Thursday, December 31, 2020

Christmas 2 B - John 1:1-18

John 1:1-18
There are plenty of small g gods who have become flesh and walked among us but they tend to behave like we do which is why we don’t recognize them when they walk among us. The Word made flesh wasn't recognized because the “In the Beginning” Word didn't act like a Big G God in human flesh. The One who was a legitimate God, having created the heavens and the earth from scratch, was born as an illegitimate child to a world that doesn't value such humble beginnings and persecutes those who enter the world in such a way. But the glory beheld by the disciples that became for them and us “grace upon grace” was that the Word made flesh acted in ways God had always intended for us to act. Humility, mercy, kindness, long suffering love and self-sacrifice. That is why the world did not know him. In the end we will see that Jesus’ way of being was what has true and lasting value and that all the ways we chased after the world’s values was fool’s gold at best.  So if you are the kind of person that makes resolutions maybe you should resolve to receive the Word made flesh this New Year’s Day and live more fully into the life that is a light shining in the darkness.

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Christmas 2B - Psalm 147

Psalm 147:12-20

The law of the Lord was a gift to Jacob and Israel even if they failed to abide by all its decrees. We tend to think of laws as restrictions that limit freedom even if some limit to freedom is a good thing. But the people of Israel thought of the law in terms of relationship. “I will be your God and you will be my people.” Set free from bondage in Egypt God gave them the law as an identity that made them unique among the nations and set them apart as a treasured possession of the Most High. If the law was God’s gift to the children of Israel then the children of Israel were the gift that God got. Perhaps God is not so unlike us in that respect. God desires the intimacy of human relationship that is freely given and received. Of course it was not all love and kisses as on more than one occasion God grew tired of the people called God’s own. “What can I do with you, Ephraim? What can I do with you, Judah? Your love is like the morning mist…” (Hosea 6:4) But as much as the law and decrees kept the people of Israel connected to God it was God’s promise to Abraham that kept God in the game. Even if they were children who misbehaved they remained God’s children. And so it is with us whose identity is found in the law of Christ which is the law of love. Love God. Love Neighbor. We might fail on both accounts but God’s love endures forever.

Monday, December 28, 2020

Christmas 2 B - Jeremiah 31:7-14

Jeremiah 31:7-14
Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, proclaims a different sort of weeping for the “great company” destined to return to Zion by brooks of water along straight paths of no stumbling. I’ve always felt badly for Jeremiah as one who was destined to be a bearer of bad tidings. If I had my druthers I’d choose to be Second Isaiah who gets mostly good bits even if he is writing from captivity in a Babylonian garden. But even if most of Jeremiah’s book is grim, as was his lot, there are these wonderfully bright bits of promise that must have given the prophet a reason to be glad, if only for a moment. “The young women rejoice in the dance and the young men and old shall be merry.” Our current troubles are still lesser in comparison to what Jeremiah’s people endured but because all troubles are personal I believe comparisons have little value. There will always be someone who has it worse than we do until at some point we stand at the end of the line and look to the left (or right) and realize we are at the end of the line. So this word of promise speaks to every life scattered by circumstances beyond one’s control, put down by hands too strong to resist, languishing in prisons of sorrow and suffering. It looks like we have more pandemic mourning to endure before sorrow is turned into joy but if we believe the promise then God is always waiting on the other side of whatever troubles us to tend to us as a shepherd gathers sheep or comfort us as a parent embraces a child. Point is the God beyond knowing knows our plight and in the Word Made Flesh did something about it. Emmanuel. God with us.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Christmas Year B - Luke 2:1-10

 Luke 2:1-10

“Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart” because she didn’t have a clue as to what was coming. We don’t know much about Jesus’ childhood, but if the Gnostic Gospels are even partially true it wasn’t easy keeping Jesus' Son of God status hidden. The stories we do believe are more accurate – Jesus acting in ways that made his mother and (half) siblings nervous enough to beg him to stop - means she didn't have to ponder where his kingdom talk would land him. But on the silent night holy night she couldn’t possibly know she would one day be weeping at the foot of a Roman cross while her baby boy screamed in agony. Not a pretty picture for Christmas but then we treasure what Mary could not have known that night – it wasn’t his birth that was a treasure. It was his death. Of course she also got to see what we can hardly imagine - the first Easter moment when she was greeted by her baby boy resurrected, which is easily more marvelous than the O Holy Night she treasured.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Christmas Year B - Titus 3:4-7

Titus 3:4-7

“…when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared he saved us…”  It would be a lovely passage all by itself but is made even more beautiful by what follows “…not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy…” That’s because if it were up to me I would always be wondering if I had done enough to be worthy of unconditional love. You see how silly it is? – doing something to make one worthy of what is already is. Of course what follows the beautiful bit depends on it - rebirth and renewal into the hope of eternal life – being justified by grace births us into the forever future that renewed in thought, word and deed we might live as people who are justified by grace. What goes around comes around. That is to say the goodness and loving kindness of God appears more fully in us the more we trust unconditionally that we are loved unconditionally.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Christmas Year B - Psalm 97

 Psalm 97

The God of clouds and thick darkness, consuming fire and mountain melting majesty is born into human flesh in a hamlet in an occupied land to peasant parents. That seems to contradict the images of God hurling lightning bolts and making the earth and seas tremble. Of course God can smack down the wicked and do a number on the heads of those who bow down to little g gods but God chose to be revealed in manger and cross. We might be tempted to elevate one above the other but the faithful response is to hold the two images in tension which, by the way, is a very Lutheran thing to do. God is both weak and all powerful. God demands obedience and forgives unconditionally. God is both above the heavens and as close as our own breath. “He who fills the world lay in a manger, great in the form of God but tiny in the form of a servant; this was in such a way that neither was His greatness diminished by His tininess, nor was His tininess overcome by His greatness.” (St. Augustine, Sermon 187) The light that dawns upon the righteous and makes honest hearts rejoice is that God cannot be contained in any of our constructs and unlike the little g gods, which are easily contained, is more than able to save.

Monday, December 21, 2020

Christmas Year B - Isaiah 62:6-12

Isaiah 62:6-12

The back-story for Isaiah 62 is that Jerusalem’s grain was given as food for her enemies and foreigners drank the wine for which God’s people labored. This was God’s doing and it was not marvelous in their eyes. They became a byword to the nations and were seemingly forsaken and forgotten by God. But their cries ascended to the heavens as those who relentlessly “remind the LORD and give God no rest” until God remembered and relented. Then the rejected became the Redeemed and the forsaken the Sought Out. Jesus fleshed out Isaiah’s vision of a people who give God no rest in the parable of a widow who will give a judge no rest until she receives justice.  The lesson should not be lost on us that God invites the complaints of the forgotten and forsaken even when we are responsible for whatever prompts the complaint. We might be reluctant to complain, since it feels like whining which no one likes to listen to, but when circumstances call for it complaining means we have a “for better, for worse, in sickness and in health” relationship with God and trust that God, our friend, our lover, our Savior, listens to our whole life.

Friday, December 18, 2020

Advent 4 B - Luke 1:26-38

 Luke 1:26-38

“How can this be?” There are many who will say “it can’t” or “it wasn’t” but then Mary is the only one who can say for sure. If Luke is half the historian my father was he will have checked his sources and I don’t doubt Mary could have been one of them. Of course we don’t just talk about the virgin birth we confess it and even though that might sound like the same thing it isn’t. Confessions are not explained; they are confessed which is to say, believed. Not like Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy though some would say the virgin birth is a fairytale. Confessions are not constitutions though some would make them equally binding. But the Christian confession of faith doesn’t so much bind us to a set of beliefs as it identifies us as those who adhere to a particular story of what God is about in our world. This is the story of “God with us” which is “God for us” in every space and place and time, from before the beginning into the forever future. “Let it be to me according to your word.” Mary entered the story in a time and place where people threw rocks at unwed pregnant teenagers until they were dead. (God help us those places still exist) She accepted what would likely lead to her death because she trusted her life was in God’s hands. “Let it be to me according to your word.” There is no greater statement of faith in the scriptures and though she is venerated as “Theotokos” (God-bearer) her faith was worthy of praise even before the Spirit overshadowed her and the little Lord Jesus jumped in her womb. Faith bears God into the world even now so that you and I enter Mary’s story, which is God’s story, whenever in the face of an uncertain future we say, “Let it be to me according to your word.”

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Advent 4 B - Luke 1:46-55


The “great thing God has done for me” made Mary great with child without her betrothed's participation or consent. That is not normally a cause for rejoicing even if the child hidden in her secret place (though not for long) was the Messiah. Let’s be clear, Mary was not a member of the ruling class and the “servant Israel” of whom she sings was hardly a significant player on the world’s stage. But Mary is naturally naïve and believes in, or at least hopes for, the promise of God come true. And come to think of it, even the secular songs of this season seem wonderfully naïve in a world so full of woe. “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, Jack Frost nipping at your nose…” There is more power in hope than any other human emotion save love, although they are so closely related as to almost be the same thing. And miracles, like songs that imagine God come down, to lift up the lowly and feed the hungry with good things, do not need to be fully realized to be more than true. When Mary’s boy was full grown the mighty she imagined cast down from their thrones lifted him up on a cross until crying out in agony he breathed his last and was sent empty away. But death could not still the song she sung when he moved in her womb and the refrain of His resurrection was just the prelude to the chorus that is sung even now in eternity. The Lord has done great things indeed.

Friday, December 11, 2020

Advent 3 B - John 1:6-8, 19-28

Not the Messiah, not Elijah, not the prophet (Moses not Mohamed) John is just a voice that makes straight the way for someone else. Of course that someone else is the Messiah pointed to by Elijah and the promises God made to Abraham and confirmed through the prophet. (Moses, not Mohamed) So called prophets in our day and age are always pointing to this or that but most often proclaim themselves and make a pretty good living at it. But John in his camel hair cloak (not cashmere) eating locusts and honey, baptizing with water, knows he is the prologue to a greater story that we find out later even he doesn’t fully understand. "Are you the one or shall we look for another?" (Matthew 11:3) That is good news for those of us who stand in John’s shadow and point to the one we are unworthy to speak for or about. In the light of that thought I suppose I would be more likely to remain silent except that the sandals John felt unworthy to untie were not ashamed to walk the earth we tread and in the end were removed so that feet nailed to wood might reveal the true nature of God.

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Advent 2 B - Mark 1:1-8

Mark 1:1-8
The beginning of Jesus’ story anticipates the end of our story which because of Jesus will not be as final as it otherwise might have been. And like the messenger who prepared Jesus’ way through the wilderness Jesus makes straight our crooked paths so that shouts of victory will drown out cries of lament. But the end of the salvation story does not deny the hard path walked by John or Jesus. Both paid dearly for their proclamation of the truth and while resurrection is certainly a happy ending to what would have otherwise been a tragic tale, the marks of suffering remain to remind us that it was the baptism of Jesus' death that forgave our sin. So we, who benefit from John’s prophecy and baptized by the Holy Spirit are joined to Jesus’ death, walk on paths that are sometimes as hard and unyielding as the ones they walked, but because the Good News has walked all the world’s paths we never walk them alone.

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Advent 2 B - 2 Peter 3:8-15

2 Peter 3:8-15

So how are we to “regard the patience of the Lord as salvation” while worrying about “the rest of the world is toast thief in the night day of the Lord?” Even if we are confident of our reserved seat in the forever future we can hardly sit still when it comes to those for whom God’s infinite patience will one day run out. Lives of holiness and godliness are only holy and godly in so much as they are lived for the sake of those who do not know the peace and patience of God. And so God’s desire that none perish may dove tail with our own – at least for the “none” that we know – which is why waiting patiently is not the same as passively waiting.

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Lent 2 B - Psalm 85

 Psalm 85

We could use a long embrace with steadfast love and faithfulness and more public displays of affection between righteousness and peace. That’s because when God’s people live as “sin blotted out” forgiven folk, fortunes are restored, hearts rejoice and the land itself yields an increase. But when envy kisses bitter strife and hatred and selfish ambition embrace everyone suffers. And so God speaks peace by forgiving sin to turn hearts towards the pathway prepared by righteousness, which is always an attitude before it shows up as behavior. It would be a lovely thing if the church could fall madly in love with righteousness and peace and act like a school girl or boy giddy with the first blush of young love. Imagine what we could accomplish by throwing caution to the wind and recklessly engaging in PDA of the sort that would make those outside the faith long for the same sort of relationship we have with each other and the God who whispers, "Peace."

Monday, November 30, 2020

Advent 2 B - Isaiah 40:1-11

 Isaiah 40:1-11

“Comfort, comfort” is a doubly welcome word when it feels like you’ve paid double for whatever it was that required you to pay a penalty in the first place. In the same way being fed and gathered and carried and gently led is welcome relief to those who like grass and flowers wither and fade. More often than not we are fully responsible for the painful predicament produced by our sin, but there is also a good bit of life’s consequences that operate outside the boundaries of cause and effect. I imagine there were a good number of those carted off to captivity in Babylon that could not trace a clear line between what they had done and what was being done to them. So in the middle of the captivity, when the memory of Jerusalem was fading, or worse when the memory of its destruction was like a recurring nightmare, the prophet speaks God’s words of hope and healing. “Comfort, comfort” is what was needed to endure the everyday abuse of captors who mockingly demanded, “sing us songs of Zion” as if joyful songs could be conjured up like some cheap parlor trick. God visits us in the worst of times to remind us that the best of times can be experienced when anticipated through hope. The valley of despair will be lifted; the mountain of desperation will be brought low, the uneven and rough places of sorrow and suffering will be made smooth because the word of the Lord is doubly consistent. “Comfort, comfort.”

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

The Feast of Christ the King Year A - Ephesians 1:15-23

Ephesians 1:15-23

Paul writes more run on sentences than I do and sometimes his thoughts and mine can be lost in the language, so let me keep this simple. This is the hope I want to know. I want to know a hope where God makes all wrongs right. I want to know a hope where all questions are answered. I want to know a hope that includes more rather than less. I want to know a hope that is more merciful than I am. I want to know a hope where fear and doubt and self-loathing disappear into perfect peace. Of course that is the hope of the cross; we just tend to run on about it until the simple meaning is obscured. You do not have to be afraid of a God you can strip naked and nail to a piece of wood. I hope the cross of Jesus Christ is everything I hope it is.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

The Feast of Christ the King Year A - Psalm 90:1-7

I can’t read psalm 95 without thinking of the Venite from the Office of Matins in the Lutheran hymnal of my youth. (The 1941 Lutheran Church Missouri Synod red book – the hymnal preferred by God and the angel choirs) As a child it seemed a long song sung every Sunday and was printed on two pages that required flipping back and forth to sing the next verse. Of course we all had it memorized so the flipping was just liturgical calisthenics, which in some ways is the whole point of liturgy. It’s like breathing, something that generally goes unnoticed but is essential for life itself. The Venite wasn’t very interesting musically and it would be hard to think of it as shouting with joy to the rock of our salvation but it became so familiar that fifty years later it reminds me of so much more than singing the song. That sort of foundational memory is present even when our everyday memory fades and in that way the great God who made the seas and molded the dry land is always present until the last song of this life becomes the first song of the next and we enter God’s face to face presence with thanksgiving.

Monday, November 16, 2020

The Feast of Christ the King Year A - Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24

                           

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
The Lord God is critical of what seems to come naturally to sheep - pushing with flank and shoulder, butting each other with horns. Maybe the same is true for us. When push comes to shove we would prefer to not be on the receiving end. But God as shepherd prefers lean sheep to fat ones and promises to bring back the strayed, bind up the injured and strengthen the weak. The image of God as our shepherd is for the encouragement of all who have been pushed and shoved by events beyond their control so that rescued from the clouds and thick darkness of despair, well watered and fed on the good pasture of hope; we would no longer be ravaged by doubt and fear. And if we feel secure we might be less likely to push and shove and scatter others to preserve a place for ourselves, which would be pleasing to the shepherd and sheep alike.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Lectionary 33 A - Psalm 90:1-8, 12

                                    

Psalm 90:1-8, 12
The Lord “our refuge from one generation to another” also knows our secret sins. No wonder the psalmist rightly fears God’s indignation. We prefer anonymity where sins are concerned and even though we suspect others are as consumed by sin as we are we like to believe no one suspects the same of us. But the Lord knows the things we hide even from ourselves. The memories that still make us shudder with shame. A lifetime of things done and left undone, said and left unsaid set before the Lord in whose anger “all our days are gone and our years come to an end like a sigh.” But the truth about us is not as great as the truth about God “our refuge” who knowing us full well still satisfies us in the morning with unfailing love teaching us the gift of each day so that our hearts weighed down by sin might be lightened by wisdom. And if by God's unfailing love we were made more wise we would no doubt spend less time with secret sins and more time dwelling with the Lord.

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Lectionary 33 A - Zephaniah 1:7, 12-28

                                     

Zephaniah 1:7, 12-28
Zephaniah was very popular with the “Save Fort Worth” people that used to spend the weekend standing on Sundance Square street corners warning of impending doom for having too much fun. I must admit I don’t find much worth saving in Zephaniah’s graphic description of the day of great distress and anguish. The violence visited on people just like you and me and our children and the image it evokes of God acting out of a fit of jealous rage is offensive. Of course God has every right to punish people resting “complacently on their dregs” who treat God with disdain. You’d be jealous too and might be tempted to express your righteous indignation violently. But that would be wrong wouldn’t it? We might even call it sin. So how is it sin for us to kill someone who treats us with contempt while God can destroy a whole city; men, women, children, animals and call it justice?  And even if the Jerusalem elite were worthy of the most dreadful death the Babylonians didn’t discriminate as the guilty and innocent shared the same fate. Of course years later the Persians did the same thing to the Babylonians. And so the story goes. Maybe the prophetic word is about the destruction we visit upon each other from Cain and Abel to the Holocaust. So even if the faith of Zephaniah requires him to give God the credit it’s always humans who do the dirty work.

Friday, November 6, 2020

Lectionary 32 A - Matthew 25:1-13

                                      

Ain Vares Art
Matthew 25:1-13
I think the parable of the wise and foolish bridesmaids should be called the parable of the tardy groom. And what about the bride waiting at the altar? I bet she was more than a little upset. “Midnight? Really?” Of course none of that is the point of the parable, well, except the tardy part. Mathew’s community is wondering what happened to Jesus. After all he said “this generation shall see my return” (Matthew 24:34) and that generation is almost all dead by the time this parable is written down. So the point of the parable is verse 13 and none of the details really matter except as a promise and on the flip side a warning. If you are awake and waiting faithfully you are wise and it doesn't matter how long it takes for the groom to arrive because your invitation is as good as gold. But if you grow tired of waiting and doubt the promise you are foolish and your lamp will go out and you’ll be left in the dark. So what does it mean for us over 2000 years later? I suppose the message is the same since we neither know the time or the date of Jesus’ return. But maybe more importantly the message is for us to use our waiting time wisely as Jesus will say at the end of this chapter. “When I was hungry you fed me, in prison you visited me, naked you clothed me, a stranger you welcomed me, thirsty you gave me drink.” We don’t just sit around in the glow of our lit lamps and sing Kum by Yah. We wait by living into the charge that is given to the baptized when the baptismal candle is presented. “Let your light so shine before others that they will see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” So let’s get busy waiting.

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Lectionary 32 A - Psalm 70

                           

Psalm 70
The psalmist hopes that his rescue will be pleasing to the Lord which displays a radical confidence in the gracious mercy of the Almighty Big G God. The small g gods always ask, “What’s in it for us?” They have no time for the poor and needy and only provide salvation for those who can pay. But the Big G “God is Great” listens to the laments of the lowly. The Big G God helps those who cannot help themselves and delivers those who have nowhere else to turn because it is pleasing to God. Or in other words it is for God’s sake that the sake of the poor and lowly gets a hearing in the halls of heaven and we would do well to pay attention to the people God attends to for when God determined to enter fully into human history it was through the life of one who may have prayed this psalm more than once. That God entered the psalm of lament may be the biggest thing about the Big G God. No. It is most definitely the Biggest Thing about God.

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Lectionary 32 A - Amos 5:18-24

                                       

Amos 5:18-24
This text should bring a permanent ceasefire to the worship wars that often consume the church. Contemporary vs traditional vs blended vs emergent vs whatever will come next. Projection screens or hymnals? Long teaching sermons or liturgical based sermons? Narrative lectionary or Revised Common? Communion every Sunday or less often? Arguments over hymns or styles of worship are intensely personal because, well, they are personal. But in all the arguments I've never heard anyone ask about God’s preference. That’s not to say personal preference doesn't have a place in the pew or the pulpit only that God doesn't care about what we think about worship when we argue about it. But more to the point when what we like or dislike about worship takes center stage in our spiritual life we act in opposition to what pleases God and therefore our worship is no longer worshipful. That is because it is all about us and God desires us to think about others in the same way God does. We cannot do the work God intended the church to do if all our work is centered on the way the church works. I could quote endless scriptures on that topic but this one will do. The song that God loves is the hungry belly filled and the parched throat quenched. The melody that makes God smile is the laughter of the oppressed set free and the sigh of the outcast welcomed as friend. So by all means seek out worship that pleases you but only if it inspires you to worship in the way that pleases God which, I’m sorry to say, has almost nothing to do with what pleases you. Ouch or Amen? Or both?

Friday, October 30, 2020

The Feast of All Saints Year A - Matthew 5:1-12

                             

Matthew 5:1-12
“Blessed are those” becomes “blessed are you” when you live the Beatitudes. By that I mean the “rejoice and be glad” not the persecuted for righteousness sake. In our everyday the "blessed are you" has a tough time overcoming the persecuted (period end of sentence). But the “blessed are you” is and was an invitation of what we are to be because they are a promise of what will be. That does not deny “persecuted for righteousness sake” as your reality. That’s pretty much a promise too. But to look beyond being poor in spirit, meek and mourning, starving for justice means one is a merciful, pure in heart peacemaker. As far as Jesus is concerned that is blessed indeed.

Monday, October 26, 2020

The Feast of All Saints Year A - Revelation 7:9-17

                             

Revelation 7:9-17
These words were written to encourage and comfort people who were suffering terribly for the sake of the faith. Let’s put aside the thought that Revelation is a road map through Divine destruction with promises of paradise for a select few and consider that the God who wipes away the tears of a multitude too great to count might not want to poke the eyes out of everyone else. Maybe within the necessary narrative for a persecuted people there is a word that speaks to all humanity created in the image of the holy. There are innocents who suffer all of life as a great ordeal, starving for food or affection with no hope for happiness. Will God wipe away their tears? There are those less innocent who scarred by neglect or abuse suffer the great ordeal of lives doomed to misfortune and out of their pain visit it others. Will God wipe away their tears? There are those not innocent at all but acting out of selfish interest suffer the great ordeal that looks like prosperity but lacks love and mercy and kindness and if they knew perhaps they would weep as well. Will God wipe away their tears? Can God wipe away every tear from every eye and still be a God of justice? I don’t know but I hope so and not because I need a happy ending to the sad human story, but because I hope God does.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Reformation Sunday - John 8:31-36

                                    

John 8:31-36
Maybe if I knew what my “we are descendants of Abraham” was I would know what keeps me from being free. But the sad truth is that those who claim to be “truly my disciples” are often just as bound as those who could care less. The truth is not as easily defined as one might think and as soon as you “name it and claim it” you have lost it. “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose” (Janis Joplin - Me & Bobby McGee) might not be Gospel but it is truth. When you get to the place where what matters to you is not as essential as to what makes a difference so that nothing matters but everything is important you come close to freedom. It is not a freedom we fight for or protect as crazy as that sounds. No one has ever been freer than Jesus, but not when was healing or preaching or praying. Freedom for Jesus was the cross and the sad and wonderful truth is that it is the same for us.  

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Reformation Sunday - Romans 3:19-28

                                   

Romans 3:19-28

God is the one who is just and the one who justifies; period, end of sentence. So why do we work so hard for what is none of our business? I don’t mean sin, we don’t have to work at disobedience or doubt or self centeredness or disregard for the needs of others or neglect of the planet or any of the ways we are guilty of being less than human. No, sin is all about us, which is why the just one who justifies the creation gone its own way enters the fray to contend with the inevitable consequence of human rebellion, death. Faith does not activate or complete what God has already done in entering the human story. Faith means we enter God’s story in the Christ and stop working for what is already ours because we no longer doubt what is beyond comprehension. We are already justified, made right with God, because God won’t have it any other way which means we are free to be fully human.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Reformation Sunday - Psalm 46

                                  

Psalm 46
To “be still” in the presence of shaking earth, falling mountains and roaring seas is not the natural response to natural disasters, unless being still is fainting dead away. In the same way that the uncertainty of nations in uproar and falling kingdoms typically lead us to circle the wagons and prepare for the worst by doing our best to make sure our piece of the earth doesn’t melt away. But the command is to “be still” while God does the heavy lifting of breaking bows and shattering spears. Being still in the face of personal and collective calamity only happens if we stand still on the foundation of faith which is the “know I am God” part of the equation. So being still doesn’t lead us to know God as much as knowing God allows us to be still.

Monday, October 19, 2020

Reformation Sunday - Jeremiah 31:31-34

Jeremiah 31:31-34
When will the “days are surely coming” finally get here? I know some will quickly point out “the days are surely coming” came with the new covenant signed and sealed by the blood of Jesus. But if that is true, and of course I believe it is, then the "days are surely coming" are not yet fully here. Even those who have the new covenant written on their heart and claim to “know the Lord” filter that knowledge through denominational lenses or personal experience and believe they have 20/20 vision while everyone else has to squint. The “days are surely coming” won’t get here until my “know the Lord” doesn’t deny the truth of your “know the Lord.” But surely there is a right and a wrong way to know the Lord? For something to be true something else is necessarily false. Well, yes but how can we tell the difference when everything we know is subject to our own bias, even the way we come to the scriptures? Maybe we can agree on this, at least for this text. God is the only actor and the people are passive for the heart of the promise is that God does not treat law breakers as they deserve but forgives iniquity and remembers sin no more. Maybe the day will surely come when we do the same.

Friday, October 16, 2020

Lectionary 29 A - Matthew 22:15-22

                                       

Matthew 22:15-22
You can’t trap Jesus. This text is not about taxes. There are no options save death when Rome demands it’s due and lawful or not, the tax collector doesn’t care what you think as long as you pay the bill. When we use any word about Jesus to support one political position over another we are like Pharisees making a deal with the devils of their day (Herodians) in order entrap Jesus. That’s not to say the scriptures don’t encourage all kinds of things that are emphasized on one side of the political line or the other. But the mission of Jesus is to reveal the God whose image is imprinted on the human heart and so for all the might and majesty mustered by Rome, a head on a temporal coin isn’t worth the metal it’s printed on. The lesson for us may be to measure our lives by the things that belong to God, love and life, which is eternal and unending and outside of our control. Jesus is perfectly willing to be entrapped for that mission and when his time comes he will not shy away from answering the question that for the sake of the world gets him nailed to the cross.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Lectionary 29 A - 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

                           

1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
One reason Paul may be continually thankful for the church of the Thessalonians is because he is continually troubled by the church of the Corinthians. And in same way the Philippians and Ephesians may have helped him endure the “who has bewitched you” Galatians, present day overseers may balance the burden of their call by rejoicing in works of faith in one place while laboring with love for ministries that struggle. I don’t know because I’ve been in the same place for almost thirty years and the Calvary that I landed in, by the grace of God btw, was already a “friendly church serving Christ and community.” But all of us together are called to be church steadfast in hope and inspired by the Holy Spirit. So how do we help each other be the best we can be and sound forth the word in the Macedonia and Achaia that for us are the congregations in Northern Texas and Northern Louisiana and Durant, OK and Clovis, NM? What was then is now. We always give thanks to God for all of you and daily mention you in our prayers.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Lectionary 29 A - Psalm 96

                                           

Psalm 96:1-13
What a lovely coincidence! I just did Psalm 96 this morning for my FB live devotion! The little g gods stand in awe of the Big G Only God as the trees shout while the sea thunders and the fields rejoice and all people sing the refrain, “Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised.” The new song that the whole earth sings is prompted by the big G God's promise to judge the world with righteousness and the peoples with truth and equity. That is not good news for everyone as being judged in truth is a problem for those who prefer to live lies and despise righteousness. But if despite your sinfulness you are drawn to surrender to the beauty of God’s holiness being judged with equity is an invitation to finally be free of all that diminishes life and makes us less than human. And that is good news indeed, so sing to the Lord a new song to the Lord.

Monday, October 12, 2020

Lectionary 29 A - Isaiah 45:1-7

 Isaiah 45:1-7

Cyrus the Great was good to all the gods who had been displaced by the Babylonians returning “the images of the gods… to their places and I let them dwell in eternal abodes.” (The Cyrus cylinder 538 BC) Granted he hoped for something in return. “May all the gods whom I settled in their sacred centers ask daily of Bêl and Nâbu that my days be long and may they intercede for my welfare.” But he was especially kind to the exiles from Judah and not only sent them home but funded the rebuilding of the temple and the reestablishment of sacrifices according to the Law of Moses. Not that he gave the God of Israel sole credit for making him “Cyrus, king of the world, great king, mighty king, king of Babylon, king of Sumer and Akkad, king of the four quarters...” But then Cyrus didn’t know he was a pawn in God’s game and that the little “g” gods couldn’t hear or answer any of his prayers. The lesson of Cyrus is that God’s good and gracious will is done with or without prayer (Luther’s explanation to the 3rd petition of the Lord’s Prayer) so that sometimes even less than pious people perform holy acts.

Friday, October 9, 2020

Lectionary 28 A - Philippians 4:1-9

                                                      

Paul writing from prison encourages the Philippians with a lovely laundry list of “whatever is” which goes well beyond the power of positive thinking. It is, however, an attitude adjustment in the same way we are to have the mind of Christ who did not consider equality with God something to be exploited. Gentleness evident to all, and the double dip of rejoicing, is only possible because the Lord is near. It is for this reason that Euodia and Syntyche are to set aside whatever has come between them and remember the Gospel for which they both contend. Paul had no way of knowing his letter would be read by anyone after it had served its purpose and certainly could not have foreseen over 2000 years of church history. If he had he might not have called out these two women. On the other hand I wonder if the things that divide us would be as important if we knew our names would be forever enshrined in the scriptures.

Monday, October 5, 2020

Lectionary 28 A - Isaiah 25:1-9

                            

Isaiah 25:1-9
When the city is reduced to rubble and the fortified town turned into a ruin then the strong will honor God and the ruthless will revere the Lord. The only power the mighty respect is a more mighty power. In the end death silences the scepters sway and it doesn’t matter how ornate your tomb is when “remember you are dust and to dust you shall return” is the only honest epitaph. Every knee shall bow because God is the only one left standing and the forever feast on the holy mountain is a celebration of God not the “all peoples” who are invited. I know there are plenty of scriptures that would confirm that God is just ruthless as we are but if that is the case then the wicked win.

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Lectionary 27 A - Philippians 3:4-14

                              

Philippians 3:4-14
Like the apostle Paul I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh. Born to Lutheran educators, baptized in my first month, memorized the liturgy before I could read, confirmed by my thirteenth year, graduate of a Lutheran grade school, high school, college, and seminary and served as a Lutheran grade school teacher, youth director and pastor. I know we’re saved by grace but surely a Lutheran pedigree like that counts for something? Of course it does and in many ways it is the reason I am able to press on to take hold of the Christ who took hold of me through the water of baptism and the faith of parents and teachers. Paul considers confidence in the flesh as loss but clearly values the heritage it represents and his brothers and sisters according to the flesh for whom he would sacrifice his salvation. (Romans 9:3) So while we place no confidence in our religious pedigree we are grateful for the formation that does not happen without the family of faith.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Lectionary 27 A - Isaiah 5:1-7

                                      

Isaiah 5:1-7
God’s lament sounds familiar because God’s sad song is so often ours as well. We invest time and energy and emotion into relationships that fail to produce hoped for results. Of course when human relationships go sour we say “it takes two to tango” while Isaiah envisions all the blame is on the vineyard God planted. It is true that sowing wild oats (grapes?) is common enough to be cliché but Israel, a small country situated between hostile empires, can hardly be blamed for trying to survive the place of its planting. Maybe that was the point all along. Trusting God was not supposed to be like all the other nations who sacrifice everything, including their first born, to appease the blood lust of their gods. The people of God were to reflect the same sort of care to the widow and the orphan and the sojourner as God showed to them. The fruit of righteousness was never meant to be about the sacrifice required by law but rather the law of living by love. In that respect God was dancing all alone, so I guess it does take two to tango.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Lectionary 26 A - Matthew 21:23-32

                         

Matthew 21:23-32
The chief priests and elders of the people are stuck between a rock and a hard place by Jesus’ question but will come up with a third option by the Friday we call “Good”. But then Jesus knew all along that “crucify” would be the only possible answer for the powers that be when pushed into a corner from which there was no escape. Stuck between the way of God we are unwilling to follow and the way of the world we are reluctant to resist the third way is the only option for us as well. Crucify God and maybe this time the persistent question will stay dead and we’ll be done with it. But like Jesus on the third day crucifixion is the beginning not the end. What needs to die is the part of us that is like the son in the parable who says “yes” but lives “no” so that the part of us that rises is like the son who said “no” but is finally free to live “yes”.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Lectionary 26 A - Philippians 2:1-13

                            

Philippians 2:1-13

The whole of the scriptures is expressed in Philippians 2:5-11 and if all we had was this ancient creedal hymn it would be enough to reveal the mind of the Divine. In Jesus it is God who is emptied into all of humanity and in servant form suffers a dreadful death designed by the children created in God’s own image. How is it possible that the church has such a sordid history of not finding any consolation in this expression of ultimate love, no compassion, no sympathy, demanding like minds be bound by hard cover catechisms where right belief matters more than loving fellow believers, let alone the world Jesus died to save? The promise is every knee will bow and every tongue confess that the Jesus emptied, serving, suffering and dying for creatures who could care less was what God was about all along. Being of like mind means be like Jesus who never met a sinner he didn’t love to death.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Lectionary 26 A - Psalm 25:1-9

                             

Psalm 25:1-9
David trusts that the rebellious sins of his youth will not be remembered by the Lord and I have no doubt that the same applies to the sins of one’s middle age as well. That is because the Lord, who is our all day long hope, does not need to be prompted to remember great mercy and love, for that is the character of the One who erases the record of everything about us that makes mercy necessary. Now if only we could do the same for others, and God help us, for ourselves. But the truth about us is that shame is our constant companion and we live with the memory of rebellious ways and youthful sins revisiting ancient history as if it happened yesterday. So maybe the instructions sinners need most is a lesson on forgiveness where charity begins at home.

Monday, September 21, 2020

Lectionary 26 A - Ezekiel 18:1-4; 25-32

                                      

Apparently the prophet is not familiar with family systems theory. The sins of the parents are always visited upon the children and sour grapes do not grow sweeter with more time on the vine. We are all shaped by our past and not in control of our future which makes our present an unpredictable place. So what if we were to say we are not responsible? I didn’t choose my family of origin and even though they did the best they could they carried with them the same sort of things that have made me less than I desire to be. And I say that from the perspective of having loving parents; kind, decent people who none-the-less lived their brokenness in ways they didn't like. Heaven help the children that welcome death because they live in hell. So are the ways of the Lord unfair? Of course they are. That is why the Lord, bound by our past with no pleasure possible, died naked and alone nailed to a piece of wood in order to secure a future for us where the life of the parent and the child would not be subject to the corruption inherent in our DNA.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Lectionary 25 A - Matthew 20:1-16

                            

Matthew 20:1-16
The kingdom of heaven is a contradiction of the more common kingdom where fair play is measured by survival of the fittest and the winner is the one who dies with the most toys. The all-day workers sweating in the sun obviously deserve more wages than the slackers who sat around all day. You can bet that the next time the master went looking for workers the marketplace had become a right to wait state and expecting a full day’s pay for the last hour was the new normal. That is why the kingdom of heaven is like something no one ever does. And if we are not outright envious of God’s generosity we are at least stingier than Jesus when it comes to the “kingdom come” where last and first are reversed.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Lectionary 25 A - Jonah 4:1-11

                                              

Jonah 4:1-11  Debate on the Book of Jonah is often focused on the detail of the “whale” and whether someone could be swallowed up and survive. Those who read the story as literal truth do so out of reverence for the scriptures as the source and norm of all doctrine and faith and believe if you doubt the literal truth of one story all the other stories are called into question. Those who read Jonah as a parable or allegory also reverence the scriptures as the source and norm of all faith and doctrine but believe a story does not need to be literally true to be true. The point of this story, which I am quite willing to swallow as literally true, is in chapter four. Jonah did not want to go to Nineveh because he knew God would be merciful and forgive the enemies of Israel and that was “very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry.” (4:1) God provided shade to cool Jonah’s jets but then struck it down to make a point and Jonah sitting in the hot sun and lamenting the burned up bush was “angry enough to die.” (4:9) With or without the big fish story this is the part of the text that is literally true about us, especially when like Jonah we care more about the bush of our own understanding than the “great city” of fellow believers whose fish story may be bigger, or smaller, than ours.