Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Proper 18 C - Psalm 1

The law of the Lord, likened to water by which trees are planted and so thrive, is not to be understood as simply obeying the commandments. Even the wicked can obey a law. No. The law of the Lord is the love of the Lord. And the love of the Lord is mercy not sacrifice. (Hosea 6:6) The advice of the wicked and the path that sinners tread scoffs at those whose delight is to live what the Lord desires; mercy, not sacrifice. Sacrifice is living the letter of the law and anyone with an ounce of self-discipline can do that. Mercy is living the spirit of the law and that cannot happen apart from the stream of living water that flows from the perfect law of love. That way cannot fail and will not disappoint. When living the law is loving the Lord then there are not enough hours in the day to meditate on the Lord who delights in us as much we delight in Him.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Proper 18 C - Deuteronomy 30:15-20

If it were as simple as choosing between life and death, prosperity and adversity we’d all be “living large.” But to choose life and prosperity is to choose obedience and that is the deal breaker. The children of Israel about to enter the land will all voice their choice for life and promise to obey, (Joshua 1) but God knows better and has already predicted the inevitable. “…these people will soon prostitute themselves to foreign gods... they will forsake me and break the covenant I made with them.” (Deut. 31:16) So why make the offer if you know the people won’t be able to afford the payments? I think there must be an eternal optimism in the heart of God, an undying hope; or maybe it is just the unconditional commitment of a tough love parent who is willing to suffer silently while waiting for the day when adversity brought about by disobedience will bring the rebellious child back to the bargaining table. “Come let us reason together, says the Lord, though your sins be scarlet they shall be white as snow.” (Isaiah 1:18) Of course even that turns out to be a temporary fix for fickle creatures who are not inclined to obey anyone save their own self-interest. So when the options were exhausted God sat down at the table and chose death so that the calamity visited upon the Christ might be our prosperity. How can you say no to such a thing? Choose life this day for God has already taken death off the table.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Proper 17 C - Luke 14:1, 7-14

Jesus ate and drank with Pharisees as much as he did with tax collectors and though they would not eat and drink with each other they had one thing in common. Jesus. The Congregations that left the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in 2010 and formed the North American Lutheran Church do not recognize the church they left but we still have one thing in common. Jesus. My Missouri Synod Lutheran brothers and sisters who practice “close” communion, which closes the communion rail to all but those who are in full doctrinal agreement, believe they are protecting those who might otherwise eat and drink in an unworthy manner and do damage to themselves (1 Corinthians 11:28) but whether we eat and drink at the same table or only the ones we recognize Christ communes with us all. We have one thing in common. Jesus. I know denominational lines are important, otherwise why would we spend so much time and energy drawing them, but I am going to suggest that God is not glorified when we exclude each other from the place of grace by thinking we preserve the Gospel by holding onto the letter of the Law. If there is one place Pharisees and Tax Collectors should meet it is at the table of mercy. While we argue over who is more holy or who is more enlightened and create more institutions to preserve the integrity of our respective tables the poor have no home, the crippled can’t stand, the lame stumble and the blind cannot see. It may be too much to expect this side of the resurrection of the righteous but if we would humble ourselves perhaps the poor, crippled, lame and blind would want to eat at the table we are so keen on preserving. You might think I prefer one side over the other but that would miss the point. The table belongs to the Lord and whether we recognize each other or not the Lord has one thing in common. Us. God help Him.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Proper 17 C - Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16

“Entertaining Angels Unaware” is one of my favorite songs by Erik Johansson, a Vermonter and part time Texan who restores pipe organs and through his music and prayer the human heart as well, including my own I might add. It was always my first request in the past when he would unpack his hand made harp, followed closely by my second request for a whimsical, sweet song about fishing with a child. They might be the same thing for when the human heart is healed by hospitality the angels are entertained and in our restoration they rejoice. The hospitable life of Hebrews is found in mutual love expressed by loving the stranger, which is the literal meaning of the Greek. It means we remember those in prison as if we were in their place. It is for one’s own being to be tortured by the thought of another’s body violated, as well as grieving for the spirit and soul and mind of the one who devises and inflicts pain upon another. Honoring marriage, resisting the lure of wealth, contentment within one’s self, being thankful for faithful leaders, doing good and sharing what you have are all expressions of the hospitable life in which the angels rejoice and God is pleased. So entertaining angels unaware is not a chance encounter with a cherub but a life encountered and changed by Jesus, the same yesterday, today and always.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Proper 17 C - Psalm 112

Evil tidings tend to strike the heart with fear, whether global as in warming or war, or closer to home as in loss of health or employment or relationship. Even the most optimistic must admit we live in an age of uncertainly but then every age is in its own way insecure. The response of the righteous to uncertain times is not to circle the wagons, retreating behind walls of stricter laws and harsher penalties, nor do they long for an earlier less uncertain time which is in truth a seeking after a mythical Shangri-La. The response of the righteous to evil tidings in every age of uncertain times is to be gracious and merciful. Hearts that are steady in unsteady times distribute freely to the poor, lend themselves and their resources generously and deal justly with all in every circumstance. The wicked see it and scoff but will gnash their teeth and melt away the longer the righteous persist in being righteous. Whether wealth and riches follow remains to be seen or perhaps the righteous know that wealth is fleeting and seeking after riches is vain glory and like the desire of the wicked comes to nothing. Steady hearts that do not fear live today as if the “I make all things new” endless age was already here even though it is a not yet present reality. But of course the future day of peace is and will be whenever and wherever the righteous act righteously.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Proper 17 C - Proverbs 25:6-7

The first thing to say is that whatever we say about this proverb it was obviously written to those who had the ability to put themselves forward in the presence of the king. The closest I’ve come to royalty is the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace and since the royal standard wasn’t flying above the royal apartment the Queen was being royal somewhere else. Apparently no one told her I was coming. I don’t think I’ll be using Solomon’s sage advice anytime soon. So what is to be said about two verses which have little application to those who are not likely to stand or sit in the place of the great? “Don’t think of yourselves more highly than you ought” is how the apostle Paul might have applied the text to his audience, the vast majority of whom would never get an audience with the king, unless of course they were being martyred in the coliseum. But it is to those white robed martyrs that the King of the universe says come up here while the kings of the earth, and queens for that matter, are put down from their thrones. I am sure that is not what Solomon meant to say in this proverb but then my guess is that he might want to follow his own advice when ushered into the presence of the KING of KINGS.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Proper 16 C - Luke 10:13-17

The woman set free from being bent over praises God while the synagogue ruler standing up straight remains bent over by the rules and regulations he is so keen on keeping. This daughter of Abraham knew her need and for eighteen years had endured the stares and whispers of those whose religious perspective placed the blame squarely on her bowed shoulders. Bad things happen to bad people. The synagogue ruler, a son of Abraham in a position of prestige and power, had no idea that the very things he held as holy prevented him from being holy. God said it this way more than once, “I desire mercy not sacrifice.” If the Sabbath is meant to return one to the place of rest, modeled by the Creator on the seventh day, then the Sabbath was always meant to reconnect the created to the God who commanded that rest be observed. Jesus said it this way more than once, “The Sabbath was meant for you. Not you for the Sabbath.” So the Sabbath that reconnects us to the One who commanded it begins with an attitude of care and concern for all of creation, beasts of burdens and daughters and sons of Abraham and everyone else for that matter, which is meant to lead us to act in ways that bring healing and peace and justice seven days a week. Or in other words: Sabbath sacrificed for mercy praises God while mercy sacrificed for Sabbath is no rest at all.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Proper 16 C - Hebrews 12:18-29

Accept the grace of God or else get burned. Not the best way to start a Wednesday afternoon but then this text is not about nice. It’s about the living God who is a consuming fire that shakes things up. I will admit I prefer the “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” image of God so of course I will try to paint the “our God is a consuming fire” warning from heaven in a friendlier light. It may not be that hard if the mediator of the new covenant, whose blood speaks a better word than Abel, speaks for us. Then maybe a consuming fire and a warning from heaven, from which we cannot escape, is good news even if we don’t heed the warning. For we do not come to a mountain of fire and smoke that makes one tremble and faint for fear but to a holy hill where the God who is a consuming fire was himself consumed by the cross. If Christ intercedes for all of creation maybe even those who do not heed warnings become the righteous made perfect. So what’s the point of a warning word if everyone gets off scot-free? That misses the point. No one gets a pass on judgment for the truth is we are all guilty to one degree or another. But judgment is the penultimate word, which is just a fancy way of saying it is not the last word. The last word, the ultimate word, is Jesus and in Him we have hope that God will remove from created things the fatal flaw that has led to everything that has gone so horribly wrong with the creation that was birthed in perfection. Gifted with a new kingdom that cannot be shaken the ones created in God’s image will worship with reverence and awe the living God, a consuming fire, forever connected by love to the children God created.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Proper 16 C - Psalm 103:1-8

The “all that is within me” (or you for that matter) includes that which is less than praiseworthy so how can the “all of me” praise God’s holy name? It seems to me that one of images of Pauline theology – old Adam (Eve) cohabiting and competing with the new Eve (Adam) has the unfortunate consequence of a theology that does not allow for the “all of me” to praise God’s holy name. But what if we were to accept the fact that the “all of me” is comprised of the sum total of everything about us and that the aspects of me and you that are less than praiseworthy are none the less worthy of praising God’s name if for no other reason than the fact that God knows and loves the “all” of you and me. And if the “all of me” and the “all of you” can praise God’s holy name just as we are maybe we can stop hiding from ourselves and each other and realize the biggest benefit that we are not to forget is that God loves the “all of me” and the “all of you” so that we can love each other in the same way. Which as it turns out is the way that God desires to be praised. 

Monday, August 15, 2016

Pentecost 16 C - Isaiah 58:9-14

Isaiah 58:9-14
We should not miss the connection between satisfying the needs of the hungry and calling the Sabbath a delightful holy day. We are tempted to reduce the Sabbath to an hour obligation on a Sunday morning and released by “Go in peace. Serve the Lord” go off to serve ourselves. Keeping the Sabbath has less to do with resting from labor and more to do with restoring relationships. We trample the Sabbath when our gatherings are yoked to the pointing of the finger and evil talk over slights and offenses real or imagined without making any attempt to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:3) We trample the Lord’s day when our Sabbaths are wrapped up in respectability and self-righteousness and never call into question our relentless pursuit of our own way, our own interests, our own affairs and our neglect to care for the “least of these.” (Matthew 25:40) If calling the Sabbath a delight is delighting in the Lord then it follows that the day must be about whatever delights the Lord. I think what delights the Lord most is when the lines between you and me or us and them are erased and we see that God has given us to each other. When in our Sabbath gatherings we care more about what difference we make in this parched and dry land than any of the things churches argue about the Lord is delighted. Then living the love of Christ is a well-watered garden and a never ending spring and we refresh this weary world with acts of kindness and mercy to make every moment of everyday a Sabbath celebration. Young Calvary member Drew Thomas gets that which is why on his birthday week he invites all of Calvary to collect water for his homeless friends at the Fort Worth Day Resource Center. And I have no doubt the delighted Lord skips for the sheer joy of it.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Proper 15 C - Luke 12:49-56

This is not a “What a friend we have in Jesus” Jesus text, but then Jesus is more complicated than any single hymn or Gospel text or bracelet that lets the wearer decide What Would Jesus Do? Jesus may have died to save us from our sins but he was crucified for being a trouble maker. That is not to say his offense was primarily political even though the Romans were happy to crucify another trouble making Jew between two common criminals. Jesus’ “crucify him” worthy crime was ultimately a religious offense to people whose history made them worry about anyone who colored outside the God defined lines. Remember the Babylonian captivity? So the Romans killed him because he messed with the law and order that they maintained to ensure a steady stream of tax revenue. The more complicit of the Jewish leaders condemned him to death because he messed with the profitable religion that the Romans allowed them to continue as long as they contributed to the system. But the pious cried crucify because Jesus named the God who could not be named, Abba, and there is nothing that breeds more bitter hatred than someone who says they know your God better than you do. God help us we have been crucifying each other over that since the beginning of time and will do so until the end of time when God decides it is finally time for everyone to get out of the pool. But until the last cloud rises in the west or the last south wind blows maybe we could interpret the present time in light of the future time and allow that Jesus is more complicated than a single hymn or Gospel text or personal preference WWJD bracelet and that the divisions Jesus talks about in Luke 12 are our own doing and not God’s design.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Proper 15 C - Hebrews 11:29-12:2

The great cloud of witnesses commended to us for their ability to endure were less than perfect examples of faithful witnesses. The ones who passed through the Red Sea made the golden calf. The ones who circled the walls of Jericho until they fell down fell prey to greed and kept some of the “dedicated things” from the forsaken city. Samson may have torn down the temple but he also dallied with Delilah. David would have liked to build the temple but was denied that honor because he violated Bathsheba and murdered her husband Uriah the Hittite. The point is the great cloud of witnesses is remembered because God remembered them despite their tendency to forget God. So we are surrounded by a great cloud of folks a lot like us and the encouragement they offer is that God gifted them with a reward they could not create and did not deserve. That is why we look past the cloud and fix our eyes on the pioneer and perfecter of faith who for the sake of the joy that was set before him – that would be the world he came to save – endured more than the whole cloud of witnesses put together. So by all means run with perseverance the race set before you but recognize that when you stumble and fall the crowd might cheer you on but it will be Jesus who picks you up.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Proper 15 C - Psalm 82

God doesn't care about the poor because they are poor. God cares about the poor because they are people and God loves people. The trouble is people do show partiality, fawning over the powerful while neglecting those with the greatest need, i.e. the weak and the orphan; the lowly and the destitute. But in God’s design for human community those who wield the greatest power have the greatest responsibility to act justly in the same way that “to whom much is given much is required.” (Luke 12:48) When Jesus’ half-brother James (influenced no doubt by his step-brother) wrote about works produced by faith he put it in the context of providing for the poor. “If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?” (James 2:15,16) The wishing the other well is equal to the providing for basic needs. That is one of the reasons I make eggs to order for our room in the inn guests. When it comes down to it having the choice of how you like your eggs is of equal, if not more, value than the egg itself. And truth to be told I am always blessed by my friends who tell me how they like their eggs. It’s all about relationship. 

Monday, August 8, 2016

Proper 15 c - Jeremiah 23:23-29

Jeremiah 23:23-29
“…let the one who has my word speak my word faithfully.” The Reverend Eric Schulze, my mentor, my colleague, my friend, was one who always spoke the word faithfully and in meeting the God who fills heaven and earth this morning received the reward of his faith, the salvation of his soul. He’ll be remembered for many things but I will always be eternally grateful to him for allowing me to be a pastor who spoke the word faithfully in my own way. There are clergy partnerships that do not work well together and congregations suffer when pastor personalities conflict. Pastor Eric was always better than me in that regard and even when he hated (and I don’t think that is too strong a sentiment) the ideas I had I think he always thought about Calvary first and was willing to think the future is not bound by the past and maybe the present reality has to accept that. Our capital campaign theme “Celebrate Tradition, Imagine the Future.” might be an apt description of the years Eric and I spent working side by side. I will miss him but I don’t mourn him. He has joined the vast cloud of Calvary witnesses and even now is cheering us on. Thanks be to God.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Proper 14 C - Luke 12:32-40

This is where God’s “trust me” rubber hits the road. Put aside the desires of the capital M me that lusts after treasure that is transitory for the sake of treasure that is everlasting. Trust me means follow me and follow me means trust me. You can’t have one without the other. Faith is passionate not passive. If this is the measure of a trust that follows – sell your possessions and give to the poor – then most of us must admit our trust falls short of worthy. But then being continually dressed for service is not about carrying our own weight otherwise Jesus is just another version of a do this don’t do that debit credit system where one is rewarded for service rendered. No. Being continually dressed for service means being clothed in the cross where Jesus did the heavy lifting once and for all. The kingdom is gifted not earned. The purse that will not wear out was purchased for us and Jesus is the treasure that is the heart’s true home and will never be exhausted. And the capital M master is already dressed to serve returning in the here and now when have no fear little flocks gather at table to dine on bread and wine. Our waiting and watching with lamps lit takes on a different meaning when instead of an end time event the unexpected hour is continually coming in the here and now. We are Christ present for each other so that we find the strength to endure another day despite our faltering courage. Every random act of kindness, every generous gift of grace, every word of mercy that mends broken relationships is a kingdom come moment. And the good news is that God proves trustworthy even when we are not. Which means even “trust me” is a gift.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Proper 14 C - Hebrews 11:1-16

The trust in me theme of this week’s lessons continues with what must be acknowledged as the trust poof text. :) Faith “the assurance of things hoped for and the confidence in things not seen” is the version I memorized and the meaning, no matter how it is translated, has served me well. That being said I must confess that I am not a confident Christian even though I do have confidence in Christ. By that I mean I have all kinds of doubts about myself and my life of faith but no doubts about the One in whom I trust. But that shouldn’t surprise you or me, nor should we lament the truth about ourselves. I believe confident Christians are not all they are cracked up to be and a healthy dose of doubt means the life of faith is no walk in the park which may be what the life of faith is all about. I hope in things that have been promised but not delivered. I have confidence in what I cannot see, the better country for which I long, and believe it is more real than the one in which I presently live. The Hebrews 11 list of those who lived by faith is not a list of faith super stars, but rather a list of those who hoping against hope lived as if the promise not realized had already been delivered and the things not seen were fully visible. Put your name in the Hebrews 11 list, you less than confident Christian, for the word to them is the word to us. Believe in what you cannot see. Trust me.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Proper 14 C - Psalm 33:12-22

Psalm 33 continues the “trust me” theme of Genesis 15. Though kings trust in the size of their army and warriors trust in the size of their biceps the one who trusts in the Lord hopes in unfailing love. It means like Abraham we look to the mystery of the unlimited heavens and stars beyond counting to catch a glimpse of the One who looks down from on high and opens our hearts and minds in holy waiting to abiding hope until unfailing love rests upon us. It is unfailing love that satisfies our spiritual hunger, unfailing love that brings us back from the brink of death dealing despair, unfailing love that is our help and our shield in times of trouble. This would be a vain hope for deliverance if the Holy One had only looked down from heaven, and in this we rejoice, that when the time had fully come and the waiting world could wait no longer God’s unfailing love left heaven and inhabited flesh and blood so that we could know as we are known and see as we are seen. God’s word through the psalmist is God's word to us. Trust me.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Proper 14 C - Genesis 15:1-6

Confirming the covenant by looking at stars too numerous to count is hardly proof of the promise but that is the way it has been with Abraham and God. After all, God’s “trust me” was enough for Abraham to leave his people and his father’s household for a promised land he had never seen so God’s starlit “trust me” is enough for Abraham to believe what appears less likely with each passing year. Abraham’s believing “trust me” despite the delay in God making good on the promise is reckoned as righteousness which is a way of saying that the Lord and Abraham are BFF because friendship is a relationship of trust. It is the same for all who have not seen and yet believe; who following the Lord anticipate the promise of eternal life in a land beyond without having been there; who trust that despite the difficulties of each day prayers offered are heard and God’s grace and mercy and love is as boundless as the stars that cannot be counted. In my mind no one that I know has lived that more fully than Calvary member Harry Herd who is very close to receiving the goal of his faith, the salvation of his soul. (1 Peter 1:9) Although, truth to be told, Harry’s soul was never in danger for Harry and the Lord have been BFF for a long, long time. In ways he may not fully know he has been my spiritual inspiration for many years in the same way his playing the harp in hospital rooms and on Via de Cristo weekends have been windows into the forever future prepared for all who love the Lord. I have no doubt he will be greeted by angel choirs and, who knows, there may be a chair for him in the angelic orchestra. And so the word from the Lord to Harry and to Abraham is the same word to us who walk in this life as yet by faith. Trust me.