Monday, May 30, 2016

Proper 5 C - 2 Samuel 11:26 - 12:15

“Each one is tempted when, by one’s own evil desire, one is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” (James 1:14-15) David is not bewitched by Bathsheba’s beauty as much as he is consumed by his own evil desire and when his desire gives birth to sin he multiples it by killing Uriah. The story that leads up to Nathan’s “you are the man” details David’s desperation to hide the consequence of his adultery. If Uriah had been more like David and slept with Bathsheba the plan would have succeeded. Of course sooner or later someone would have noticed that Uriah’s boy looked a lot like the King. When the righteous will not cooperate with the schemes of the wicked the only solution is to kill the righteous one. Nathan sent by the Lord is given the unenviable task of speaking truth to power which is why he comes through the back door and tells a story of injustice before identifying David as the villain. That David can become so incensed at Nathan’s story of a rich man taking a poor man’s only lamb and not connect the dots speaks of sin’s power of self-deception. David, a man after God’s own heart, has broken God’s heart and in continuing to live as if nothing happened David is as dead as Uriah. The power to deceive self is why the accusation “you are the man” is a judgment that is actually good news for David, for though he suffers the penalty of sin he is restored to life. It is the same for us when Nathans sent by the Lord tell the truth about our infidelity, as all sin is unfaithfulness towards God. In the naming of our sin the Word that forgives is found for the One who was more righteous than Uriah, whose heart melted like wax within him as he hung upon the cross, recreates in us a clean heart and renews within us a right spirit. (Psalm 51)

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Proper 4 C - Luke 7:1-12

I think the remarkable thing about the centurion is that he loves the people of the land he was sent to occupy. The Romans were not in business to benefit others and centurions were not typically interested in building worship spaces for foreign gods. The armies of Rome were sent to ensure the coffers of Rome were filled by populations subdued by the first century version of shock and awe. But the centurion’s love for an occupied people was also paired with the military humility that recognizes a superior officer. “But only speak the word…” so impresses the Jewish rabbi that he returns the favor and praises the NCO of the occupying army. The valued slave returned to good health goes back to what made him valuable in the first place and my guess is the centurion shows his appreciation to the synagogue and the folks who presumed to speak on his behalf. It’s a lovely story. Of course not all the Romans will be so kind to Jesus in the future and while we take “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” to mean those who shouted “crucify” I’m guessing Jesus remembered a centurion who said "do this" to those who made the crown of thorns and drove the nails through Jesus' hands and feet. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Proper 4 C - Galatians 1:1-12

Paul’s letter to the Galatians begins nicely enough but then gets down to the heart of the matter.  “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ…” The Galatians have been “bewitched” (3:1) and have abandoned the Gospel of grace for a gospel that is no Gospel at all. The believers in the Galatia churches - Antioch of Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe – (Acts 13:4-14:28) originally embraced the message of the Gospel that “a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ” (2:16) but now have let go of the Gospel to cling once again to the Law. The trouble for the Galatians is the same trouble the faithful always seem to face. Change. I think we should cut them a little more slack then Paul suggests, (i.e. 5:12) after all change does not come easily to the church in any age and the changes the Gospel called forth for the Galatians were monumental. And maybe it is always more difficult for people who are really good at following the Law to fully believe that the Gospel does all the work which in a real sense means to “let go and let God.”

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Proper 4 C - Psalm 30

Mil Anderson, a gone on to glory member of Calvary, was working in a field hospital on the beaches of Normandy six days after the allied landings. Six months later she was evacuated from Bastogne as the Battle of the Bugle began. Once the tide began to turn she followed the allied advance while caring for the wounded and dying often within hearing of the front. A slight but feisty woman she reminded me of my grandmother Lillian Smith who was cut from the same cloth. Coping with adversity, hardship and loss they did their praying silently and endured patiently whatever was their lot. At the same time, living within the constraints of their era, they pushed back against the boundaries imposed upon them and made it possible for the daughters of our time to achieve more than the women of the greatest generation could have ever hoped for or even imagined. The psalmist crying out for help to God is clothed in healing with answered prayer. The joy of the morning is known by living through the weeping of the night. Life is brought forth from the experience of going down to the Pit. Dancing springs forth from sackcloth, rejoicing follows grief. Mil and Lillian, and so many like them, lived the movement of this psalm and made strong as a mountain by faith in the Lord inspire us all to do the same.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Proper 4 C - 1 Kings 17:8-24

When I was 11 my family visited the American military cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer which sits on the bluffs above D-Day’s Omaha beach. It was a beautiful sunny day in 1968 and all I wanted to do was explore the remaining WWII fortifications and play solider with my brother. I was stopped by the sight of row upon row of perfectly aligned white marble crosses that seemed to go on forever. It is a painfully beautiful sight where conversation, if any, is held in hushed tones as if talking any louder would dishonor the dead. I can’t say for certain but I think even an 11-year-old boy might have been moved to tears on such sacred ground. The widow weeping gives her only son to the prophet whose presence she assumes has led to his death. “What do you have against me, O man of God?” The prophet is equally pained and questions the intention of the One for whom he speaks. “Why, O Lord, have you killed the widow’s son?” I imagine not a few of the 9,387 who lie above the beach, or the 1,557 never found, whose names etched in the stone colonnade are all that remain, had mothers like the widow who wept their questions, “Why?” or like the prophet accused God of less than holy intentions. No doubt the mothers of the 21,222 Germans buried at nearby La Cambe, asked the same question. Elijah stretched out three times on the breath-less body of the widow’s son and the Lord restored his life so that returned to his mother she believed the truth; life is stronger than death. The lifeless body of the Lord, stretched out three days in the darkness of death, burst forth from the tomb so that one day those slain in the course of human conflict might be revived and know the truth; life is stronger than death. When at last the nations learn to study war no more and death is swallowed up in victory those who wait in the silent sleep of death at places like Colleville-sur-Mer and La Cambe will meet again, not as divided brothers in arms, but as brothers united in the arms the Lord.

Friday, May 20, 2016

The Feast of the Holy Trinity - John 16:12-15

John 16:12-15
Someone asked me recently when the Holy Ghost disappeared and the Holy Spirit appeared. I’m not sure when but I know why. In Hebrew the word attached to the third person of the Trinity is Ruach, in Greek Pneuma or breath. Spirit seems to capture that idea better than Ghost, but Holy Breath might be better. In the beginning Holy Breath hovered over the chaos and called forth the creation. Holy Breath animated humans formed from dust. Holy Breath inspired words in the mouth of the prophets to convict and correct so that the vision of redemption and return could be realized. Holy Breath cried in a stable and on a hill. Holy Breath stepped out of the darkness of death and through locked doors to breathe on disciples hiding in fear and confusion. On the day when the waiting came to an end Holy Breath like the rush of a wind spoke through fisher folk and tax collectors in languages unlearned. To this day Holy Breath breathed scripture (2 Timothy 3:16) “calls, gathers, enlightens, sanctifies and keeps us in the one true faith.” (Luther) And wherever and wherever the one holy catholic (small c = universal, invisible) and apostolic church steps into and lives out of the truth as guided by Holy Breath, the Father Son Spirit is glorified.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Feast of the Holy Trinity - Romans 5:1-11

The second article of the faith tells the story of the One not created who was before time began and yet chose to let go of glory and empty himself to be found in human likeness. (Philippians 2:6-7) In the unbroken unity of the Trinity (which is love for the children of creation) Father Son Spirit are equally engaged in the work of redemption even though it would appear that the Son does the heavy lifting. In the person of Jesus the One not created becomes weak to save the weak, becomes sin to save sinners, and surrenders life to defeat death. The image of an angry God now appeased by a human sacrifice, albeit God in human flesh, is not what Paul means by being saved from the wrath of God for God’s love is proved by the life, death and resurrection of Christ and wrath and love cannot coexist. God is the only actor on the stage of salvation. While we were ungodly, while we were weak, while we were sinners, while we were God’s enemies, God died for us, ahead of us, instead of us so that by the life of God the love of God might be poured into our hearts through the Spirit.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Feast of the Holy Trinity - Psalm 8

The unity of Father Son Spirit cannot be divided and yet each member fully present in the other is also distinct. Attempting to say something about each One in Three while preserving the Three in each One is a tip toe through the tulips of heresy, but I will press on, gingerly! In the time before time began the One who was not created called forth the heavens and the earth setting the stars like jewels in the crown of space. From infinite imagination the One who was not created called forth living beings weaving them together with the fabric of the earth. When all was said and done and very good the One who was not created formed in the image of the Infinite Imagination a creature both beautiful and terrible. Given our drive to exercise dominion over all things, including the One who imagined us, God would do well to be mindful of mortals for God’s own sake. That might not be so far from the truth. The first article of the faith names the One who created the heavens and the earth as God the Father Almighty. It is the parent in the Infinite Imagination that is mindful of the children created in the image of God. Love for the child will move that same One who was not created to inhabit mortal flesh and be crowned with glory and honor, not in the heavens but on a “hill far away.” Love for the child will move that same One who was not created to inspire the mouths of babes and infants and the young and the old to sing Alleluia when the enemy and the avenger, death itself, is swallowed up in victory. The One in Three and Three in One is bound together by love for the children both beautiful and terrible until and for the day when the children of the Infinite Imagination are perfected in the eternal future. O God, our God, how majestic is your name!

Monday, May 16, 2016

The Feast of the Holy Trinity - Proverbs 8:1-4, 23-31

This Sunday is the Feast of the Holy Trinity and wisdom would be wise to advise us to say as little as possible about the mystery that defies definition. Or if we are so bold to attempt an analogy we should preface everything we say with St. Paul’s word picture of the temporal peering into the eternal, “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror…” or the words of Job after God showed up. “I’ve spoken of things too great for me to understand.” That doesn’t mean there isn’t something to say. It just means an analogy easily understood will always be a poor reflection of a mystery. Like a joke that has to be explained it loses something in the translation. So the best thing to be said is that the unity of the Trinity is not to be explained to the human mind but believed in the human heart. What we are to believe is that the unity of the Trinity is the ultimate expression love. In the creative unity of love Father Son Spirit calls forth from nothing all that is and it is very good. In the redeeming unity of love Father Son Spirit dies for the created whose lust for creator status turned the goodness of creation into something less. In the sustaining unity of love Father Son Spirit rejoicing in the inhabited world and delighting in the human race continually recreates us so that the goodness of God’s creation, light and love, might overcome the darkness and death of human design. Father Son Spirit is the Unity of Love beyond knowing. The Good News is that the Unity of Love beyond knowing knows us and that is all we need to know to be holy and whole.

Friday, May 13, 2016

The Feast of Pentecost Year C - John 14:8-17, 25-27

Years ago I had one of those moments when I desperately wanted a clear word from the Lord. Nothing seemed to be working. Not prayer or conversations with colleagues or time in silent meditation. I don’t recommend what I did next because I think it treats the scripture like a Christian version of the Magic 8 ball®, but desperate times called for desperate measures and so I opened my Bible at random and landed on John 14:9. “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still don’t know me?” That’s the other reason not to do it. God might use your name and when God has to use your name you know you haven’t been paying attention. Philip asks the question that is on everyone’s mind and though Jesus' answer sounds like a rebuke Jesus honors the question and shows Philip what he asks to see. It is in the person of Jesus that the mystery of the Holy One is made known. And even if the humanity of John’s Jesus plays second fiddle to his divinity Jesus is for Philip and the disciples a present, physical reality that can be seen. And it is in keeping the word from Jesus’ own lips, “Love one another” that God continues to be made known. The Holy, Invisible, God Only Wise revealed in kindness offered, in mercy shown, in comfort extended, in generosity sown, all in the name of Jesus. And in love extended and received we become the answer to someone’s desperate prayer - ask anything in my name. God made visible in love. In the same way that the internal unity of Father, Son, Spirit cannot be separated so we too cannot be separated from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. We will not be left orphaned and alone without a home for the good news is that God knows our name.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

The Feast of Pentecost Year C - Romans 8:12-25

Romans 8:12-25
The first readers of Romans never thought the creation would still be waiting 2000 years later to be set free from its bondage to decay. Given the weight of the human foot print in 2016 it may be waiting more eagerly than ever. According to Genesis it was human rebellion that subjected the creation to frustration and the ground of the garden where only good things grew was cursed so that only painful toil produced fruit. Paul imagines a day of redemption where the curse of the fall is reversed and the whole creation rejoices in the homecoming of the prodigal human race welcomed home by a waiting Abba Father. Which is why the very real sufferings of the first readers of Romans were not worth comparing with the glory to be revealed. That is not meant to minimize suffering but only put it in the proper perspective. In all our trials and tribulations, in all our suffering and hardship, in all our sorrow and pain, we too eagerly long for redemption, groaning inwardly, but not as those who have no hope. (1 Thessalonians 4:13) And what might be our brightest and best hope? Isaiah saw it and it sustained him while he suffered slavery in Babylon. The Assyrian lion lies down with the lamb of Judah, swords and spears are beaten into plow shares and pruning hooks, and people of every tribe and tongue sit down to feast together as God dines on death. I consider whatever I have to face today or any day not worth comparing with what I believe will one day be true for you and me and all people. And if on any given day I wait impatiently, groaning outwardly, complaining and frustrated, the hope of the future is held in trust by you for me. And when you grow weary my hope will be yours because we are in this thing together until at last the hope of the future that we can only now dimly imagine is fully revealed. Amen. Come Lord Jesus.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The Feats of Pentecost Year C - Psalm 104:24-34

Psalm 104:24-34
The prayer in the Pilgrims Guide (turn to page 42) of every Cursillio, Via de Cristo, Walk to Emmaus, or Tres Dias is based on Psalm 104 30. “Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in us the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and we shall be created and you shall renew the face of the earth…” I believe the page 42 prayer, prayed multiple times on a weekend, has a lot to do with what happens on a weekend. (You have to attend to fully comprehend) “You send forth your Spirit and they are created…” It is the Spirit sent forth that creates a community on a weekend in the same way that our weekly gatherings of the faithful in churches small and large and in-between are created by the same Spirit, albeit over a longer period of time. That might be enough for us to stand up and shout “Amen” but it’s really the next line that is meant to get us up and out of our pews. (And into the 4th Day following a weekend) “And you shall renew the face of the earth.” God could renew the face of earth without us but God’s desire is that we become co-creators in imagining the reign of God come down onto the piece of the planet we inhabit where the Spirit in us preaches Good News to the poor, binds up the brokenhearted, proclaims liberty for the captive and makes the year of the Lord’s favor a present reality by intentional acts of kindness – even if they if they are random.

Monday, May 9, 2016

The Feast of Pentecost Year C - Acts 2:1-21

Lutherans are rarely mistaken for Pentecostals and even when the charismatic renewal blew through the mainline church our version of Pentecost was still a little more reserved than the Assembly of God. It could be due to our Nordic or Germanic heritage, where church doesn't look anything like drinking new wine in the morning. But that doesn't mean we are less spirit filled or on fire for the Lord. It just means our expression of Holy Spirit fire prefers to toast the faithful not light them on fire. It is a mistake to envy the more demonstrative Holy Spirit folk or think that they are holier than thou, though thou art free to discretely raise a hand while singing A Mighty Fortress or quietly add an “Amen” if your Lutheran pastor’s preaching warrants such a response. While those things are all well and good this text is not about personal expressions of emotional piety. The day of Pentecost is about speaking the story of Jesus in a language people can understand. In these “last days” it means speaking the story to those who are by self-definition spiritual but not religious but in truth still seeking for something that satisfies the restless heart. On that first day of the “last days” it meant speaking in the tongues of Gentile nations. In these “last days” it means the church must step outside of its holy halls and wake up from the illusion of privilege and power. It means we stop lusting after the myth of a Christian nation and acting as if we are victims of a secular conspiracy. For those of us who call on the name of the Lord in this day of the “last days” it means speaking the story subversively so that by sowing the seeds of curiosity we may be asked why we long for peace, why we feed the hungry, why we share ourselves in service, why we hope, why we love. It may be that by speaking from the heart about the Spirit that fills us with peace those who are spiritual but not religious might be tempted to become religiously spiritual which might be an apt description of a Lutheran Pentecostal.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Easter 7 C - Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17; 20-21

Revelation 22:12-21
The lectionary for Easter 7C leaves out verse 15 of Revelation 22 presumably because verse 15 leaves out “dogs and sorcerers and fornicators and murderers and idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.” I don’t know about you but the Heinze household believes all dogs go to heaven except maybe Josh’s new puppy Lola who will need to be potty trained in purgatory before passing through the pearly gates. Verses 18 & 19 don’t make the lectionary lesson either but that probably has more to do with what one would add to Revelation rather than whatever one might leave behind. Truth is warning and welcome live side by side in these verses and we do a disservice to the scripture when we pick and choose even though denominations clearly intentionally discriminate. Those more liberal, or by self-definition progressive, need to acknowledge the nasty with the nice while those intent on saving sinners as long as they conform to a monochromatic color scheme need to look more closely at the Jesus who consistently colors outside the lines. Both sides should take note that while we argue about what verses to include or exclude the rest of the world doesn’t give a damn which I suppose doesn’t really matter if they really are all going to hell. But if Jesus died to make a difference then we better figure out a better way than “turn or burn” or “all paths lead to the same place” to speak the truth of Jesus so that the dogs in verse 15 might actually want to find a welcome place in verse 17.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Easter 7 C - Psalm 97

The Lord is king! Let the earth rejoice unless lit up by the Lord’s lightning the earth trembles. Let the coastlands be glad unless occupied by adversaries the coastlands are consumed. Psalm 97 imagines the mountains melting like wax and the Lord surrounded by clouds and thick darkness bringing it on like Iron Man. But for those rescued from the hand of the wicked and loved for hating evil the Lord is like the gentle light of dawn bringing joy to the upright who have survived the night. Here in lies the rub between judgment and justice, penalty and pity, the ones forgiven for eternity and those whose eternal punishment seems to outweigh the crime. How do we bow down before the throne of the Lord as King Iron Man and at the same time proclaim the servant God of Grace? It may be that the Lord as King brings a world of hurt to whoever boasts in worthless idols but the gospel proclaims a God whose heart melting like wax within him, his hands nailed to wood by the wicked, forgives those who knowing full well what they were doing didn’t have a clue why he allowed it to be done to him. So rejoice in the Lord then, you who have been made righteous by the Lord as King, who forgave the wicked in the same way the God of Grace forgave you.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Easter 7 C - Acts 16:16-34

In Acts 16 healing happens because Paul “very much annoyed” tells the divining spirit outing him as a slave of the “Most High God” to shut up. Of course the slave girl set free is a set up for the freeing of the Philippian jailer who doesn’t know he’s the one behind bars. Once the stage is set, Paul and Silas singing in the aftershock of the earthquake is such a surprise that the jailer brought back from the brink asks, “What must I do to be saved?” even though what he really wants to know is “Why are you still here?” The answer that saves the jailer and his household is to believe in whatever kept Paul and Silas in the cell singing when running away made more sense. That is the answer that saves us as well, for instead of coming down from the cross and saving himself Jesus stayed put so that like the jailer we might be brought back from the brink. In this we know we are saved, not by confessing a creed or adhering to a tradition or allegiance to denomination or ritual, (as good as those things might be) but when our believing in Jesus means staying put with and for the other when walking away would be much easier. And so whether we can carry a tune or not we are called to sing the mercy of God in the aftershock of whatever life throws at us for we know as slaves of the “Most High God” we are truly free.