Monday, October 29, 2018

The Feast of All Saints Year B - Isaiah 25:6-9

Isaiah 25:6-9
Isaiah imagines all peoples have a reservation at the feast of rich food, fine wine and choicest meats. Of course the Moabites will be trodden on like straw in the dung (vs.10) but then how can one rejoice in deliverance unless someone else is damned? Truth is the needy poor are first on the guest list of “all peoples” (25:4) but before we venture into class warfare it turns out the strong and ruthless also recognize God’s goodness, albeit because God makes the fortified city a ruin. In the end death is the great equalizer and it doesn't matter if you are a princess or a pauper when death comes to your door. The good news for everyone of every class is that when God hosts the banquet all people feast on fine things while God dines on death. In the here and now it would seem that if the feast of fat things is to be filled then those who "have" will have to share with those who "have not" (James 2:14-17) so that our faith in the ultimate future is not dead on arrival in the present. 

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Reformation - Psalm 46

Psalm 46
Outside the city made glad by streams from the river the Lord of Hosts was led like a lamb to the slaughter. The "Refuge and Strength" that comes to those who are in trouble was himself in need of help but there was none to be found. On the day the voice of the “be still and know that I am God” was silenced the earth quaked and darkness descended on the earth and the curtain that hid the habitation of the most high was torn and two. If that were the end of the story there would be no help for us when morning dawns but as it is the earth could not contain the one who created the heavens and the morning that dawned on him was resurrection for us all. Our refuge and strength, our very present help in time of trouble, is in our confidence that if we have died with Christ we shall also rise with him and therefore we will not fear when the ground of our lives gives way. There may yet be a day when God causes wars to cease and the human race sings “ ain't gonna study war no more” but in these days the help we receive is that God stills our souls and calms our fears even though kingdoms totter and nations make noise.  

Monday, October 22, 2018

Reformation - Jeremiah 31:27-34

Jeremiah 31:27-34
Every now and then the prophet Jeremiah was given a good word to speak and that makes the promise of “the days are surely coming” noteworthy. Even so none of the people to whom these words were written saw the day that would surely come. They died in the land of their enemy sitting by the waters of Babylon weeping the songs of Zion. Or they were the remnant who returned home only to find ruins not easily rebuilt and vineyards destroyed difficult to replant. But because “the days are surely coming…” was believed despite sour grapes setting teeth on edge it was more than just a fairy tale ending for a people plucked up and broken down. Believing the promise was the difference between giving up or going on, between living in spite of or dying because of, and whether they knew it or not it is what it means to know the Lord. And so it is for us who endure hardship and persevere through difficult days knowing in part and seeing dimly all the while waiting for another day that will surely come, when we will catch up with the least and the greatest who have gone on ahead of us and know the Lord fully for they see Him face to face.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Lectionary 29 B - Mark 10:35-45

Mark 10:35-45
“When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John” presumably because the ten were sorry they hadn't been as bold as the two. All twelve imagined the cup was power and the baptism the laurel wreath of victory but Jesus is destined to be enthroned on a cross and the places on the right and left of that throne were reserved for criminals. Jesus stills the sons of thunder with the promise that they will drink the cup of suffering and be baptized with death without getting anything in return except the promise that being first for the follower of Jesus is like being last in the ways of the world. In so many ways that lesson has been lost on the church as the places of honor are reserved for those who “pastored up” say the prayer or for big box church rulers who drive Mercedes and live in Mc-Mansions provided by people who like the widow with a mite can hardly afford to tithe. Thank God that the “ransom for many” serves and saves in ways that go beyond the limited understanding of the two and the ten and the church so that Jesus is proclaimed despite our propensity to translate the Gospel into ways that make us great.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Lectionary 29 B - Hebrews 5:1-10

Hebrews 5:1-10
I’m not a high priest but I suppose according to the writer of Hebrews I qualify as one chosen to be “put in charge of things pertaining to God” so as to “deal gently with the ignorant and the wayward.” Of course the people of God at Calvary are neither ignorant nor wayward. If you want to read some ignorant and wayward ideas just Google Melchizedek. The trouble with obscure Biblical characters is that people feel free to fill in the blanks. Can anyone say Jabez? What we do know is that Mel, the King of Salem, blessed Abram with bread and wine after Abram’s victory over the Elamites and Abram introduced the tithe – although the passage could be read in such a way that it could be King Mel who gave the tithe to Father Abe. (Genesis 14:18-20) That would be an interesting twist. What if in dealing with a wayward and ignorant humanity it is Jesus, the King of Peace, who gives the tithe to us? Except he didn’t just give ten percent but with loud tears and cries gave his whole life so as to deal gently with those who dealt cruelly with him. Maybe we need to do more than tithe as well?

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Lectionary 29 B - Psalm 91:9-16

Psalm 91:9-16
I’m not sure I want to trample a great lion or tread on a cobra but I suppose it’s better than the alternative. On the other hand I wouldn't mind keeping ahead of harm and being satisfied with a long life. As for disasters coming near my tent I've experienced that on Mustang Island more than once and trust me life is not a beach when your tent is shredded by 40 mph winds. But whether we are fully satisfied or barely getting by the refuge of salvation is always available for those who love the Lord and call upon the goodness of God to grace every day with confident hope. As members of the body of Christ we participate in that process by guarding one another’s faith and with hands of kindness and mercy lifting one another up, acting as angels of a sort, for those whose feet are slipping.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Lectionary 29 B - Isaiah 53:4-12

Isaiah 53:4-12
Isaiah’s vision of the suffering servant seems to indicate God does not deal with transgressions the same way we do. We hold onto grudges and make people pay for momentary slights and hardly ever forgive unless we are sure the offending party is sufficiently sorry. God in Jesus does what no one expects by entering into and bearing the pain that must grieve God the most; the beautiful and terrible human mind that imagines and constructs ways to maximize pain and shame while delaying death as long as possible. But God picks up the pain of all of our inhuman history and bears the suffering we consider a sign of God's judgment or bad karma or rotten luck so as to bring peace to all including those who could care less about anyone else. So aren't there consequences for transgressions? In this life the consequence is found in the transgression itself. A life of corruption can never relax. A life of violence is never safe. A life of excess is never satisfied. But the poor and the put upon and those who bear the brunt of the transgressions of others wait for another day and in that day – if we can believe the scriptures – the last will be ushered in ahead of the first. Whether they are also gatekeepers remains to be seen. If they are I hope they are as merciful as the God who let them cut in line ahead of us. 

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Lectionary 28 B - Mark 10:17-31

Mark 10:17-31
The rich young man’s wealth and life-long obedience to the law means he has every reason to believe his eternal life inheritance is in the bank and yet he still asks the question, “what must I do?”  The disciples who don’t understand his question or Jesus’ response for that matter have their deposit in the same account. If he’s not in the money what hope do we have? Even their response “we have left everything…” is a way of gaming the “what must I do” system so that God has to pay out on whatever winning hand we think we have. But “for God all things are possible” means we have nothing to do with whatever God has decided is possible for God to do which of course is all things including the unthinkable. God can give eternal life to whomever God pleases to give it to. But that also means God can withhold eternal life from whomever God chooses to withhold it. Truth is God can do whatever God wants to do. Of course in the cross we see the One who was obedient since the beginning give up all he had for the sake of a world impoverished by sin which might lead one to believe the love God has for the human family makes the question “what must I do?” meaningless. That doesn’t mean obedience to the commandments or giving up everything for the sake of the poor are not desirable things to do only that in God’s way of gaming there are no winning tickets to eternal life except Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Lectionary 28 B - Hebrews 4:12-16

Hebrews 4:12-16
The first humans hid in the bushes when after eating the forbidden fruit they suddenly realized they were naked. The writer of Hebrews understands what the first couple found out pretty quickly. “There ain't no hiding place from the Father of Creation” (Bob Marley – One Love) So if all is laid bare and exposed to the One to whom we all will have to give account how is it that we can approach the throne of grace with boldness? Of course the answer we know by heart is Jesus because Jesus knows a thing or two about being stripped naked. But to trust Jesus so completely as to be comfortable being exposed before the “one to whom we must render an account” is something else entirely. In many ways we are still hiding but now it is behind the bushes of religious rules and regulations that clothe us with respectability. I’m not saying piety doesn't have a prominent place in the life of faith, but there really is “no hiding place” when even the most pious (in the best sense of the word) are guilty of thoughts and intentions of the heart far removed from rigtheousness. If I can be totally honest with you (which is as close to naked as we come with each other) my greatest fear is that my current confidence in God’s grace will fail me in the time of my ultimate need i.e. my last breath when all pretensions are put aside and things done and left undone can never be corrected and we have to take the last step of life alone, even if we are surrounded by those who love us and wish us well. The only way I know how to deal with that nagging doubt is to believe God is more interested in honesty than piety. And so I hold fast to the confession that I am afraid and trust that the living and active two edge sword of the scripture is truer than I am able to believe – Jesus sympathizes with my weakness.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Lectionary 28 B - Psalm 90:12-17

Psalm 90:12-17

The last lesson we seem to learn is to number our days aright since we act as if we have an infinite supply. “Bet your bottom dollar the sun will come up tomorrow…” There is a wisdom to be gained in living each day as if it were your last but only if you choose to make your last day worth living and not an excuse for excess. Of course you’d think the psalmist crying out, “Turn, O Lord, how long?” might wish for fewer days rather than a long life of suffering but instead there is a confidence that steadfast love in the morning will satisfy. When the balance sheet of life is tallied there will be cause for rejoicing in the Lord whose favor rests upon the children of God despite the difficulty of any particular day. So we number our days not to keep count but to make each day count more. 

Monday, October 8, 2018

Lectionary 28 B - Amos 5:6-15

Amos 5:6-15There is no mistaking the economic element in the prophet Amos’s description of sin. Those who rule the house of Joseph despise the truth and hate the one who exposes them as lovers of the lie. They trample the poor and take what little the poor have in order to plant pleasant vineyards and build houses of hewn stone. They take bribes and neglect the needy. They love evil and hate good and their mockery of justice leaves a bitter taste in the mouth of the righteous. So “the prudent will keep silent in such a time” presumably because their words fall on deaf ears, or worse, they’ll be heard and despised for telling the truth. So do the ancient words of Amos have anything to say to us in our time? I’m not saying, which some may take as saying too much.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Lectionary 27 B - Mark 10:2-16

Mark 10:2-16

When the disciples ask Jesus about this matter he invokes the “thou shall not…” to what Moses permits so that the hypocrisy of the Pharisee test might be exposed. The secondary law that is a concession to the hardness of the human heart is easily coerced so that the “from the beginning of creation” purpose of God is corrupted. That does not mean the “from the beginning of creation” purpose of God is not in place when the one flesh of marriage is separated, only that like so many other things about our present circumstance, divorce is not what God intended. The second half of this week’s lectionary might seem unrelated but like the perfect law corrupted, the human heart hardens the gift of the kingdom of God into something we earn or deserve and God is obliged to provide. So a little child is the image the Almighty chooses to take up so that the hardness of the human heart might be softened in the same way that Jesus takes little children into his arms and blesses them.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Lectionary 27 B - Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12

Hebrews 1:1-42:5-12

If “in these last days” Jesus is the reflection of God’s glory and the very imprint of God’s very being” then God (in Jesus) was, for a little while, lower than the angels as well. By that I mean Jesus cannot taste death for everyone while the one Father who sanctifies remains separate. Even if we reduce the relationship of the inner workings of the mystery of the Trinity to something a little lower, like human parent and child, God experiences the death Jesus drinks. More to the point, it is not just any death that Jesus tastes. He does not die in his sleep. The cancer doesn’t get him. He doesn’t drop dead of a heart attack. It isn’t an accident. Crowned with thorns, stripped naked and nailed to wood Jesus’ death is as creative as humans can get when it comes to inflicting shame and pain on one another. And given that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, knew our nature from the beginning… (in subjecting all things to them God left nothing outside their control)  it was not only fitting but really the only option that salvation for savages such as ourselves should come through suffering. And by that I mean Jesus descends into our corruption and rises above our much lower status so that we might ascend above and beyond our beginnings to become like the pioneer of our salvation. 

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Lectionary 27 B - Psalm 8

Psalm 8

Psalm 8 marvels that the “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name” is mindful of mortals. I suppose it does beg the question since within the human community the mighty generally despise the lowly. There are exceptions, of course, but when there is only so much wealth and power to go around human beings tend to hold onto whatever they have. Not so with the majestic name that is above all names. God in Jesus enters the human story as a baby born to an unwed mother and a confused carpenter in a country occupied by a foreign power.  God in Jesus is the opposite of what we would expect. “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by humans, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.” (Isaiah 53:2-3) So while the psalm imagines God’s mindfulness as crowning mortals with glory and honor and giving them dominion over every living thing God determines to elevate us by being brought very low and dying on the cross the death of a criminal. “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth…”

Monday, October 1, 2018

Genesis 2:18-24
The trouble in paradise comes in chapter three but in the beginning everything was perfect. The “one flesh” couple lived without fear or guilt or shame or any of the ways of being and doing and thinking that rip one flesh apart and cause untold heartache. But once the two lusted after the forbidden fruit and crossed the line between creature and creator they no longer felt comfortable in their own skin. Relationships between helpmate partners have never been the same despite the fairy-tale optimism of happily ever after. Not that helpmate partners cannot be “one flesh” in a way that benefits both. It just takes more clinging to each other than we may care to or are able to do. So going back to the beginning is helpful. Not the first blush of love, although that is very nice, but the beginning of this story. It was not good for the first human to be alone and so God gave us the gift of the other who can be “one flesh” with us. If we think of ourselves as taken out of and given to each other we might cling to one another in ways that make the best parts of the fairy-tale come true.