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."