Jesus stayed two days longer in the place where he was after he heard Lazarus was ill and the sisters know it. “If you had been here my brother would not have died” is just a polite way of saying “why didn’t you come when we called?” Mary, the one Jesus commended for choosing the better part, chooses to stay in the house. Martha, the one Jesus said was worried and upset about many things, comes out to see Jesus with one thing in mind. “I know even now God will give you whatever you ask.” It is a bold statement of faith even if she cannot imagine how her dead brother could be brought back to life until the “roll is called up yonder.” But that might be beyond anyone’s ability to comprehend even if you believe your friend really is the Messiah. When Jesus calls for Mary it is Martha who goes to get her, no doubt with a few choice words about proper etiquette. Mary runs, but not for joy, and certainly not with the faith of her sister. She won’t even look at Jesus but sobbing vents her anger and her grief and her pain at the feet of her friend who neglected her in the time of her greatest need. “If you had been here my brother would not have died.” And Jesus knowing what she says is true, weeps. Known for being the shortest verse in the Bible it may be the most powerful image of the God come down and especially because it is found in John’s Gospel where Jesus is always in control, even on the cross. But here the “in the beginning was the Word” is faced with a friend’s frustration and anger and grief and pain because the “Word made flesh” delaying two days allowed her brother to die. And even though there is a happy ending to what would otherwise be a sad tale I think the image of John’s Jesus weeping is where the healing happens for the losses we experience. It means our sorrow, our suffering, our loss and yes, even our anger does not fall on deaf ears for when Jesus wept God was crying.
Wednesday, March 29, 2017
Mathematical symbol for Therefore (or connect the dots for the Trinity?)
The eighth chapter of Romans begins with a capital T “therefore” that should be underlined, highlighted and printed in bold. Therefore there is no condemnation… which leads Paul to declare by the end of the chapter that he is convinced nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. In between the beginning and the end Paul exhorts the Romans to live fully into this new reality. One of the ways we weaken this capital T “therefore” is to think of it only in terms of what we get or maybe what we get away with. “All we like sheep have gone astray” but it’s okay because Jesus paid the price for our wandering ways (what we get away with) so that one day we will go to heaven. (what we get) That way of way of thinking (even if it is biblical) makes the capital T “therefore” all about me, or in your case, you. But God’s plans are for us, and by that God always means more than just you and me as in “God so loved the world…” Secondly by focusing the life of the Spirit on “I am but a stranger here, heaven is my home” (as comforting as that may be) we neglect the greater gift. Namely, the life of the Spirit in “there is therefore no condemnation” is for the here and now. God saves us for today so living as those loved by God we set our minds on the Spirit and the gifts the Spirit gives, namely; joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and yes, self control. Therefore in the time between your beginning and your end live the underlined, highlighted, printed in bold life of love confident that nothing, not even our own weak willed ways, can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Tuesday, March 28, 2017
I’ve done my share of out of the depths watching for the morning through a night that refuses to end. It may be the loneliest place on the planet even if you share your bed with someone and therein lies the problem. When I kept silent, as another psalm says, my bones wasted away. The psalmist waiting more than those who silently watch for the morning is not quiet in the night but crying out confesses the iniquity that if the Lord were counting would buckle the knees and make standing impossible. Confession, good for the soul, blesses the body as well and while sleeping like a baby might have to wait for another night a waiting soul quieted by confession hoping in the steadfast love of the Lord is what it means to be redeemed before the dawn.
Monday, March 27, 2017
The whole house of Israel held captive in Babylon has been living the twenty-seven chapters of judgment God speaks through Ezekiel before getting around to some good news. It’s no wonder Ezekiel doesn’t have an answer to “Mortal, can these bones live?” It’s beyond his ability to imagine dry bones animated by flesh and breath in the same way captivity in Babylon with no end in sight has become the nation’s new normal. But those cut off completely whose hope is lost, long dead and dried up, will be animated by the breath of the Spirit, the irrevocable promise of God. Not even the grave can long hold the people God claims as “mine”. We are not yet a church of dry bones though some suggest we’ve got one foot in the grave. Nor are we held captive, cut off completely with all hope gone. Even so perhaps we are living the judgment brought about by cultural complacency, or entrenched traditionalism or constant re-branding because “the medium is the message” (Marshall McLuhan) The good news that followed judgment was the promise of return and rebirth which breathed new life into captive people so that even the grave could not cut them off completely and destroy all hope. The promises of God are irrevocable and the breath of the Spirit is always blowing somewhere through the people of God to animate the church once again. Listen, then, for the noise and the rattle of bones putting on the sinews and flesh of Gospel for the sake of the world for we are God’s own people, always the same and forever new.
Saturday, March 25, 2017
The Pharisees ask Jesus to name the sin responsible for the man’s blindness even though the way they see it the parents are to blame. Bad things happen to people who do bad things and only a literal reading of Psalm 51, “Behold, I was sinner from my birth” could place the blame on a fetus sinning in utero. Jesus chooses the third way and blames God. I mean if we push the answer to its cynical conclusion the man’s blindness affords Jesus the opportunity to heal him so that God’s work might be revealed in him; though I bet the man would have preferred God gifted sight a little earlier in life. I’ll argue a less cynical and better way to see it is that Jesus rejects sin as cause and effect for the way world works. It is what it is. People are born blind and biology is to blame. And while the physical healing appears to be the place where “God’s works are revealed in him” it is in the transformation of the man who had endured years of condemning comments whispered within earshot that the real miracle of sight takes place. For the first time the question, “whose fault was it?” doesn’t matter and he sees sin for what it is. His own parents having endured the blame for his blindness all these years cannot give thanks for the miracle in front of their very eyes and abandon him for fear of losing even their back seat in the synagogue. The respectable rabbis revile him because the way he received his sight doesn’t fit their view of the world even though they know “If this man was not from God he could do nothing.” With nowhere else to go he finds the only one who will welcome him and seeing clearly for the first time, “Lord, I believe” is where God’s works are revealed in him.
Thursday, March 23, 2017
I don’t think we have to do much soul searching to find out what is pleasing to the Lord in the same way that we know full well the difference between the unfruitful works of darkness and living as children of light. The difficulty is in the doing. Paul himself writing to the Romans laments,”I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.” (Romans 7:18-19) Living as children of the light is not accomplished by our will but by the One whose light shines into the darkness of our soul exposing shameful thoughts, words and deeds. The freedom of life in the light begins by banishing the darkness where we hide from our true self – in the Lord you are light. Like waking from sleep living into our true identity as eternal creatures destined for the light of the eternal future is a moment by moment decision. The good news is God does not abandon us even though we hit the spiritual snooze alarm again and again but waiting patiently continues to call to us, “Sleeper awake!”
Tuesday, March 21, 2017
1 Samuel 16:1-13
The Lord does not judge by outward appearance or the height of one’s stature even though Samuel feels compelled to tell us Jesse’s youngest son was ruddy and handsome and had beautiful eyes. Maybe his GQ good looks made David the shepherd prone to wander despite the desires of the heart only God could see. He doesn’t suffer Saul’s fate but handsome David, consumed by his passions, doesn’t get away scot-free. The sword of conflict never leaves his house and he will have as many enemies within his own palace as without. So what is it that makes David a man after God’s own heart? Most will quote Psalm 51, his act of poetic contrition after Nathan nails him with a story of rich man who steals a poor man’s perfect lamb. “You are the man!” David, like so many of us, is capable of self deception on a grand scale. When he is confronted by the truth he can no longer hide behind his crown. “Create in me a clean heart, O God” is as much an appeal to God’s own heart as it is David’s desperate desire for his heart to return to the relationship he had with God before his weak will threatened to ruin it all. And therein lies our hope. In the cross of Christ we have every reason to trust that God’s heart is inextricably bound to ours and that with or without ruddy good looks our wandering ways cannot separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Friday, March 17, 2017
Nicodemus, hiding from prying eyes, seeking answers, looks for Jesus at night. The Samaritan woman, hiding from judgmental eyes, seeking water, is found by Jesus in the heat of the day. Nicodemus, the teacher of Israel, doesn’t step out into the open until Jesus is dead. The unnamed woman at the well gains the courage to be exposed as a believer in a single encounter. Of course Nicodemus had a lot to lose while the woman at the well never had anything to begin with. Even so she is just as confused over the meaning of living water as the teacher of Israel was with being born again. But where Nicodemus goes away perplexed everything comes into focus for her when Jesus tells her, “I am he.” She says she came to believe because “he told me everything I had ever done” but I imagine the people of Sychar kept track of her history and reminded her of it on a regular basis. It must be that Jesus told her story differently than the people of Sychar she was avoiding. Jesus knew all the things that labeled her as less than respectable but spoke to her as if none of that mattered. Without knowing it she was drinking deeply at the well of living water. When she realized her thirst was quenched she did what Jesus did. He did not hold her infidelity against her and she did not hold their hatred of her against them but went to find those who made her draw water in the heat of the day with the good news, “everyone who drinks of this water will never thirst again.” No doubt she went back to the man who wasn’t her husband. There were not many options in the first century for a woman married five times. But then the woman who went to the well at noon was not the same woman who came home that night and one hopes the city of Sychar, noticing the difference, was changed as well.
Wednesday, March 15, 2017
Since it is God’s love that is proved in the death of Christ whatever Paul means by being “saved from the wrath of God” cannot be understood as an angry God needing to be appeased or there will be hell to pay. It just doesn’t follow that a wrathful God initiates the action to be reconciled to us (humanity) while we were weak, while we were sinners, while we were God’s enemies, as if God just needed to kill something in order to spare humanity. I know Paul says that the blood of Jesus justifies but the entire religious world of his day practiced ritual sacrifice as a means of motivating the gods or in the case of the Jews, to atone for sin. To be sure there are those who hold to a classic doctrine of atonement where God’s holiness does not allow for mercy without payment due but that seems to make God subject to our religious systems. Again if it is God’s love that is proved surely God is free to forgive with or without the cross. So what is the purpose of Jesus death? I affirm it is for the forgiveness sins but not to appease a wrathful God but rather to transform us so that what Paul preaches in Romans five might be accomplished. Peace with God means we no longer live as God’s enemies but instead our love for God is proved when we boast not in our strength or our piety but in our hope. That hope is not illusory but tested by suffering, proved by enduring, confirmed by our character. It is the way we live the faith that justifies and is the only hope of peace for the humanity God loves.
Tuesday, March 14, 2017
Those of us who were born into Lutheran Church Missouri Synod pews some sixty years ago will remember Psalm 95 as the Venite in the Order of Matins. It was printed on pages 33 and 34 of The Lutheran Hymnal in such a way that one had to flip back and forth throughout the singing of it. We frowned on user friendly worship in those days. Venite is Latin for “Come” and served as the call to worship, though if I remember correctly we left out the threats at the end where God loathing the “they do not regard my ways” people swore to lead them in circles until every last one of them died in the desert. There is no doubt that the hardening of the heart leads to spiritual cardiac arrest but I have difficulty imaging that God loathes those on spiritual life support. The consequence we suffer for not listening to the Lord’s voice is that we are on our own. That does not mean the “people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand” who don’t toe the line suffer the hatred of God. Rather for the sake of “a people whose hearts go astray” the shepherd “was led like a lamb to the slaughter…” (Isaiah 53:7) O come let us worship and bow down for the Lord was put to the test and the proof of God’s intention for every generation of hardened hearts is revealed in the cross.
Monday, March 13, 2017
The congregation of the Israelites is a pain in the Lord’s you know what. And poor Moses standing between this quarrelsome people and a God who when push comes to shove is not to be trifled with no doubt regrets the day he listened to a burning bush. To be fair, dying of thirst in the desert drives people to do all sorts of crazy things including provoking the Lord Almighty with complaints. But even in their desperation they had every reason to trust the Lord for when they complained of hunger manna and quail arrived in time for dinner. But these people have a short memory, forgetting the Lord’s faithfulness in the past in light of their present pressing need. We tend to be more polite in our relationship with the Almighty predicating our “demands” with please, but whether one complains or pleads ultimately the question is the same. “Is the Lord among us or not?” Our dry times of trouble call for patient trust so that our present pressing need does not speak more loudly than the memory of deliverance when in the past “the Lord among us” was like water from the rock.
Thursday, March 9, 2017
I wonder what Abraham would think of the three children that name him father. All three claim first born rights that exclude the others even though the middle child was adopted and the youngest was born to Abram’s slave Hagar. Is this what God had in mind? That many nations fathered would include Judaism, Christianity and Islam? And how in the world did a small fortress city at the crossroads of empires (the El Paso of the Middle East as someone once said to me) come to be the center of the spiritual universe? I know Paul does not state it explicitly in chapter four but it would seem to follow that God would desire peace between father Abraham’s children in the city named Yerushalayim (abode of peace). I’m not making any predictions as to how that might happen though the only way I even entertain the hope is because I believe the One who suffered a violent end in the abode of peace can “make all things new”. Therefore what has to be let go for peace to last, even within the adopted child's immediate family, is the notion that whatever God gives us is wages owed for work done. Our temptation is to move faith from the credit column to the debit side of the ledger so that even when we are not doing anything we can claim we did something to guarantee the second child is the only sibling that will receive the inheritance. Faith lets the promise rest on grace, is what Paul writes the Romans, so let’s leave it there and trust that the God who brings life to the dead and calls into existence things that do not exist will work out the details.
Wednesday, March 8, 2017
Josef Žáček b. 1951 - Resurrection 1988
Psalm 121 is read at graveside services even though it would seem help from the hills is a little late in arriving. But then funerals are for the living, not the dead. It is the living who struggle to hold onto to “my help comes from the Lord” in the sight of loved ones laid to rest, even when death is a welcome release. To speak of our God who neither slumbers nor sleeps In the face of life’s inevitable end denies death the last word for the deceased as well as those who mourn. There are times, of course, when the ancient words alone fail to help, when desperate prayer is spoken into deafening silence, when the Lord awake seems absent. It is for those trying times that God gifts us with help closer to home than the hills. Speaking the ancient words of faith together, even with weeping eye and through clenched teeth, keeps us from the evil of hopelessness and in the life of the community our lives are kept. All of which remembers the help that came from the holy hill of Calvary when the Lord who neither slumbers nor sleeps slept in death and three days later rose again so that our final “going out” would be our forever “coming in”.
Tuesday, March 7, 2017
This is the story of ultimate faith, though to be fair I imagine the opportunity for advancement was limited for Semitic septuagenarians in the land of the Chaldeans. Still it took a leap of faith for Abram to go home and tell Sari to pack the bags and load the camel because God told him he was destined for favored nation status in a “God only knows where” land. So while it is the promised pot of gold at the end of the rainbow that makes the offer tempting it is ultimately Abraham’s trust that God can deliver that gets him to leave the center of civilization to wander the wilderness. Whether he knew it or not God blessed Abraham to be a blessing, even with the caveat about the cursed, since “all peoples will be blessed” would not be “all” without them. When you read the rest of the Abraham story his trust was less than trust-worthy and he did as much maneuvering as following. Of course we do the same and before leaving country, people and home we generally “trust but verify”. In the very end Abraham put his trust where his heart was when with the seed of the promise on the altar of sacrifice and his hand raised to do the unthinkable God intervened and spared the only son. For us it is not a ram but the God of promises who is caught in the thicket on Calvary’s hill and the only Son not spared is cursed so that we might be blessed to be a blessing.
Friday, March 3, 2017
It was right after Jesus’ baptism and The Voice from heaven declaring “You are my beloved Son” that the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness for the time of testing. Famished after fasting, the tempter’s first attempt appeals to Jesus’ stomach. “Turn theses stones into bread” is an appetizing option after forty days and nights without food. But Jesus is well fed on the word of God and trusting The Voice that declared him The Beloved he is not as hungry as the devil thought. The consummate con man changes tactics and using “every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” tempts Jesus to give a demonstration of his trust. This temptation is trickier than it appears because proof negates trust but Jesus knows that testing The Voice denies the truth that he is The Beloved. Believing the third time’s the charm the devil goes back to the basics and uses the temptation that worked so well in the garden. It is a temptation to take power from The Voice who called him The Beloved even though it appears in bowing down Jesus would have to give power away. But the devil is offering an option, a discount if you will. Bow down on a high mountain or climb a hill to the place called the skull. It’s your choice, Jesus, and don’t let some Voice tell you different. To which Jesus replied, “Nice try.” And the devil said, “damn you” and left knowing he’d have to meet Jesus on the hill and there wasn’t a chance in hell he was going to fool the Beloved there. And the angels came smiling, laughing, rejoicing, as Jesus breathed a sigh of relief and rested in their arms.
Thursday, March 2, 2017
The fifth chapter of Romans articulates the great reversal we make conditional by claiming it cannot be fully accomplished without our assistance. If Adam’s sin did me in and I had nothing to do with it why does Jesus need my help to undo what Adam did? Some would say that Jesus only covers Adam’s deed (original sin) and therefore I am responsible for what I’ve added to the mix. But if I was flawed from the get go I didn’t stand a chance in h-e-double hockey sticks to get it right and even less of a chance without the benefit of being born to Christian parents in a Christian country in an age when not being Christian was less of an option than it is today. If you hold onto a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as the password to paradise you must accept that the vast majority of humanity that has ever lived suffers eternally in hellish torment beyond what even the most demented human mind can devise. But if “the free gift is not like the trespass” surely we can trust that in the end Christ is more effective than Adam. So is there no consequence for sin? Of course there is and we live it every day in things done and left undone, in things said and left unsaid. Judgment does not wait for a future day but is present in every word, thought and deed that diminishes the life of love, the life the Creator intended for us. Ultimately the final future belongs to God and if the cross is any indication I’m betting God will be more merciful than you or I. And so we wore ashes yesterday to be reminded that we share Adam’s beginning and his end. “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return” But we also gathered at the table, “this is my body given for you, this is my blood shed for you” to be reminded that we are joined to Christ who unlike Adam has no beginning or end. “The free gift is not like the trespass” or in other words grace is more than able to overcome judgment.
Wednesday, March 1, 2017
My guess is that we have all lived through more than a day and night of “when I kept silence my body wasted away.” Of course some are better at holding up under the heavy hand of the Lord than others but sooner or later the soul longs for relief and the confession that is good for the soul also blesses the body. That we resist so long, or at all for that matter, speaks to our stubbornness to submit to a Higher Power and conform our lives to the life of our Lord. But the consequence of silence is that we will be overcome in times of distress and the times of trouble, like the rush of mighty waters, will overwhelm us. The hiding places of our own design are not helpful and the deliverance we experience is an illusion. The “happy are those” only happens through absolute honesty with self and the Lord. However, (and here’s the part I don’t like) the Lord is not silent either but speaks to us through flesh and blood faithful friends we know we can trust to tell us the truth. That’s because we can confess a thousand times over to the Lord and no one’s the wiser. But if we confess what troubles us to a faithful friend our hiding place will be less lonely and the deliverance more permanent.