses something when the words of a song are over analyzed. So let’s just say the symphony of the all inclusive praise psalm is the song of everything all at once exalting the name of the Lord which in and of itself is a joyful noise to the Lord (even if the sound a sea monster might terrify us).

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Easter 5 C - Acts 11:1-18

I think I might just have to remain kosher if the Lord told me to eat reptiles even if rattlesnake does taste like chicken. Of course the come down on a sheet menu is really just a set up for what comes next. Three gentiles come a calling and Peter goes to their house which is like eating shrimp on the Sabbath. The categories of clean and unclean are designed to keep one group pure by profaning the other. It begins with keeping oneself separate and while segregation will satisfy for a time eventually violence is the final solution. In the vision of the sheet the future imagined by God is revealed where distinctions of clean and unclean and everything in between are erased from the human vocabulary. The prophet Isaiah sees it as the sheet that covers the nations, hatred, violence, pride leading to prejudice, lifted in favor of forever feasting. To be faithful to the future is to follow it in the present so as not to hinder God. Paul will say it this say it this way. There is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free because in Christ God declares there is no distinction. So, while you certainly may decline the rattlesnake appetizer, loving neighbor as self is not optional on the Christian menu.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Easter 4 C - Revelation 7:9-17

The promise to the white robed ones before the throne describes the great ordeal our faith forebears suffered. Indeed, when we make this portion of the letter a prophecy of the imagined future we dishonor the real people who went without food and water as they suffered the scorching sun and the heat of the day. They were mostly slaves and women, the least and the left behind, which is why using the testimony of their tribulation in best-selling books and cheesy DVDs by the rich and powerful insults the real people to whom these words were written. Their tears will be wiped away and though we might have much to make us weep the great multitude that came out of the great ordeal does not include us. It is not to say we are left out because we happen to live in a time when the empire embraces the church without trying to strangle it. It just means we can't read about those persecuted and ultimately killed for the faith and make it about us. What is about us, persecuted or not, is that the Lamb at the center of the throne is the Shepherd of every nation and tribe and people and language which means leaving anyone behind is the last thing on the Lord's mind.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Easter 4 C - Psalm 23

Psalm 23
The promises of Psalm 23; green pastures, still waters, soul restored, right paths followed, comfort and confidence in death’s dark valley, a feast in front of foes, head anointed, cup overflowing, goodness and mercy and a home in the house of the Lord are made possible by the statement of surrender, "the Lord is my shepherd." The second statement “I shall not want” is made possible by the first. Of course surrendering and being satisfied does not come naturally to us. The story of “the fall” is all about humans not being satisfied with paradise and in lusting after the fruit that was pleasing to the eye and useful for knowledge their attempt at an upgrade from creature to creator introduced a virus that infects us today. We infect this psalm with that virus when we think of the Shepherd as a service provider or make it all about the forever home in the Lord’s house. To surrender to the Shepherd is to be satisfied with creature status and trust that the One who comforts us through the valley of the shadow of whatever we face knows the way. That means green pastures can exist where there is no grass. Still waters can be found in the middle of a rushing river. The right path is the one we’re on as long as the Shepherd walks with us. And because we know the Shepherd is Jesus the feast prepared must be as much for the foe as it is for us. When we are satisfied with the Shepherd with us in whatever pasture we inhabit the goodness and mercy that “follows” catches up with us and the forever house of the Lord is our home today.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Easter 4 C - Acts 9:36-43

Peter, the fisherman turned physician, may have been the rock upon which the church was built but Tabitha was the one who made it work. Devoted to acts of charity, she takes Jesus at his word about the least of these, “when I was naked you clothed me” and does something about it. Her handiwork in the hands of weeping widows is a testimony to her devotion. Remembered well for the good she did Tabitha will be missed. But this is a resurrection story and so like Lazarus and Jairus’ daughter Tabitha will live to sew again. Luke tells the story as if a person coming back to life when called by name and told to get up happens all the time even though miracles tend to demand attention and get it. People like Tabitha, devoted to good works and acts of charity, do not and maybe that makes her life of service more of a miracle than sitting up at Peter’s command. The miracle of the church is that despite all of its drawing attention to itself, mostly for the wrong reasons, it still has a Tabitha or two quietly going about being church. A resurrection story is always more about this life then whatever comes next and though we might long for the day when we hear that final “get up” the world would be well served, and maybe even resurrected, by a church devoted to good works and acts of charity.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Easter 3 C - Revelation 5:11-14

I remember the sound of angels singing in my backyard years ago. They must have been around three and five at the time and from somewhere inside the castle their father built for them they were singing “This is the feast of victory for our God. Alleluia!” That’s the only part they knew so they just sang it over and over again. Maybe that’s the only part we need to know when it comes right down to it. The Lamb who was slain is worthy and has won the victory over death so that songs of rejoicing might spring forth from children and angels alike. To that the living creatures say Amen which means Let it be so. To live into let it be so invites the future into the present so that we hear and sing the song in our everyday. Granted it is more difficult when life is anything but playful. In those times the invitation is a prayer and this is the feast is sung through clenched teeth. Which is why it’s the only thing we need to know. Despite all the difficulties of the day the battle is done, the final victory won. One day the feast of victory will be for all of us as children playing and singing this is the feast over and over again and the sound of suffering and sorrow will be stilled. And so the memory of angels singing in the backyard in the past enters the present of this day so that one is reminded of the future. Amen. Let it be so.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Easter 3 C - Psalm 30

Psalm 30 is a song of deliverance in the key of joy. Rescued from the foe, helped by healing, brought back from the depths of the pit the psalmist has seen it all and is glad that the day of refreshment has finally dawned. But the worst of what was endured is perhaps understated. “When you hid your face I was dismayed.” Weeping through the night watches the psalmist is clothed in the sackcloth of God’s absence and the moment of God’s anger seems to last a lifetime. Crying into that silence the psalmist is not above making a deal. “What good am I to you dead?” When the morning of deliverance comes the rejoicing is unrestrained and one jumps for the joy of it, for even if silence and sorrow and suffering are remembered the new dawn trumps whatever one went through to see the sun rise.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Easter 3 C - Acts 9:1-20

Straight Street - Damascus
Saul may be the one blinded but Ananias is the one who wants to know if God sees clearly. “Here I am Lord” is followed quickly by a just in case you don’t know “Lord, I’ve heard of this man…” According to Luke’s tale all Ananias needs is a little more information in order to call Saul brother but I image he had an exit strategy when he headed down Straight Street in Damascus. Even so his only scene in the Gospel is a story of faith that makes Paul’s faith possible as his baptizing “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me” means Paul can suffer for the sake of the name he persecuted which in turn makes the name of Jesus known. Ananias could have said send someone else but he didn’t. Maybe God seeing clearly is how we receive our sight. Here I am Lord.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Easter 2 C - John 20:19-31

John 20:19-31
There are those who say faith dare not doubt while others claim faith without doubt is no faith at all. I’m not sure I care to enter the debate. Thomas had good reason to wonder at this word, “We have seen the Lord!” and as the ten weren’t blessed until they had seen I’m willing to give Thomas the benefit of the doubt. Truth is there are times when I wonder at this word and question whether everything written is the Gospel truth. I don’t think that is as much a function of doubting as it is the product of the God given ability to think critically. God is not threatened by our questions and does not punish us for asking them.  Touch and see was what Thomas needed to do and touch and see is what Jesus offered him. And what seems like Jesus rebuking Thomas, “have you believed because you have seen me?”  is really an encouragement to those of us who given the opportunity would do anything to “trade places with Thomas and touch those ruined hands.” (Friederich Buechner – Peculiar Treasures) So we who live by faith and not by sight are free to question and in whatever way doubt and faith intersect find the place where the life of believing lives comfortably with questions.