Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Epiphnay 5 B - Psalm 147

The God of abundant power, who can hurl down hail like crumbs and whip up a winter storm on a whim, is the same God who heals the brokenhearted and lifts up the downtrodden. This God does not delight in the things that we might and although I love my strong horse Seraphina and always hope for a personal best time when I run a 5K we’d do well to pay attention to the things God cares about. God delights in those who hope in the steadfast love that speaks peace to Jerusalem. Even though the God come down was cast out by his own people (who knew his ordinances) God did not deal with them as any other nation for the One cast out by Israel was to be the blessing to every people and every nation. To fear God, then, is to be people who care for the weak and weary and work for peace while singing praise to the gracious God of infinite patience.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Epiphany 5 B - Isaiah 40:21-31

Isaiah 40:21-31
“Why do you say, my way is hidden from the Lord?” is the complaint of a person wearied by life’s demands. And having been “told from the beginning” is little help when all the indicators point to an absent Almighty. For the children of Israel it was captivity that wore them down so that they “sat by the waters of Babylon and wept” while wishing violence on the offspring of their oppressors. (Psalm 137) Our captivity is closer to home where loss of job or health or spouse saps our spirit so that we lament, “My cause is disregarded by God.” But the prophet speaks into their despair to remind them of what they have always known, the God of Jacob and Israel is a God of the living and not the dead, a God of infinite strength and beauty who cares for the powerless and will one day set them free. The promise is for us as well. The way out is always through. Waiting in hope for the Lord increases the power of the faint and renews the strength of the weary so that we are able to run the course set before us and claim the prize of the heavenward call of Christ.(Philippians 3:14)

Friday, January 26, 2018

Epiphany 4 B - Mark 1:21-28

Mark 1:21-28
Speaking as a scribe – with an unclean spirit - I‘m not sure what to think about this. I’m not saying I’m possessed; unless we’re talking about pride which more often than not is just the disguise worn by self-doubt. Truth is we are all possessed by unclean spirits from overeating to overwork to sleeping one’s life away and as it turns out present day pastor scribes are no different than people in the pew especially when they pretend to be as holy as people in the pew might want them to be. I know I am taking this story in a direction it never intended to go but it occurs to me that the life in Christ was understood by the unclean spirits and rejected by the scribes. The unclean spirits “obeyed him.” The scribes crucified him. The good news for scribes with unclean spirits is that the Holy One of God did not come to destroy us but to give us life and love and freedom by calling us to come out of our places of possession. What is this? A new teaching? Maybe so. So obey and be free.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Epiphany 4 B - 1 Corinthians 9:16-23

1 Corinthians 9:16-23
“I have become all things to all people” is not such a good thing to be unless it is “all for the sake of the Gospel” but even then it is a dangerous thing to do. Of course proclaiming the Gospel is a noble and worthwhile endeavor but I wonder how many professional proclaimers have sacrificed health and home by trying to be all things to all people while never being true to themselves. It may be a confession even if I’m just asking the question. The truth, according to all sorts of surveys, is that we clergy are a pretty unhealthy lot and it’s not because the devil is out to get us, we can get there without any help, thank you very much. I think it has something to do with the misapplication of this text by a demanding profession with high expectations (mostly unspoken) and low reward (by some parishes) and acts of ridicule from the wider culture. But the vast majority of hard working, faitthful, pastored up people live fully into the obligation to proclaim what cannot be escaped for “woe to me if I do not proclaim” means the call is not an option. That being said we could do better on both sides of the pew by being true to ourselves while being all things to each other for the sake of Gospel. Just sayin.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Epiphany 4 B - Psalm 111

Psalm 111
The gracious and merciful Lord is ever mindful of his covenant, which is to say God remembers us even if we forget to give thanks with our whole heart. Of course the covenant is a two way street even if God does most of the heavy lifting.  And while we are always on the receiving end of God’s forever covenant of redemption it is God’s intention that in remembering us we would remember God and grow in grace becoming the faithful and just works of God’s hands. When we practice the beginning of wisdom, which is to recognize God in the everyday and the extraordinary, God rejoices and our whole life is transformed into praise.  

Monday, January 22, 2018

Epiphnay 4 B - Deuteronomy 18:15-20

Deuteronomy 18:15-20
I speak “a word” about God everyday without worrying about the Deuteronomy consequences. But maybe in light of the warning (and even within the relative safety of the scriptures as the sole rule and authority and the constraint of the creeds) I should pause before speaking any more “words” about God as Gospel truth. After all God is beyond knowing and anything I might say about God is from my limited knowledge – we know in part and prophesy in part. (1 Corinthians 13:9) But then how can God be known unless we speak (Romans 10:14) So if I have misrepresented God in my preaching and teaching I hope I have erred on the side of mercy and not judgment and I am betting my life that the cross will cover a multitude of my misspeaks and though I have no doubt this prophet will one day die I pray God (given my recent through the roof BP readings) not any time soon.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Epiphany 3 B - Mark 1:14-20

Mark 1:14-20
Jesus has a one sentence sermon that says it all. The time is fulfilled – which means the future has come into the present. The kingdom of God has come near – which means God has come down to dwell with people and the reign of love is as close as your own breath. Repent – which is to say stop living in ways that deny the forever future reign of God can be realized today. Believe the good news – which means live like you trust it is true. The trouble is we have one foot firmly planted in the world while we tap a toe into the life of the forever future and never fully repenting of the past we never fully embrace the future. However, there are moments when random acts of kindness soften a harsh world or times when walking with a loved one right up to the edge of life death really does look like birth or when we become convinced of God’s love for us and others so much that we give ourselves and others a break and rejoice in the wonder of each moment. Or in other words one sentence says it all.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Epiphany 3 B - 1 Corinthians 7:21-31

1 Corinthians 7:21-31
I don’t want to question the Apostle Paul’s timeline but did he believe “the appointed time has grown short” would go on for 2000 years or more? And if he thought the “grown short” time was longer than a lifetime would he have encouraged people to live as if the present form of the world passing away was a tomorrow come today? Truth is he got it wrong. But then so did a lot of the early Christians. I suppose we could blame it on the Gospel writers who remembered Jesus saying one generation “shall see my return”. (Not the same thing as blaming Jesus) I don’t know what Paul meant but I think the eminent end time stuff gives people an excuse to not live in the present. And if I could dare to speak for Jesus I think that would tick him off royally – since he is the King who calls us to make a difference in the present. Which means we can live the future in the present and not worry about the things that concerned the apostle Paul.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Epiphany 3 B - Psalm 65:5-12

Psalm 62:5-12
Waiting in silence is not something that comes naturally to most people especially when unsteady circumstances call for a rock and salvation stronghold that cannot be shaken. Perhaps “pour out your hearts” should begin the psalm and “wait in silence” end it. Or maybe the two can be considered the same thing when one trusts that the God who searches hearts and minds knows what we need before we do. And even if our lives are relatively stable neither those of high degree nor low estate can long delay the inevitable for like a fleeting breath the span of life doesn’t even tip the scale of eternity. But if we trust our lives are in the hands of the One to whom steadfast love belongs we are able to endure even the specter of our inevitable end where we will be repaid according to our deeds for we believe that because the rock of salvation was crowned with a cross “Lord have mercy” will not fall on deaf ears. 

Monday, January 15, 2018

Epiphany 3 B - Jonah 3:1-10

Jonah 3:1-10
God’s mind was changed but Jonah's heart was not. In the beginning of the story Jonah tries to avoid going to Nineveh because he believes God’s word and is counting on it. If the people of Nineveh do not repent they will be destroyed and since Jonah would like nothing more than that he goes in the opposite direction hoping to force God’s hand. But God trumps Jonah and has a great fish swallow him to get him to the church on time. Since the people of Nineveh worship a fish god in the form of a man Jonah doesn’t have to cry out very loudly to get the pagans to pay attention. Jonah is so angry he would rather die than endure God’s mercy for Israel’s enemies but then God is always more willing to forgive than we are. I know Lyle Lovett wasn’t thinking of this story when he wrote God Will but it seems to me if Jonah sang country he could put his heart into this song.  

“And who keeps on loving you
When you've been lying
Saying things ain't what they seem
God does
But I don't
God will
But I won't
And that's the difference
Between God and me.
Of course for those who believe the “difference between God and me” is Jesus there is no difference for all who have been forgiven are called to forgive.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Epiphany 2 B - John 1:43-51

John 1:43-51
Apparently Nathaniel’s disparaging remark about Nazareth is just plain old prejudice and doesn’t count as deceit. Or it could be that Jesus is engaging in a little sarcasm himself. At any rate the encounter with Jesus moves Nathaniel beyond his limited understanding of “can anything good come from Nazareth” to seeing the Good that came from the unlikely place. He proclaims “You are the Son of God” which is to say “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God… and we have beheld his glory…” (John 1:1, 14)  In the knowing Nathaniel becomes one who will see the future in the present because those who believe “have already passed from death to life.” (John 5:24) We are not so different from Nathaniel. We are often found sitting under the fig tree of our own religious prejudice. Can anything good come from St. Louis? (Lutheran Church Missouri Synod)  Or can anything good come from Chicago? (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) Or closer to home, can anything good come from the city on the hill – Dallas Theological Seminary? We who doubt whether good can come from places we dismiss need to be found under the fig trees of our limited understanding and like Nathaniel journey from guile to goodness so that the world will know the Good that came from Nazareth.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Epiphany 2 B - 1 Corinthians 6:11-20

1 Corinthians 6:11-20
Corinth was the “sin city” of the 1st century and the Christians living there struggled to be “in the world but not of the world.” Judging by the contents of the correspondence they didn’t do very well and some, like the man sleeping with his father’s wife, (1 Corinthians 5:1) even made the pagans blush. So Paul’s caveat “not everything is beneficial” might have been lost on those who said “I have the right to do whatever I want.” The trouble was a misapplication of the Gospel that had rightly repealed the requirements of the law, namely food restrictions, sacrifices and circumcision. A good number of the Corinthians thought that meant they were free to do as they pleased; after all they were saved by grace. We can fall into the same trap thinking that as long as we feel badly about whatever we’ve done we are good to go and do whatever again. Unfortunately Lutherans tend to be the most susceptible to what Dietrich Bonhoeffer labeled “cheap grace”. The cost of sin was born by Christ but we continue to run up a tab whenever we are mastered by the very things from which Christ has set us free. But the Lutheran two step of Law/Gospel was always meant to lead us to an amendment of our sinful ways albeit without dancing into the sin of being sanctimonious, not an easy step to master. The good news is that those united with Christ are one with His spirit which means help is always just a prayer away. 

Monday, January 8, 2018

Epiphany 2 B - 1 Samuel 3:1-20

1 Samuel 3:1-20
The call of Samuel is a sad story for Eli but then his response to the word Samuel receives indicates Eli knew it was coming and in some ways welcomed it. His sons were scoundrels, stealing sacrifices and sleeping with the women who served at the tent of meeting. Eli rebuked them but only as a plea and not as a parent so that the sins of the sons were visited upon the father and vice versa. Samuel, on the other hand, learned well from Eli and in many ways was the son Eli wished his boys could have been. That’s not to say that children who behave well in public are not sinners. We are all infected by the rebellious ways of the first couple but unlike Eli’s sons Samuel listened to the Lord. We’d like to think that our actions or inactions don’t have consequences and while we don’t operate with some sort of Christian karma, what we do, or don’t do, matters; which is to say what the Lord would have us do begins with listening. 

Friday, January 5, 2018

The Baptism of Our Lord Year B - Mark 1:4-11

Laughing Dove - Range includes Israel
Mark 1:4-11
I’ve always thought the Holy Spirit descending like a dove was an odd way for the Holy Spirit to appear. Some Dove lovers may disagree but I don’t think doves make a very graceful descent. There’s a lot of flapping involved and their landings look a little unsteady to me. Of course the theological connection with baptism is the dove’s association with purity and innocence and the dove of the flood who returns with the olive branch to let Noah know all is well. (Matthew 10:16). On the other hand I like the idea of the Holy Spirit coming down like a dove as opposed to a Red Tailed Hawk (which when circling overhead makes the chickens in my yard very nervous) So the Spirit descends on the Son this way and that with a lot of flapping and not like a ballistic bird missile with claws at the ready. And the Voice from heaven declared what John the Baptizer and everyone else had been waiting for. “When the time had fully come…” is how Paul describes it, the Beloved born of Mary was born again in water and word. That’s good news for those of us who in remembering our baptism (even if we can’t) find a sure and certain hope that God comes to us as a Dove and not a Raptor and as far as God is concerned we too are beloved.