Friday, September 28, 2018

Lectionary 26 B - Mark 9:38-50

Mark 9:38-50

I’d rather not give up my hand, foot or eye even if the consequence of keeping what causes me to sin is hellish. That’s the literal truth of this passage and one that is not that hard to understand. Giving up what causes us to sin is as difficult as cutting off a hand or a foot or plucking out an eye. The fact that the text makes us uncomfortable is a good indication that we know we have grown accustomed to stumbling through life and are not all that anxious to do the painful but necessary work of removing from our being the thoughts, words and deeds with which we harm ourselves and others and ultimately offend the Lord.  But when the word of the Lord salts us with fire we hear both the truth about our faltering footsteps and the invitation to be free from whatever impedes peace within ourselves and one another and the Lord. Which is how law and gospel works, or in other words, what sounds like bad news is actually good news.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Lectionary 26:6 - James 5:13-20

James 5:13-20

I am confident Elijah was a human being but I’m not so sure about “quite like us.” On the other hand he was fully dependent on God for rain or lack thereof in the same way that those who suffer pray and the cheerful rejoice. There may be some who think it is the prayer of the righteous that determines the outcome but I prefer to believe the “powerful and effective” nature of the prayer has more to do with the persistence of prayer in the face of circumstances beyond our ability to control. We know that we were not meant to live forever in bodies of flesh and blood and bones and so the healing that happens in the temporal is not nearly as “powerful and effective” as the healing that allows one to take life as it comes without being overcome by whatever one must endure. So Elijah was indeed just like us, even though some folks in West Texas might like to have his ability to make it rain.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Lectionary 26 B - Psalm 19:7-14

Psalm 19:7-14We tend to think of the law as limiting, maybe for good reasons, but restrictive none-the-less. The psalmist sees the law as the kind of freedom that revives, rejoices and enlightens. That is because the law of the Lord reveals the truth about the One who desires all good things for us including clearing us from hidden faults, which may not be all that pleasant per se (there is a reason our faults prefer to be hidden) but it is certainly a good thing to know oneself well enough to avoid being dominated by errors that are not easily detected.  So when we embody the perfect law of the Lord we live the love of the Lord which Jesus said is what the law and the prophets is all about. Love God. Love others. Such words and thoughts of the heart are always pleasing to the Lord, our rock and redeemer.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Lectionary 26 B - Numbers 11:4-29

Numbers 11:4-29
The children of Israel, fairly well fed on manna and quail, weep in the wilderness because they long for the days when they imagine they dined with dignity. Truth is the Egyptians stopped giving them straw to make bricks so it is unlikely their task masters gave them fish to eat “for nothing”. We tend to color the past in ways that fill in the blanks of our present complaints. Sometimes we imagine the past better than it could have been. Often we imagine it worse than it was. But either way we are not satisfied with whatever is and therefore long for what never was. And so the children of Israel throw a tantrum and Moses becomes despondent and the Lord becomes very angry and the dysfunctional Exodus family tries to figure out how to live together in the desert when no one is happy. When the very angry Lord calms down the despondent Moses is instructed to share the load and the solution to the people’s displeasure is the Spirit of the Lord resting upon the seventy appointed along with two others who were not approved which is often how God acts because the Spirit of the Lord cannot be contained or easily explained. The person who is most moved is Moses which means he will refrain from complaining, “why have you treated your servant so badly?” at least for the time being and get back to leading which is what God called him to do. And the children of Israel will quiet down and be grateful they have something to eat, even if it is “what is it” (manna) and a small bird with not much meat. As a side note I recently had a Veal stuffed Quail with New Zealand Elk tenderloin with blueberry gastrique at Next Bistro that was very tasty though I doubt it would have made the Exodus kosher manna menu. Too bad. So sad.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Lectionary 25 B - Mark 9:30-37

Mark 9:30-37
On Christmas Eve 1988 I worshiped at the Cathedral Church of Christ in Liverpool, England. I sat somewhere in the middle of what is the second longest cathedral in the world that houses the largest pipe organ in the United Kingdom. The organ lived up to its reputation while over a thousand voices sang “O Come All Ye Faithful” and choirs and cantors and canons processed down the center aisle with considerable pomp and circumstance. At the very end of the liturgical parade, resplendent in garments of gold and crowned with jeweled miter while leaning on an ornate shepherd’s crook, the bishop of Liverpool walked with a small child in his arms. I don’t mean to speak poorly of the church, and truth is December 24, 1988 might be my favorite Christmas Eve service ever, but I’m guessing the bishop of Liverpool carrying a borrowed baby is not what Jesus meant by “whoever wants to be first must be last…” I’m just saying. 

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Lectionary 25 B - James 3:13-4:8

James 3:13-4:8
If it were as easy as James makes it sound “submit yourselves to God, resist the devil and he will flee from you” the devil would be forever on the run. But then it’s the first part “submit yourselves to God” that is the most difficult to do which is why we are always dealing with “the devil inside.” (INXS) We might be tempted to think God holds back until we act “draw near to God and God will draw near to you” which is why submitting to God would seem to be all about us. But if submitting to God is predicated on the belief that God gifts us with wisdom from above then what we become in submitting is what God already is – “pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy” and the devil cannot long endure such good gifts.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Lectionary 25 B - Psalm 54

Psalm 54 
The lectionary often skips over verses that call for the destruction of enemies even if there is good reason for enemies to be destroyed. Repaying evil with evil doesn’t seem to fit the pattern of following the Christ who instructs disciples to turn the other cheek and pray for those who persecute them. There is good reason to follow Christ in a world where pious people believe acting in ruthless ways to defend the honor of a prophet is justified. But the psalmist does not advocate for actively striking his enemies and even though his prayer is not for their welfare he leaves vindication in the hands of the Lord. (Romans 12:19) That is because “vindicate me” assumes that the psalmist is in relationship with the Lord and that in their rising against the righteous the ruthless are rising against God as well and God is more than able to defend God's honor, thank you very much. We can and should pray for the ruthless to experience consequences for what they have done to others if for no other reason than to spare the innocent from the designs of the insolent. But in the spirit of the Christ we might also pray that the ruthless be freed from the ways of deceit and violence for their own sake for a merciless life hell bent on the destruction of others will reap what it sows. 

Monday, September 17, 2018

Lectionary 25 B - Jeremiah 29:18-20

Jeremiah 11:18-20 
Jeremiah gives voice to the cry and complaint of the un-numbered and un-named throughout human history who led to the slaughter have looked to God, (or anyone who will listen) for help. But help does not always arrive in a timely fashion as Jeremiah himself will find out when his story of lament and complaint ends in silence. Despite all indications to the contrary we believe justice will have its day and the cause of the righteous will be upheld by the God who judges the heart and the mind. However, it may be that we who pray forgiveness for things done and left undone, things said and left unsaid, who have waited for God to act on behalf of those who suffer while God waited for us to act, will be judged equally guilty. “It was the Lord who made it known to me” means we are God’s agents of mercy and justice in a world that devises evil schemes against the weak and powerless. Too often Christian backs bristle at slights against the practice of our individual piety while the plight of those literally “led to the slaughter” hardly registers a reaction. Granted, the world will not conform to the kingdom of God and works against the principles of God’s reign, but when we are silent in the face of suffering we acquiesce to the evil schemes that would cut off the word of life from the land of the living.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Lectionary 24 B - Mark 8:27-38

Mark 8:27-38 
If Jesus thought of his generation as adulterous and sinful what would he say of ours? I know there are a number of well-meaning people of faith who think we've gone to hell in a hand basket and fear it’s fixin’ to get worse. But since the rebellion in the garden there has never been a time in human history when we have not been an adulterous and sinful generation. That doesn't mean there are not degrees of separation when it comes to what was meant to be and what is. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” (A Tale of Two Cities – Charles Dickens) Peter publicly confesses the Christ; “you are the Messiah” and then privately rebukes Jesus when Jesus defines what it means to be Messiah in a way that does not conform to Peter’s preconceived notion. Messiahs are not meant to undergo great suffering and be killed, even if they promise to rise again. If Peter missed the Messiah boat before the resurrection we are more likely to do so on the other side of the empty tomb and so cast Jesus in our own image of power and glory. No one is ashamed of a mighty Messiah coming in majesty to smash the enemies of God to pieces. But if we preach Christ crucified, the King of Glory is never far removed from the place where the world was saved. “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” It was God’s design that the Messiah should be stripped naked and nailed to wood by religious authorities and Roman soldiers so that the Jewish rabbi from the Gentile region of Galilee could change all our ideas about power and prestige. Our problem is that we belong to an adulterous and sinful generation that holds onto to this life with a death grip and denies everything except ourselves believing we understand the divine mind when truth to be told we remain mired in human thinking.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Lectionary 24 B - James 3:1-12

James 3:1-12James does not mean to discourage “my brothers and sisters” to become teachers, nor does he expect them to be perfect, he just wants them to be aware that teachers (and preachers) are held to a higher standard by virtue of the task they have taken on. I’ve had some great teachers in my life but one of my favorites was Miss Kruse. She was my fifth grade teacher at Grace Lutheran School in River Forest, Illinois and years later I had the great gift of being her student teacher. She was a remarkable educator, well ahead of her time, but more importantly she embodied this text. I imagine there were days that were more difficult for her to be gracious and kind but as far as I could tell her way of being was her way of saying. That is, you cannot simply decide to be more disciplined in your speech while harboring anger and resentment in your heart. In the same way springs of water draw from what is down deep and not from what is on the surface. So if Miss Kruse is the bar for who should presume to teach we should all look for some other work. But because Christ is the well she drew from we can all tap into the same source and be as gracious and kind, not that we will ever be as remarkable.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Lectionary 24 B - Psalm 116

Psalm 116:1-9
Do we love the Lord because we are heard or are we heard because we love the Lord? It sounds like the psalmist would opt for the former but then there are plenty of passages (including this week's Gospel) that lean toward the latter. I’m going to do the Lutheran two-step and say it is both and. We love the Lord because the cords of death that choked the life out of us have been loosened. But then we wouldn’t have called on the name of the Lord in our anguish and distress if we didn’t trust the Lord to hear. And trust is just a five letter word for love. The Lutheran song is that the Lord loves us regardless of whether we love the Lord or not (the melody of grace) but maybe the Lord is equally adept at dancing the both and two step as well. The Lord answers because we love the Lord and the Lord loves because we ask. Grace certainly exists apart from the call and response relationship of love but it is not nearly as noticeable as when our faith two steps with the Lord.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Lectionary 24 B - Isaiah 50:4-9

Isaiah 50:4-9
The word that sustains the weary is that the teacher knows a thing or two about suffering. He has endured far more than verbal ridicule and yet morning by morning remains confident of God’s presence and help. It is one thing to suffer and quite another to suffer alone. That is a disgrace the teacher could not long endure which is how laments become songs of praise even when one continues to suffer at the hands of the unjust. The teacher who endured the cross for the sake of the world is more than able to sustain us with a “morning by morning” word of peace that surpasses the world’s ability to understand. Therefore, like the One who teaches us, we do not turn back or rebel against difficult things done for the sake of the weary. 

Friday, September 7, 2018

Lectionary 23 B - Mark 7:24-37

Mark 7:24-37
It is a difficult story to deal with if you wonder what Jesus was thinking when he called the desperate woman a dog. She didn't object to the insult because her daughter was possessed and there was nowhere else to go for help. Jesus recognizes the kind of need that leads one to bow down low and accept ridicule and insult for the sake of someone you love and so he banishes the demon from her daughter. The second story is similar as the deaf man with slurred speech is helped by those who beg Jesus to heal their friend. Spit and speech (Ephphatha!) do what doctors could not. Astounded beyond measure the crowds marvel at everything done well. Jesus' “everything done well” won’t be remembered when he is accused of being in league with the devil he dispossessed from the desperate woman's daughter. (Matthew 9:34) And it won’t be long before people hurl more than insults at him as they strip him naked and nail him to wood. But when the world is possessed and you have nowhere else to go you’ll go to the cross to save those you love.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Lectionary 23 B - James 2:1-17

James 2:1-17What good is it my sisters and brothers if you supply the bodily needs of those who are hungry and do not wish them well by warming them with the sharing of peace? What good is that? I’m taking some liberties with the word from James but only because there is a tendency for well-meaning people to provide for people in need without ever getting to know or appreciate the person in need. Calvary’s participation in the Room in the Inn ministry attempts to meet both the relational and physical needs of the guests who spend the night in our family life center and if you ask them I think they appreciate the relational aspect as much as the physical. Case in point; Pastor Phil’s eggs to order are an often mentioned breakfast with the RITI crowd but others provide wonderful egg casseroles with the same ingredients so I think the difference must be in the ability to choose. There is a huge difference between eating from a predetermined menu and having a choice, especially when most decisions in your day to day are determined by someone else. The homeless need help, no doubt, but I think what they long for is dignity and that doesn't come to anyone as charity. It can only be found in true friendship and genuine love that looks past possessions or lack thereof to value another person as a human being created in the image of God. 

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Lectionary 23 B - Psalm 146

The Lord does not operate in a vacuum and the vision cast by the psalm cannot be realized without corrective lenses. In the real world the oppressed do not see justice without assistance and the hungry are not fed without being invited to dinner. The only praise of the Lord that makes a difference to the Lord is the praise that makes a difference to those the Lord loves; the blind, the prisoner, the stranger, the orphan, the widow, the ones bowed down by the weight of the world. In the meantime the wicked would helped by those who love the Lord when they are reminded that the only hope they have is that the Lord will revive them once their plans perish.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Lectionary 23 B - Isaiah 35

Isaiah 35
Isaiah 35 begins with the parched land rejoicing and ends with the ransomed of the Lord returning to Zion with song as they are overtaken by joy and gladness. In the in-between are feeble hands and weak knees and fearful hearts that long for redemption. But since the chapter begins and ends with a promise Isaiah can say, “Be strong” to the feeble and weak and fearful of heart instead of “suck it up”. The ability to “be strong” comes from anticipating the promise as if it already was so that hands and knees become steady even when the ground is shaking. The blind are still blind. The deaf still cannot hear. The lame still limp and the dumb are still speechless. It is as simple and as difficult as that because we are more accustomed to “suck it up” than “be strong” or perhaps think they are the same thing and therefore are always running too fast in the present for the future promise to catch up with us. But when God’s ultimate vision becomes our eternal imagination the future bursts into the present like a rainstorm in the desert and the blind see and the deaf hear and the lame leap and the dumb shout for joy. What will be already is when by faith we stop “sucking it up” and allow the future gladness to overtake us. 

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Lectionary 22 B - Mark 7:1-23

Mark 7:1-23
Thank God we’re back to the Gospel of Mark. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not into gluten free Gospels but five weeks of bread, even from heaven, is more than I can stomach. Okay, that might be a little over the top for a lectionary based joke but I don’t think the lectionary needs five weeks to deal with John chapter six. Be that as it may it turns out the Gospel lesson for this week still has something to do with food and the rituals that surround it. I find it noteworthy that things necessary for survival, the very act of eating and drinking, take on additional layers of meaning. But maybe that is the point. Things basic but necessary are always more than ordinary. Many of us are far removed from the production of sustenance, let alone the lack of it, so that we can grab a burger from In and Out (after waiting in a long line of course) and think nothing of the sun and soil and rain and crops and cattle and rancher and farmer and slaughter house and silo and purchaser and packager and shipper and cook and wait staff that eventually put burger on bun with fries on the side. Being disconnected with what goes in (the ordinary act of eating) is not that different from being disconnected with what comes out. (LOL) I don’t mean to be crude, even though I think Jesus did. He was far more pointed than our piety allows us to be. That’s because all our piety tends to limit the mercy of God in the same way all our mercy tends to limit the piety of God.