Friday, February 26, 2021

Lent 2 B - Mark 8:27-38

Mark 8:27-38

The divine thing Peter’s mind could not comprehend was how his idea of a butt kicking, conquering hero Messiah could undergo great suffering, rejection and death. That was not the Messiah program that Peter signed on to when he left his nets to follow. And more to the point, his earthly idea was to be the rock upon which the Jesus church would be founded, even if the two blowhard brothers, James and John, were lining up to sit at Jesus right and left. In the end he is the only disciple brave enough to follow the bound and gagged Jesus into the courtyard even though when push comes to shove his courage fails him. Perhaps his bitter tears have as much to do with being ashamed of Jesus as hearing the cock crow. We’re not so different and much of what passes as priestly piety is really about power. Earthly boundaries erected around font and table and pulpit and pew can be ways we save our life instead of losing it for those God came to save.  Even claims of “Love wins!” might miss the point of what God is about when you consider that winning only happens when someone else loses. So if love does win, which I believe it does, it’s only because Jesus was willing to be the biggest loser.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Lent 2 B - Romans 4:13-25


Romans 4:13-25
Abraham “is the father of us all” is how Paul puts it. Three faiths claim what Paul proclaims. Father Abraham and Mother Sarah birthed Judaism through Isaac. Islam’s claim came through Ishmael, the son of Sarah’s slave. And Christianity only got included by adoption. I wonder if God intended us to consider the children of the father of many nations as extended family. I don’t mean all branches of the family tree are able to hope against hope as the adopted children do. The legitimate children depend on who they are and what they do to be acceptable in the God of Abraham’s sight while we who didn’t have a prayer to be included recognize (I hope) our fortunate son and daughter status is due to what has been done for us. Therefore we hope against hope because truth is we were as good as dead before the mercy and grace of God appeared in the Christ, who was handed over to death for our rebellion and raised for our justification.  Given the grace extended to us there may be room within our faith tradition to embrace the entire human family as brothers and sisters and work towards the good of all so that the faith of the adopted child becomes the way the other children of Abraham and Sarah and Hagar can also hope against hope and be reconciled to Abraham's God by the only legitimate Son who is Abraham’s Lord.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Lent 2 B - Psalm 22:23-331

                                                                    Fountain of Tears

Psalm 22:23-31
The Gospels only record Jesus crying out “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1) but I imagine he recited the rest of Psalm 22 under his breath. That is because His cry of dereliction was for our deliverance as the people yet unborn who through his death and resurrection would hear the proclamation; “The Lord has acted!” But I wonder if it wasn’t for himself as well. Hanging naked, bleeding, dying while the multitudes mocked him Jesus sought out the psalm that both spoke to his agony “a pack of villains encircles me; they pierce my hands and my feet; all my bones are on display; people stare and gloat over me.” (vs. 16, 17) and strengthened his resolve “the Lord does not despise or abhor the poor and the Lord’s face is not hidden from them; when they cry out, the Lord hears them.” So it is with us when faced with suffering and sorrow beyond our ability to bear. Just like Jesus we pour out our complaints to God trusting God hears so that commending our spirits into God’s tender mercy we are confident God will deliver on the promise of peace in the here and now and the forever future.

Monday, February 22, 2021

Lent 2b - Genesis 17:1-16

Genesis 17:1-16
Ninety-nine is not too old for a new life and a name change, though Abraham might have preferred to be circumcised as an infant. I’m just saying. Of course Abraham wouldn’t be the father of many nations without Sarah and even if Isaac is named for her laughing at the thought of a child in her golden years it should be noted that Abraham laughed out loud at the thought as well. But that’s the way it is when you’ve spent a lifetime waiting for a promise to come true only to be disappointed time and again. And I imagine it became more difficult after Hagar bore Ishmael for then there was no doubt as to who was to blame for Sarah’s barren womb. But somehow through all the years Abraham and Sarah endured the sideways glances and whispered comments for the sake of the promise they barely believed. When the promise came true they were just as surprised as everyone else and we are as blessed by their laughing as their believing for if God allows room for disbelief in the mind of father Abraham and mother Sarah perhaps our believing has room for the doubtful laugh.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Lent 1 B - Mark 1:9-15

Mark 1:9-15
When immediately after hearing “You are my Son, the Beloved” you are driven into the wilderness where Satan and the wild beasts hold sway the temptation is to doubt one’s “Beloved” status. Satan doesn’t have to do much more than ask the question in the same way Satan asked the first humans, “Did God really say…?” The question sowed doubt in their minds and it may have in the Beloved’s as well. But where the first humans gave doubt its due, the Beloved let the voice “You are my Son” speak louder than his hunger or the tempter’s deceit or the wild beasts in the wilderness. We are tempted in the same way when we find ourselves driven into the wilderness of circumstances beyond our control or difficulties by our own design. Doubting our “beloved” status leads us to live in ways that devalue self and others so that we buy the lie and lose the paradise of peace and joy and love. The good news is that Jesus abandoned paradise to live in the wilderness of our world so that in "the kingdom of God has come near" we might repent and believe the Good News. We are loved.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Lent 1 B - Psalm 25:1-10

Psalm 25:1-10

“Do not remember the sins of my youth” is the psalmist 's plea to God for the sins the psalmist cannot forget. It is often true for us as well. The sins of the past haunt the present and color the future a darker shade of grey. Even those of us who claim grace abounds and that God forgives and forgets find ourselves mired in the mud of the past where we willfully stepped off the path of the Lord and rejected the ways that were made known to us. But God, mindful of mercy, is always present to shed light on that which we prefer to hide so that in the confession of regret and guilt and shame God might make “a new beginning from the ashes of our past.” (We Are Baptized in Christ Jesus by John Yilvisaker) When God instructs sinners in the way the first lesson is that whoever we were and whatever we may have done or left undone has been forgotten and no longer defines our present or predicts our future for when we put on Christ we are a new creation. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

Friday, February 12, 2021

The Feast of Transfiguration Year b - Mark 9:2-10

Mark 9:2-10

How did Peter, James and John know it was Elijah and Moses speaking with Jesus without the benefit of Facebook profile pictures? And what were Moses, Elijah and Jesus talking about? Of course when you ask those kinds of question you miss the point of the story. This is a theophany (Greek for God appearing) which is something beyond knowing because the holy and the profane have nothing in common. That is why Isaiah cries out “Woe is me” when he sees the Lord high and lifted up. And that is why Peter blurts out the offer of three dwellings, as if Jesus the Beloved, shining like the Sun, and the ancient law giver and the end time prophet needed to be housed in habitations made by human hands. When the light show was over and the familiar Jesus returned a question remained. “What could this rising from the dead mean?” We have the benefit of the post resurrection perspective that the three disciples coming down the mountain did not, but maybe the question remains for us as well for even in the light of the resurrection we see through a mirror dimly. But by the grace of God we who know in part know enough to still terror and return us to the familiar for in Jesus the Holy and the profane meet. The One who knew no sin was made to be sin (2 Cor. 5:21) so those in bondage to sin might be set free. Thanks be to God.

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

The Feast of Transfiguration Year B - 2 Kings 2:1-14

2 Kings 2:1-14
It is a strange story of whirlwinds and water partings and pregnant pauses – “Yes, I know: be silent." But when the moment comes Elisha sees the chariots and cries out, “Father! Father!” both for Elijah’s passing and the promise “if you see me… it will be granted." Tearing his clothes is a break with the past as picking up the mantle is embracing his future. The passing of the mantle is what the church has been doing for thousands of years. In many ways we inherit a double portion of what has been before as we build on the foundation of everyday prophets, saints and sinners, all the way back to the first witnesses of the resurrection. Even in this time of uncertainty and decline the story of “God with us” is more than able to preserve the traditions of the past while propelling us into the uncharted future. Even so some garments will be left behind having served their purpose. But when we invoke the name of the God of those who gifted us with their prophetic spirit the waters blocking our way will part and the church will cross over into God’s forever future.
 

Thursday, February 4, 2021

Epiphany 4 B - Mark 1:29-39

 Mark 1:29-39

Jesus needed to get away for awhile just to pray. He wasn’t escaping from the burden of being a blessing to a feverish mother-in-law or a city full of sick folk or from the work of putting demons in their place. The whole city that gathered at his door at sundown would be back at sunrise and Jesus knew the healing he needed was to get away for awhile. He got up in the darkness and went to a deserted place so that he could commune with the One who sent him to be a blessing. We live in a 24/7 wired world and even when we are alone we tend to be distracted. But what we really need in our down time is holy time, by which I mean a silent sacred space to commune with the One who sends us to be a blessing. I don’t do it very well since it takes some practice, but maybe that’s the point. I don’t know if a 2021 Jesus would tweet or FB or blog but I’m sure if he did he’d find time to turn it all off in order to reconnect with the One who sent him to proclaim the “kingdom of God has come near” message. So if Jesus needed down time to fuel his up time it follows that people and pastors whose lives are a blessing to others need it as well.

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Epiphany 5 B - 1 Corinthians 9:16-23

 1 Corinthians 9:16-23

“I have become all things to all people” is not such a good thing to be unless it is “all for the sake of the Gospel” but even then it’s a dangerous thing to do. Of course proclaiming the Gospel is a noble and worthwhile endeavor, but I wonder how many professional proclaimers have sacrificed health and home by trying to be all things to all people while never being true to themselves. I’m not confessing.  I’m just asking the question. But truth is according to all sorts of surveys we clergy are a pretty unhealthy lot and it’s not because the devil is out to get us, we can get there without any help, thank you very much. I think it has something to do with the misapplication of this text by a demanding profession with high expectations (mostly unspoken) and low reward (at least in the way the world measures it) and more recently, diminished respect so that the clerical collar is often an object of ridicule in the wider culture. But there is a greater truth and that is that the obligation to proclaim cannot be escaped and “woe to me if I do not proclaim” means the call is not an option. That being said we can be better on both sides of the pew of being true to ourselves while being all things to each other for the sake of Gospel.

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Epiphany 5 B - Psalm 147

 Psalm 147

The God of abundant power, who can hurl down hail like crumbs and whip up a winter storm on a whim, is the same God who heals the brokenhearted and lifts up the downtrodden. This God does not delight in the things that we might so we’d do well to pay attention to the things God cares about. God delights in those who hope in the steadfast love that speaks peace to Jerusalem.  Even though the God come down was cast out by his own people (who knew his ordinances) God did not deal with them as any other nation for the One cast out by Israel was the blessing to every people and every nation. To fear God, then, is to be people who care for the weak and weary and work for peace while singing praise to the gracious God of infinite patience.

Monday, February 1, 2021

Epiphany 5 B - Isaiah 40:21-31

 Isaiah 40:21-31

“My way is hidden from the Lord” is the complaint of a person wearied by life’s demands. And having been “told from the beginning” is little help when all the indicators point to an absent Almighty. For the children of Israel it was captivity that wore them down so that they “sat by the waters of Babylon and wept” while wishing violence on the offspring of their oppressors. (Psalm 137) Our captivity is closer to home where pandemic isolates and masks divide sapping our spirit so that we lament, “My cause is disregarded by God.” But the prophet speaks into their despair to remind them of what they have always known, the God of Jacob and Israel is a God of the living and not the dead, a God of infinite strength and beauty who cares for the powerless and will one day set them free. The promise is for us as well. The way out is always through. Waiting in hope for the Lord increases the power of the faint and renews the strength of the weary so that we are able to run the course set before us and claim the prize of the heavenward call of Christ. (Philippians 3:14)

Friday, January 29, 2021

Epiphany 4 B - Mark 1:21-28

 Mark 1:21-28

Speaking as a scribe – with an unclean spirit - I‘m not sure what to think about this. I’m not saying I’m possessed; unless we’re talking about pride which more often than not is just the disguise worn by self-doubt. Truth is we are all possessed by unclean spirits, from overeating to overwork to sleeping one’s life away and as it turns out present day pastor scribes are no different than people in the pew especially when they pretend to be as holy as people in the pew might want them to be. I know I am taking this story in a direction it never intended to go but it occurs to me that the key to life in Christ was understood by the unclean spirits and rejected by the scribes. The unclean spirits “obeyed him.” The scribes crucified him. The good news for scribes with unclean spirits is that the Holy One of God did not come to destroy us but to give us life and love and freedom by calling us to come out of our places of possession. What is this? A new teaching? Maybe so. So obey and be free.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Epiphany 3 B - Mark 1:14-20


Mark 1:14-20
Jesus has a one sentence sermon that says it all. The time is fulfilled – which means the future has come into the present. The kingdom of God has come near – which means God has come down to dwell with people and the reign of love is as close as your own breath. Repent – which is to say stop living in ways that deny the forever future reign of God can be realized today. Believe the good news – which means live like you trust it is true. The trouble is we have one foot firmly planted in the world while we tap a toe into the life of the forever future and never fully repenting of the past we never fully embrace the future. However, there are moments when random acts of kindness soften a harsh world or times when walking with a loved one right up to the edge of life death really does look like birth or when we become convinced of God’s love for us and others that we give ourselves and others a break and rejoice in the wonder of each moment. One sentence says it all.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Epiphany 3 B - Psalm 62:5-12

Psalm 62:5-12
Waiting in silence is not something that comes naturally to most, especially when unsteady circumstances call for a rock and salvation stronghold that cannot be shaken. Perhaps “pour out your hearts” should begin the psalm and “wait in silence” end it. Or maybe the two can be considered the same thing when one trusts that the God who searches hearts and minds knows what we need before we do. And even if our lives are relatively stable neither those of high degree nor low estate can long delay the inevitable for like a fleeting breath the span of life doesn’t even tip the scale of eternity. But if we trust our lives are in the hands of the one to whom steadfast love belongs we are able to endure even the specter of our inevitable end where we will be repaid according to our deeds for we believe because the rock of salvation was crowned with a cross “Lord have mercy” will not fall on deaf ears.

Monday, January 18, 2021

Epiphany 3 B - Jonah 3:1-10

Jonah 3:1-10

God’s mind was changed but Jonah's heart was not. In the beginning of the story Jonah tries to avoid going to Nineveh because he believes God’s word and is counting on it. If the people of Nineveh do not repent they will be destroyed and since Jonah would like nothing more than that he goes in the opposite direction hoping to force God’s hand. But God trumps Jonah and has a great fish swallow him to get him to the church on time. Since the people of Nineveh worship a fish god in the form of a man Jonah doesn’t have to cry out very loudly to get the pagans to pay attention. Jonah is so angry he would rather die than endure God’s mercy for Israel’s enemies but then God is always more willing to forgive than we are. I know Lyle Lovett wasn’t thinking of this story when he wrote God Will but it seems to me if Jonah sang country he could put his heart into this song.  

“And who keeps on loving you
When you've been lying
Saying things ain't what they seem
God does
But I don't
God will
But I won't
And that's the difference
Between God and me.
Of course for those who believe the “difference between God and me” is Jesus means there is no difference, for those who have been forgiven are to forgive.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Epiphany 2 B - John 1:43-51

John 1:43-51

Apparently Nathaniel’s disparaging remark about Nazareth is just plain old prejudice and doesn’t count as deceit. Or it could be that Jesus is engaging in a little sarcasm himself. At any rate the encounter with Jesus moves Nathaniel beyond his limited understanding of “can anything good come from Nazareth” to seeing the Good that came from the unlikely place. He proclaims “You are the Son of God” which is to say “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God… and we have beheld his glory…” (John 1:1, 14)  In the knowing, Nathaniel becomes one who will see the future in the present because those who believe “have already passed from death to life.” (John 5:24) We are not so different from Nathaniel. We are often found sitting under the fig tree of our own religious prejudice. Can anything good come from St. Louis? (Lutheran Church Missouri Synod)  Or can anything good come from Chicago? (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) Or closer to home, can anything good come from the city on the hill – Dallas Theological Seminary? We who doubt whether good can come from places we dismiss need to be found under the fig trees of our limited understanding and like Nathaniel journey from guile to goodness so that the world will know the Good that came from Nazareth.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Lectionary 2 Year B - 1 Corinthians 6:12-20

1 Corinthians 6:12-20

Corinth was the “sin city” of the 1st century and the Christians living there struggled to be “in the world but not of the world.” Judging by the contents of the correspondence they didn’t do very well and some, like the man sleeping with his father’s wife, even made the pagans blush.(1 Corinthians 5:1) So Paul’s caveat “not everything is beneficial” might have been lost on those who said “I have the right to do anything.” The trouble was a misapplication of the Gospel that had rightly repealed the requirements of the law, namely food restrictions, sacrifices and circumcision. A good number of the Corinthians thought that meant they were free to do as they pleased; after all they were saved by grace. We can fall into the same trap thinking that as long as we feel badly about whatever we’ve done we are good to go and do whatever again. Unfortunately Lutherans tend to be the most susceptible to what Dietrich Bonhoeffer labeled “cheap grace”. The cost of sin was born by Christ but we continue to run a tab whenever we are mastered by the very things from which Christ has set us free. But the Lutheran two step of Law/Gospel was always meant to lead to an amendment of sinful ways albeit without dancing into the sin of being sanctimonious, not an easy step to master. The good news is that those united with Christ are one with His spirit which means help is always just a prayer away.

Monday, January 11, 2021

Lectionary 2 Year B - 1 Samuel 3:1-20

1 Samuel 3:1-20

The call of Samuel is a sad story for Eli but then his response to the word Samuel receives indicates Eli knew it was coming and in some ways welcomed it. His sons were scoundrels, stealing sacrifices and sleeping with the women who served at the tent of meeting. Eli rebuked them but only as a plea and not as a parent so that the sins of the sons were visited upon the father and vice versa. Samuel, on the other hand, learned well from Eli and in many ways was the son Eli wished his boys could have been. That’s not to say that children who behave well in public are not sinners, we are all infected by the rebellious ways of the first couple, but unlike Eli’s sons Samuel listened to the Lord. We’d like to think that our actions or inactions don’t have consequences and while we don’t operate with some sort of Christian Karma, what we do, or don’t do, matters; which is to say what the Lord would have us do begins with listening.

Thursday, January 7, 2021

The Baptism of Our Lord - Psalm 29

Psalm 29

You might want to take cover when the small g gods ascribe to the Lord the glory due God’s name. That’s because they recognize the voice of the Lord in thunder and lightning and earth shaking wilderness and bowing down is what you do when the earth starts to skip like a calf. While the ancients attributed such displays of power to supernatural forces they are no less terrifying when one can explain how a super cell becomes super. So a place to hide might come in handy when “ascribe to the Lord” whips up a storm and strips the oak trees bare. There are times when our personal world is shaken and all pretense of being in control is broken so that bowed low we are tempted to ascribe to the Lord blame rather than glory. The psalmist believes God is responsible for everything – the good, the bad, and the in-between – and so praise and plea are the same thing. O Lord, give strength to your people is as much a prayer for the blessing of peace as it is a promise for a place to hide.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

The Baptism of Our Lord - Genesis 1:1-5

Genesis 1:1-5

The debate about creation tends to argue about how long it took to get the formless void to take the shape we recognize. Personally I don’t think the account is about how long it took, but I am perfectly willing to accept that if God wanted the challenge of creation in six twenty-four hour days God was up to it. I find the more difficult question to be why. Some will say that it was out of love that God said, “Let there be light” but I am sure the universe would have been just as happy as a formless void without the darkness humanity has visited upon it. I know I wouldn’t care if I’d never been. How would I even know the difference? So I don’t think the first act of creation was about us. It was about God’s need to bring order to chaos so that God’s creative nature could be expressed in the crowning achievement of creation. And though the scriptures record Adam’s reaction to Eve as “flesh of my flesh” I image God’s reaction after breathing life into the dust that became flesh to be so similar as to be the same. So I stand corrected. It was all about love.