Thursday, February 28, 2019

The Feast of Transfiguration Year C - 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2

2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2
When Paul writes to the Romans and thinks of his “kindred according to the flesh” his sorrow is unceasing and his anguish is great. So much so he would gladly be cut off from Christ and go back behind the veil, as it were, if it meant the children of Abraham would see clearly. The hope that makes Paul so bold is a confidence that the freedom of the Spirit will work its will even on those whose minds are hardened and whose vision is veiled. Changed from glory into glory they will one day with unveiled faces gaze upon the glory that is the Lord. That is the ministry of mercy that makes Paul’s heart beat faster. And that is why we do not lose heart when friends or spouses or children or parents, our kindred according to the flesh, are veiled to the freedom in which we live. If one day we are blessed to see them gifted by sight it will not be by cunning or changing the Word to fit the world but by living what we believe. We renounce the shameful things that promise much and deliver nothing and live the gift of freedom that is the law of love. And we trust that the glory to be revealed is bigger and better and more inclusive than we can imagine. For the opening statement of the truth is that we love others so others will love Christ who has always loved them.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

The Feast of Transfiguration Year C - Psalm 99

Psalm 99

The Lord is enthroned above angelic beings, terrifying in their own right, and the mere thought of the Holy One causes people to tremble as the earth quakes. Before the Lord, who is exalted over everyone and everything, praise is not an option. You will be still and know that I am God. Kings of the human variety, with far less power and majesty, tend to magnify themselves at the expense of their subjects. Not so with the Holy God, the lover of justice, who hears the cries of those pleading for mercy and grants forgiveness. That doesn't mean forgiving wrongdoing is the end of the matter. The equity of justice is that the scales are balanced and righteousness is established when the forgiven responds to the debt forgotten with hearts of thankfulness and “go and sin no more” acts of repentance. The Holy One becomes unholy so that the unholy ones will become Holy. So while the cross is forgiveness once and for all it is also God’s hope that in the shadow of the cross we will love justice as much as God does. 

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

The Feast of Transfiguration - Year C

Exodus 34:25-39
This is a strange story but then the Bible is no stranger to strange stories. A burning bush, a plague or ten, fire and smoke on a mountain, a glowing face; the Holy shows up and things happen that can’t be explained and people change. That’s the whole point of a theophany or a close encounter of the Holy kind. You are supposed to be changed and people are supposed to notice. We tend to take the unknowable, undefinable, indescribable and contain the Holy in a nice, neat doctrinal box. Like the veil that hid the effect of the Holy, all our musings on the mystical are ways we come to God on our own terms. Hiding the Holy behind the veil of our own design means we can keep our religion hidden less we practice it and people notice. But when in an encounter of the Holy kind we catch a glimpse such that we see as we are seen and know as we are known, if only for a moment, then like Moses we are changed and people are supposed to notice.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Epiphany 7 C - Genesis 45:3-11, 15

There are few stories of family forgiveness as powerful as this. Joseph has every reason to use his position of power to punish his brothers who clearly meant to do him harm. I suppose his brothers could argue he had it coming for flaunting his multi-colored coat and favored position but being thrown down a well and sold into slavery is hardly the proper response to parental favoritism. I’m not sure Biblical scholars will agree with me, but I think the Joseph story is the positive ending to the patriarchal dysfunctional family story. It started with Isaac who must have told his mother Sarah what father Abraham almost did to him, ram in the thicket notwithstanding. Isaac compounded the dysfunctional family system by playing favorites though one could argue Rebekah is the one who set Jacob up. The whole story of conceptional competition is a recipe for disaster that Jacob as future father makes worse by setting a favorite son against his brothers. That is why this story is so significant. It is Joseph choosing not to live in his past but rather choosing a new future. Listen. We are all products of out past and our family of origins exert a powerful influence on our present. If yours was good, God love you. You were blessed. But you are most likely the minority. For the rest of us may the story of Joseph be a way out of the generation to generation of family dysfunction. “I've been trying to get down to the heart of the matter, but my will gets weak and my thoughts seem to scatter but I think it's about forgiveness.” (Huey Lewis and the News.) Forgiveness isn’t excusing whatever happened. Forgiveness is choosing to not let getting thrown down a well define your life.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Epiphany 5 C - 1 Corinthians 15:1-11

1 Corinthians 15:1-11
Paul’s defense of his ministry has always seemed a little defensive to me. He claims to be the least but believes himself to be the best. And while he gives credit to the grace of God working in him that implies the other apostles have less of whatever makes Paul more. But then he is a man of passion and contends for the faith with the same zeal with which he persecuted it. The Corinthians are no strangers to passion either. Speaking in the tongues of humans and angels they have divided the body of Christ and given themselves over to spiritual excess or perverted the freedom of the Gospel in lustful pursuits. Confident in their own wisdom they neither respect nor appreciate Paul or each other for that matter and are not afraid to say so. How is it that a faith that celebrates the ultimate act of sacrificial love sacrifices love so quickly? It is human pride and selfishness that turns good news into bad and resurrects what Christ was raised to destroy. But even when church conflict is so commonplace as to be the norm and we think it a miracle when the church actually is what it claims to be the story keeps getting told. Jesus died for sin, was buried and was raised on the third day. You can check the scriptures if you like. As long as the story is told the church has reason to hope that the grace of God was not given in vain.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Epiphany 5 C - Psalm 138

Psalm 138
This is a psalm with high hopes. All the kings of the earth will sing of the ways of the Lord, despite the lyrics “he regards the lowly; but the haughty he perceives from far away” for kings, or queens for that matter, are not generally addressed as “your lowliness.” But they have been humbled by the words of God’s mouth and so they join the psalmist in praising God and even the little g gods have to listen to the song. In the Large Catechism Martin Luther defines a god as anything or anyone “upon which you set your heart and put your trust.” The pantheon of little g gods, wealth or ability or intellect or religious pedigree, etc. would prefer to stop up their ears and ours to the sound of the song of praise to the big G God. In times of trouble when souls grow weak they sing their own song offering comfort or escape in the small g god of indulgence or denial. But little g gods always disappoint for only a big G God can save us from ourselves and fulfill the high hopes of the psalm. Humbled by the words of God’s mouth who hears our cry for help, preserved and delivered in the day of distress, God’s purpose is fulfilled for us. And this is the highest hope, that in spite of our addiction to little g gods the big G God sang for us the endless song of enduring, steadfast love and invites us to join the chorus.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Epiphany 5 C - Isaiah 6:1-13

Isaiah 6:1-13
The lectionary gives the option of stopping after verse six and maybe Isaiah would have preferred to end with “Here am I; send me!” as well. Despite his enthusiasm the people to whom he is so anxious to go will be dull, deaf and blind and won’t begin to listen until it is too late. The exile is inevitable and the destruction will be total because they were a people of unclean lips who didn’t know or wouldn’t admit that they were lost. There is no turning, no confession; no cry of “Woe is me!” to move the Lord of Hosts to mercy. But in a far away land they will come to their senses and the prophet’s voice will be heard and understood by the stump that is the seed. “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.” We would do well to listen for when with unclean lips we claim the grace of God without confessing, “Woe is me!” we are dull, deaf and blind and exiled from inhabiting forgiveness. It is the hallmark of the Lutheran expression of the faith that the Law and the Gospel work together as the Law exposes who we are so the Gospel can reveal who God is. From the stump that is the seed will come the One who high and lifted up will cry out “Woe is me” for the world. Confession is the only response when with dull senses we finally understand the truth about ourselves and hear the cry from the throne of the cross and see the agony he endured that our guilt would depart and our sin be blotted out. Woe is me.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Epiphany 4 C - 1 Corinthians 13:1-13

1 Corinthians 13:1-13

It doesn't matter if your language is laced with love if your words fall on deaf ears. Forty years later St. Clement begins his letter to the same congregation “My dear friends, take care to do good and virtuous deeds in unity before him, and be citizens worthy of him; or his many good works towards us may become a judgment on us all” and ends it with “let us not be in two minds, and let us have no doubts about his excellent and glorious gifts.” It sounds like the noisy gongs and clanging cymbals are still drowning out patience, kindness and rejoicing in the right. It is a sad commentary on the church that conflict comes so easily to those the living God has loved into being but maybe that is because knowing in part and seeing dimly lends itself to limited love. But if with our limited vision we fix our eyes on the limitless One who emptied himself, taking on the servant’s form, suffering the criminal’s death then insisting on one’s own way is much harder to do. In the shadow of the cross the love that bears, believes, hopes, and endures moves the mountain of arrogant pride and selfish ambition so that faith, hope and love abide in us. I think in that moment we know all there is to know and see face to face the one who died so that love would never end.