Thursday, July 28, 2016

Proper 13 c - Luke 12:13-21

Someone in the crowd was trying to triangulate Jesus who knows a thing or two about healthy relationships between three persons. “Tell my brother to divide the family inheritance” sounds like a sibling rivalry with a little history. Who knows maybe Jesus’ well known tale about two sons and a loving father comes from a chance encounter in the crowd with a real life prodigal? Of course Jesus does not take the bait (he never does) but speaking the truth in love goes to the heart of the matter. You have placed possessions in front of people which is the definition of greed. To seal the deal he tells the story of a rich man who appears to be acting prudently. Crops not stored properly will quickly turn into cr@p so building bigger barns and enjoying the fruit of your labor makes sense as the reward of hard work and sound investments. But then this is a parable and the details are not to be dissected because it’s all about the punch line and in this case the punch line is a Jesus twist on what the texts for this week have been teaching all along. You can’t take it with you when you go and living as if you can is foolish. The lesson is for the “someone” in the crowd although we are clearly meant to apply it to our own lives. Your brother is more important than dividing the inheritance and the way one is rich toward God has everything to do with the value of our relationships in the here and now especially with brothers who won’t share.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Proper 13 C - Colossians 3:1-11

Life that is not meaningless is the life hidden with Christ which is revealed when life that is meaningless dies. Therefore put to death the earthly things that diminish life on earth; anger, wrath, malice, slander, abusive language, lies and the like. While it sounds like a “just do it” theology, which as we know rarely gets it done, the revealed life depends fully on the One who did it for us so that all the ways we are fond to follow are finally exposed as dead ends. When by putting to death the dead end ways in which we used to live we live the life hidden in Christ and Christ is revealed in us. The revealed life of Christ is not consumed by greed, possessed by passions or divided by discrimination. Just do it? No. Thanks be to God. It’s been done.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Proper 13 c - Psalm 49

Psalm 49 continues the theme of Ecclesiastes, namely, no one gets out of here alive. Or as my theology professor Walt Bouman liked to say, “Eat healthy, exercise regularly, die anyway.” He was also fond of pointing out that despite all the advances in medical science the death rate is still one per person. While that might lead one to despair the Psalmist is confident enough to sing a solution to the riddle. Those whose iniquity brings trouble are not to be feared for even with the wealth of the world at their disposal there is no price that can be paid to purchase a pass on the grave. The wise and the foolish, the persecutor and the persecuted will perish together. While that might seem a Pyrrhic victory the psalmist trusts God will do what cannot be done. “God will redeem my life from the grave and will surely take me to himself.” What the psalmist anticipated and what we believe and what my friend and mentor Walt, now gone on to glory, knows is that the ransom for human life, the price paid for a pass on the grave, was God’s own life and that more than foots the bill.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Proper 13 C - Ecclesiastes 1:1-2, 12-24, 2:18-23

The opening words of the teacher, son of David, declare "Meaningless! Meaningless!" If you didn’t get it the first time he leaves no doubt as to what he means when he goes on to say, "Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless." Most people prefer to sugar coat reality to make it more palatable as in “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.” (Mary Poppins) Or they defy reality as in, "The one who dies with the most toys wins!" (Malcolm Forbes) The teacher prefers to tell it like it is. He hates the things for which he toiled and despairs of his striving under the sun. Even if you work with wisdom, knowledge and skill you can’t take it with you when you go and others will profit from your pain. The one who dies with the most toys still dies. This might lead one to despair of life but that is not what the teacher declares as meaningless. Vanity of vanities is how the old version goes and that puts the emphasis where it belongs. What is meaningless is a sugar coated reality that convinces one that circumstances can be controlled, that the future can be made secure by the accumulation of wealth or wisdom or that with enough chasing after the wind you can put the breeze in your pocket. The teacher’s instruction is not that life itself is meaningless. No. But life lived without meaning is truly vanity of vanities.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Proper 12 C - Luke 11:1-13

“Teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” Praying was not new to the disciples who as Jews would have done so religiously three times a day so this request has more to do with Jesus than a lesson in proper prayer posture. It’s like asking for the secret handshake, the visible or in this case, verbal cue that the ones praying belong to the Jesus club. But instead of an exclusive club (we want our own prayer) Jesus begins with a new naming of the God whose name could not be spoken (lest ye die!) as Our Father. Everything that follows the teaching of the prayer, including the parable and the seeking, finding, knocking as well as evil parents knowing the difference between eggs and scorpions, has to do with this naming of God as Father, or better, parent. The “Our Father” is not about gender but genetics. The kingdom come, the asking for daily bread, the being forgiven and forgiving, the temptation from which one is spared all depend on trusting the truth of “Our Father”. And one cannot trust the truth of God as Father unless one acknowledges the Father as “Our” which means we who belong to God belong to each other. (ala Sister Sledge “We Are Family” 1979) When we live “Our” while trusting God as “Father” the kingdom comes, bread is shared, we are forgiven and forgive and the time of trial is not avoided but overcome. And to that let all God’s children say, “Amen!”

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Proper 12 C - Colossians 2:6-19

                                                           Agony by Theyre Lee-Elliott (1903-1988)

The rulers and authorities intended to make a public example of Jesus by nailing him to a cross. But what rulers intended for evil God intended for good and in the ultimate irony the shame of the cross is its glory. Those who killed Jesus according to the demands of the law could not foresee that condemning Christ would in the end fulfill the law. We who are not overly concerned with circumcision or keeping kosher or observing festivals must none-the-less admit our tendency to prefer the rules and regulations of religion, if only for the regiment they bring, to what otherwise seems too good to be true or too simple to be of much use. Each tradition claims Christ and disagreements about perceived fundamentals of faith lead one to dismiss the other as misguided or misinformed or sadly mistaken. But if God set aside the requirements of kosher and circumcision and Sabbath without a substitution save one then maybe that’s the only thing we have to hold onto to remain rooted and built up and established in the God who is Love.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Proper 12 C - Psalm 138

The small g gods who covet a capital G will have to listen while the psalmist sings praise of the Lord exalted above all things especially small g gods. The kings of the earth, accustomed to people bowing down to them, will have to bow down to a higher power and join the song whether they like it or not. And so you might expect the Lord of all the earth, who puts little g gods in their place and is King above all kings, to act the part. But this One who knows no equal, no rival, no one worthy of comparison, regards the lowly, preserves the powerless, and delivers the needy. Therefore, the whole heart of the psalmist gives thanks despite walking in the midst of trouble for the Lord is near and not far off. We too, when strengthened in soul by the steadfast love of the Lord, trust that purposes for us which may or may not be immediately apparent will in fact be fulfilled for the capital G God and the King above all kings hears the words of our mouth and knows the needs of our soul.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Proper 12 C - Genesis 18:20-33

                                                       Sodom and Gormorrah by Henry Tanner 1920

Abraham does not dispute the wickedness of Sodom and Gomorrah or the punishment God has planned for the twin sin cities. Abraham’s concern is for the collateral damage caused by God’s righteous wrath which must in his mind include his nephew Lot and Lot’s family. Each proposal preceded by “Far be it from you” asks God to reconsider the just sentence on the wicked for the sake of a diminishing population of the righteous. He stops at ten because he either senses he’s gone as far as God will go or he can’t imagine there would be less than ten righteous people in the cities on the plain. Unfortunately for the wicked there are only four who are counted righteous, although the character of Lot’s turned to salt wife is questionable. And Lot’s daughters prove to be as sinful as Sodom (Genesis 19:30-36) and Lot drunk in a cave is no saint. So what if no one is righteous? What then? What Abraham didn’t know and we can hardly imagine is that God’s desire was that mercy would triumph over judgment for it is God’s will to be both just and the one who justifies. So since none were found, God in Christ became the One through whom we are counted righteous and who knows, might also be the ones for whose sake the city is spared.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Proper 11 C - Luke 10:38-42

Luke 10:38-42
Martha is distracted by her many tasks because truth is without her they won’t get done. Luke doesn't tell us what the many tasks are but I imagine they have something to do with a house full of freeloaders. Not the Lord, mind you. Martha was happy to have Jesus over for a visit. It was all those fisher folk and tax collectors who came with him. Food has to be prepared. The table has to be set. The good silverware has to be polished and counted – because you can’t trust Galileans not to walk off with a fork or three. At any rate there are things to be done and Martha is the only one doing them. It may be that Martha is often distracted by many tasks but if that’s the case maybe Mary spends a lot time sitting and not helping. I know that is not the point of the story but what if everyone chose the better part? Who would wash the dishes? So if Mary was listening closely to Jesus she might hear him say, “I came not to be served but to serve” and get up and help her sister. And then maybe Martha might have a chance to hear Jesus say, “do not be anxious about your life…” and sit down at the feet of Jesus.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Proper 11 C - Colossians 1:1-14

God was pleased to reconcile all things to himself even though all things seem to be pleased to remain hostile to God’s desire. That hostility did all it could do to destroy God’s pleasure in the agony and abandonment of the cross. One would think that after being rejected God would be pleased to send the whole lot of us to hell but strangely God finds “no delight in the death of sinners” even if some who claim to speak for God do. That is not to say we are puppets of God’s desire only that God’s will be done might mean that what pleases God might finally overcome the human will to please self and in the same way a moth cannot finally resist the light on a dark night we will be drawn into a love that refuses to be denied. And the surprise of it all is that when God’s pleasure has its way with us we become more pleased to be reconciled to others and in doing so double God’s pleasure. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Proper 11 C - Psalm 15

I’ve been working with horses all morning at Ebert Ranch Camp and really wish the lectionary text was Psalm 32 “Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle...” On the other hand I was working with riders just as much and Psalm 15 might be just as applicable. Horses know when riders are nervous or frightened. They can also tell when a rider is not all they claim to be and will test the ability of the over confident as much as the inexperienced. Riding a horse is a relationship of trust and horse and rider are equally important when it comes to abiding in the saddle. Abiding in the tent of the Lord is not a reward for those who walk blamelessly or do what is right. Doing what is right is how you abide in the Lord. Dwelling on the Lord’s holy hill is not a reward for speaking the truth. Speaking the truth is the language of the holy hill where there is no translation for slander and evil. That is because the language of the holy hill is love written by the life of One who stood by his oath, even to his hurt, who offered himself to all of humanity without demanding payment or interest and who though innocent died for those who live by bribes.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Proper 11 C - Genesis 18:1-15

I’m blogging from Ebert Ranch Camp in the Texas Hill country where Janelle, Pr. Kyle, fourteen of Calvary’s Jr. High Youth and I will be spending the week. In the hill country “the stars at night are big and bright…” even if they come out one by one. Abraham and Sarah had been waiting a long time for God to make good on the promise of offspring more numerous than the stars. When Sarah heard the promise repeated she laughed to herself because she figured the joke was on her. She didn’t need a mirror to know her body had been passed by the promise too slow in coming due. There are times when wearied by waiting “Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?” is beyond our ability to believe. When the check is not in the mail, when there is no good news to balance the bad, when bodies are beyond healing or relationships beyond repair and we like Sarah might think the joke is on us. But at the end of Sarah’s story God will have the last laugh as she cuddles a cooing Isaac and Abraham rejoices in the gift of the son who will make the “starry, starry night” dream come true. The end of all our stories has been written by the One who came in swaddling cloths and for whom we wait to come again clothed in glory. When we remember the end of the story God has written for us we are able to endure the chapters yet to be written as we wait for the last laugh which God will share with us and the whole creation when the long awaited promise of “all things new” is born into eternity.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Proper 10 C - Luke 10:25-37

                                                    The Good Samaritan by Vincent van Gogh 1890
When parables become proverbial they lose their primary means of instruction which is a classic bait and switch. The lawyer testing Jesus is himself tested by the parable and forced to acknowledge the Samaritan as his neighbor even though he can’t bring himself to state it outright. “I suppose it was the one who showed mercy.” I imagine Jesus chuckled at the lawyer’s “I suppose…” On the other hand, as long as the parable of the Good Samaritan stays a story it hardly matters, even for the lawyer who passed Jesus’ test while failing his own. The “go and do likewise” is the real point of the parable and that only makes a difference if those who no longer seek to justify themselves act more like the Samaritan and less like the priest or Levite. Which means we can recast the story in our time with a Lutheran pastor, a medical doctor and whoever we dismiss as “less than” but unless we “go and do likewise” the parable has no point in being recast or retold. But if in hearing his own voice naming the neighbor the lawyer is moved to act like a priest or Levite who caring more about the bloodied man than remaining ritually pure stops to do what the Samaritan did then the parable is more than just a clever ruse designed to convict a lawyer. For all those justified by Jesus and no longer surprised by the plot twist or fooled by the bait and switch the story becomes an invitation to “go and do likewise” and in so doing we might just put the punch back in the parable.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Proper 10 C - Colossians 1:1-14

Paul makes fruit bearing sound easy but truth to be told even if worms and blight don’t destroy fruit fully grown it takes cooperation of sun and soil and water just to get the tree to bud and the bud to flower. The fruit that we enjoy comes from supermarket aisles, washed and polished, neatly displayed and far removed from the labor that produced and packaged what we take for granted. And so the fruit of faith might be better understood if we were closer to its origin which of course is what Paul is praying for. The Colossian Christians have truly comprehended the grace of God which means they understand that the fruit of faith has little to do with them and everything to do with the One who has rescued them from the power of darkness and transferred them to the kingdom of Christ. A life worthy of the Lord, a life fully pleasing, is a life that recognizes and gives thanks for faith fully grown and supermarket ready no thanks to our abilities but wholly dependent on the cooperation of Son and Spirit and Baptismal water.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Proper 10 C - Psalm 25:1-10

The psalmist, trusting in the Lord, prays that God’s great love and mercy from of old be remembered so that the psalmist's youthful sin and rebellious ways might be forgotten. While the Lord, remembering us in love, erases the memory of our rebellion we do not so easily forget our own folly or foolishness or willful acts of insolence and indulgence. Memories, as fresh as the day they were recorded, return to us and in accusing and condemning bring to mind guilt and shame. The enemy that triumphs over me lives in my own heart and mind as I remember what God has forgotten as if God still holds it against me. Forgiveness freely offered is never fully received as long as I continue to hold myself accountable for the sin God forgot long ago. Since the way of the Lord is first and foremost forgiveness the instruction of the sinner begins with trusting the Lord who is faithful and loving. When we believe the Lord forgives we might dare to forgive ourselves. It does not mean that forgiving is forgetting only that we are no longer bound by the sin we remember. And so we forget the shame of our sin when we remember God’s forgetful forgiveness and whenever we remember that God has forgotten the sin we remember we are fully free from our youthful sins and rebellious ways.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Proper 10 C - Deuteronomy 30:9-14

The ancestors God delighted in prospering, Abraham, Isaac & Jacob, reaped the benefits of God’s benevolence before the commandments and decrees were written into the book of the law. As it is written, “Abraham believed and it was credited to him as righteousness.” (Genesis 15:6) If that was true for them then turning to God with heart, mind and soul is not first and foremost about behavior but about belief. As long as we think of observing commands as something we have to do “thou shalt not” will always be too hard and far from us. But Jesus abandoned heaven and for our sake crossed the sea of sin and death to bring the Word, his very presence, near to us. It is the heart drawn to God, the mind mesmerized by love, the soul resting secure in peace that makes observing the commands of God as close as your own breath. When turning to God for love of Christ compels us observing God’s commands is not something external, something we have to do, but rather an expression of who we are as those who live and breathe the law of love.