Thursday, September 30, 2010

Pentecost 19c - Luke 17:5-10

Luke 17:5-10

“Increase our faith” is a reasonable request and in the asking the disciples are obviously hoping for an answer in the affirmative. Instead Jesus appears to rebuke them. If you would use the faith you have you wouldn’t ask for more. The mulberry tree uprooted and planted in the sea means even the smallest amount of faith can accomplish what otherwise appears impossible, or even foolish, for who would plant a tree in the sea? Luke doesn’t record the disciple’s response but I imagine they were disappointed by Jesus’ answer and maybe a little confused as to what Jesus meant by commanding trees to be uprooted and planted in places trees are not meant to be. Years later with mustard seed faith they would understand that doing what they were commanded to do was not so much about faith as obedience. Speaking the truth by the command of Christ their mustard seed faith would move an empire to be planted in the faith it once tried to uproot. So what might this mean for those of us who are accustomed to compliments for faithful service? It might mean that increasing in faith is not a prerequisite for using what we have and that in the exercise of mustard seed faith we are uprooted from the familiar and safe places and planted in the sea.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Pentecost 19c - 2 Timothy 1:1-14

2 Timothy 2:1-14
The sincere faith that first lived in Lois and Eunice might not be the best thing to rekindle in Timothy given the suffering Paul is experiencing. But something about that faith was so compelling that a presumably loving grandmother and mother believed Timothy would be better off confessing the faith than not, even though it might lead to imprisonment or death. The spirit of power and of love and of self discipline was not for cowards in the first century. According to church tradition Timothy was beaten, dragged through the streets of Ephesus and stoned to death for preaching what Lois and Eunice and Paul persuaded him was sound teaching of which one should not be ashamed. In twenty-first century America participation in the sound teaching of faith and love carries no threat of persecution and yet according to a decade worth of polls is in serious decline amongst those in both the Eunice and Timothy age demographic. A whole generation has been lost to the holy calling of God’s purpose and grace and Eunice is wondering why. It could be that the most dangerous threat to the faith was to neuter it by making it mainstream until a majority of people could claim to be Christian without practicing or participating in any communal expression of it. The new buzz word is to be spiritual but not religious which in the long term will mean one is neither and the faith that was worth dying for will simply be irrelevant. So what do we do? We do what Paul preached to his beloved child Timothy - rekindle the gift of God, the sound teaching of the faith and love that is in Christ Jesus. Move out of the mainstream and into the marketplace. Do not be ashamed to give a reason for the hope that you have and with gentleness and respect be people of persuasion for the good treasure entrusted to us is worth sharing.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Pentecost 19c - Psalm 37:1-9

Psalm 37:1-9
Wicked wrongdoers appear to have it made, prospering in their own way, living large, as they say. The righteous are tempted to fret that the wicked get away with wrongdoing or even envy the life of ease produced by evil devices. But the Lord promises the ways of the wicked will fade while those who trust in the Lord and do good will never whither. Trusting in the Lord and doing good, while waiting patiently for God to act, is itself a reward that does not disappoint and the desire of the heart that delights in the Lord is a life free from fret. Now that’s living large.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Pentecost 19c - Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4

I attended the Mission Council meeting of the Northern Texas Northern Louisiana Mission Area this weekend which was held at Briarwood Lutheran Retreat Center near Copper Canyon, TX. I always go for an early morning run through the subdivision next to the camp when I stay there and this Saturday was no exception. About half way into my run it started to rain so I turned around and even though I’ve run those streets a dozen times before I must have made a wrong turn and suddenly the way back didn’t look anything like the way I’d come. I kept running because I was soaked already and still had songs on my playlist. (It’s one of my running rules – you can’t stop until the music does) Just when I thought I’d have to give up and ask for help I saw the large gates that mark the way in and for me the way out. The answer to the prophet’s plea, “How long, O Lord” is a vision written so a runner may read it. It is for people lost and lonely, surrounded by strife whose eyes see only wrong-doing and trouble. It is a word for the weary whose play list is played out and just when it appears as if there is no help, help appears. The vision does not lie and is as plain as the gates that even through the pouring rain mark the way out which is the end of running and beginning of rest.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Pentecost 18c - conclusion

Amos 6:4-7; Psalm 146; 1 Timothy 6:6-19; Luke 16: 19-31

From Amos’s “alas” to the rich man’s fate the texts for Pentecost 18c would seem to be a warning to the rich and a promise to the poor. But if the rich heed the warning and give away their wealth to provide the promise to the poor then the roles are just reversed and the poor, now rich, will be warned while the rich, now poor, will receive the promise and nothing will have changed. No. The word for poor and rich alike is in the godliness combined with contentment that Paul encourages in Timothy. To live into that place of peace hallows the Sabbath that the merchants of Amos’s day desecrate by their greed. To be content is to trust with the psalmist that the Lord will make good on the promise to provide what the princes cannot. And for the money loving Pharisees the punch line of the parable is a promise that the one telling the joke will have the last laugh. But the best laugh will be when money loving Pharisees and poor disciples sit down to dine at the same table because the Lord will not be content with anything less.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Pentecost 18c - Luke 16:19-31

It appears there is a great chasm between the table of the rich and the poor at the gate that is as fixed as the one between Hades and Abraham’s bosom and the only thing the rich man can count on is that his brothers will be joining him sometime in the future. The lesson to be learned seems to be a Christian version of Karma which means we would do well to make a down payment on a mansion in glory by moving into a homeless shelter in the here and now. But that’s the problem with paying too much attention to the details of a parable which are only there to set up the punch line. According to Luke the crowds to whom Jesus first told the joke included money loving Pharisees but I doubt many of them laughed when they heard it. While they claimed to listen to Moses and the prophets their love of money and neglect of the poor at the gate violated the very teachings they claimed to follow. The irony is that the raising of the real life Lazarus led them to believe Jesus had to die in order to save the nation (John 11:45-53) and because of that we, who believe because someone rose from the dead, listen to Moses and the prophets today. But if we don’t want the joke to be told on us we will bridge the chasm between the table of the rich, where we often sit, and the poor at the gate, which we hardly visit, with acts of charity, mercy and kindness motivated not by a need to avoid Hades but the desire to make the world we live in look a little more like Abraham’s bosom.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Pentecost 18c - 1 Timothy 6:6-19

Contentment is the kind of commodity that can’t be bought but is worth whatever it costs to possess. Trouble is you can’t just go out and get it because it is a gift and largely goes unnoticed by those who have it. By that I mean you don’t just wake up one morning and say, “I will be content today” and then go about your business. On the other hand a daily practice of taking time to “be” before getting on with the “do” of the day has a cumulative effect and at some point the gift of contentment wakes up with you and the doing and the being are closer to looking like the same thing. The apostle encourages contentment in his young protégé and the people of Timothy’s parish by putting the things of life into proper perspective so that the life that really is life will not be obscured by the temptation of treasure which is the illusion of living. Martin Luther would agree and said it this way. “This life, therefore, is not godliness but the process of becoming godly, not health but getting well, not being but becoming, not rest but exercise. We are not now what we shall be, but we are on the way.” I feel better already.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Pentecost 18c - Psalm 146

The Lord does not operate in a vacuum and the vision cast by the psalm cannot be realized without corrective lenses. In the real world the oppressed do not see justice without assistance and the hungry are not fed without being invited to dinner. The only praise of the Lord that makes a difference to the Lord is the praise that makes a difference to those the Lord loves; the blind, the prisoner, the stranger, the orphan, the widow, the ones bowed down by the weight of the world. In the meantime the wicked would helped by those who love the Lord when reminded that the only hope they have is that the Lord will revive them once their plans perish.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Pentecost 18c - Amos 6:1-7

Amos’s “alas” could have been written for our time when bad loans repackaged in new paper have brought the mortgage industry house of cards crashing down and the rest of the economy with it. Those most responsible seem to have gotten a get out jail free card and while the politicians point fingers at each other no one is grieving over the ruin of “Joseph” except the “Josephs” losing jobs and homes and for many any hope of finding gainful employment again. In the land of endless distraction we can be like those lounging on couches listening to idle music oblivious to the fact that shuttered storefronts represent real people who longue not in luxury but for lack of a job and whose only song is a lament. The word of Amos was a warning that went unheeded by those at ease in Zion secure on Mount Samaria until the Assyrians came knocking on the door with an eviction notice. Whether we recover from this crisis or not the way we heed this warning is to grieve with and for those who suffer loss of home and livelihood while at the same time acting on the word of James 2:14-17 by providing comfort, support and shelter as we are able. In so doing we anticipate the day when alas will be alleluia and we find our place in the many rooms of the Father’s house.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Pentecost 17c - Conclusion

David Allan Coe cover of Bob Dylan's  "Serve Sombody"

Amos 8:4-7; Psalm 113; 2 Timothy 2:1-7; Luke 16:1-13

I may be grasping at straws but I’m going to say the thread that runs through the texts for Pentecost 17c is about making a choice. Those consumed by greed, devaluing the Sabbath by a lust for commerce, have the choice of listening to Amos’s, “hear this!” or not, but God swears by the pride of Jacob not to forget if they choose to close their ears. The psalmist sings the forever song of the Lord above all nations who chooses for the poor and needy making room for them at the tables of princes. Paul instructs Timothy to practice the politics of prayer, even for those who persecute you, and choose a quiet and peaceable life that the God who desires all to be saved will be revealed. And in the Gospel the parable that defies an easy explanation concludes with the observation that you cannot serve two masters. Or as Bob Dylan sings it, “You gonna have to serve somebody” so make a choice.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Pentecost 17c - Luke 16:1-13

Luke 16:1-13
I don’t know what Jesus is thinking as friends made by dishonest wealth are more than likely “friends in low places” (Garth Brooks) and one wonders what sort of eternal home they own. But that’s the problem with this parable. It doesn’t fit any of the familiar parable patterns where the characters are clearly defined and the conclusions to be drawn are obvious. In this case compound cheating with interest is commended and the children of light are encouraged to imitate the children of this age. But maybe we are not to put much stock in the master’s admiration of the dishonest steward, after all he is still without employment and there is no guarantee that the friends gained by dishonesty will prove trustworthy. What if we are not meant to put this story into a neat parable package that can be filed away and forgotten? Maybe the point of the parable is in the unsettling nature of it and the lesson to be learned is that it reveals the truth about our attempt to serve two masters by neither hating wealth nor fully loving God.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Pentecost 17c - 1 Timothy 2:1-8

Can we make supplication, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings for a king, or in our time elected officials, while at the same time engaging in the time honored American tradition of treating those voted into high positions with disdain or outright contempt? The first Christians had no such choice. The kings and people in high places for whom they were urged to make supplication, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings were actively seeking to put them into the low place of the grave and frankly their most ardent prayer was simply to be left alone. The wisdom of this pastoral letter is not about temporal politics but eternal destiny. God’s most ardent desire is for everyone to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. If our practice of politics contradicts a quiet and peaceable life then we are to choose godliness and dignity above partisan positions for the sake of the One who gave himself as a ransom for all. Even so this text does not prohibit passionate engagement in the political process. It just reminds us that what is right and acceptable is to make supplication, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings for the ones we want out of high places, keeping in mind that God passionately loves the person we might disagree with as a politician.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Pentecost 17c - Psalm 113

Psalm 113
I wonder if the princes know the Lord has made room at their tables for the dusty poor, for while they cannot compare to the might and magnitude of God’s majesty they seem quite capable of demanding a dress code that excludes those whose address is the ash heap. I don’t mean to dismiss the psalmist’s all day long praise of the Lord as wishful thinking, but temporal power trumps the Lord when it comes to an invitation to the palace. But then temporal power is temporary and praise of the Lord doesn’t end with the setting of the sun but is from this time on and forevermore. That is because the praise the psalmist sings is the forever song that sees beyond the pomp and pageantry of princes puffed up by pride to the day when every knee will bow in heaven and earth and every tongue confess that the prince of peace crucified on the ash heap is the Lord above all nations whose glory fills the heavens. That being said, if our praise is worthy of the Lord we will not wait for the princes to get with the program but as servants of the Lord spend ourselves to raise the poor from the dust and lift the needy from the ash heap and make a home for those whose life is barren. The forever song does not wait for the future but sung in the present anticipates what will be by making what can be happen today. Praise the Lord.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Pentcost 17c - Amos 8:4-7

Amos can cry “Hear this” all he wants but those who make the ephah small and the shekel great are deaf to the cries of the poor and needy. Neither do they fear God whose Sabbath day of rest is an interruption to predatory practices where profit is the only bottom line that counts. Consumed by greed they sell even what is swept from the threshing floor so that there is nothing left for charity. The world enamored by wealth and power admires such single minded devotion to succeed at all costs as a sign of superiority but God sees the plight of the poor, hears the cries of the needy, listens to the prayers of those sold for a sandal and swears to never forget. Does that mean God is against profit? No. What Amos calls into question and what God will never forget is when profit comes at the expense of the poor. It should not escape our attention that God chose to be born into poverty and that our attitude towards the poor and needy is a direct reflection of our devotion to the God whose love is the only profit that really counts.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Pentecost 16c - Conclusion

Exodus 32:7-14; Psalm 51:1-10; 1 Timothy 1:12-17; Luke 15:1-10
I’ve been debating a major change for some time. Truth to be told (by my knees) I should have made up my mind 100 miles ago. Do I stay with the shoe I’ve bought four times in a row - the always dependable ASICS GT 2100 series - or forsake proven performance for the promise of Runner’s World’s #1 debut shoe, the Nike LunarGlide+ with the DYNAMIC SUPPORT system? Frankly, my knees could care less as long as I get something soon! The texts for Pentecost 16c are all about change. Moses changes the Lord’s mind so that the stiff necked people are spared. David’s convicted heart (against you only have I sinned) prays to be changed, created clean. Paul’s life (chief of sinners though I be) is changed so that strengthened for service he might change others. And when Pharisees and scribes change their minds about tax collectors and sinners the carpenter turned shepherd rejoices for the point of the parable is that the lost and stay at home find each other.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Pentcost 16c - Luke 15:1-10

I wonder if there was someone in the grumbling crowd who thought the carpenter from Nazareth would make a lousy shepherd. No one leaves the ninety-nine to fend for themselves in the wilderness to search for the one who is lost unless you don’t mind losing at least a few of the ninety-nine. But then with Jesus the point is always in the punch line. There is rejoicing in finding the one who is lost. So Jesus will lose more than a few Pharisees and scribes in order to find a lost tax collector or sinner, but that isn’t the point either is it? I don’t believe Jesus is being sarcastic when he refers to Pharisees and scribes as righteous. No. If he meant to criticize he’d call them a brood of vipers or white washed tombs. Here he acknowledges the hard work of righteous piety that requires no repentance, but in typical Jesus fashion I think it is a set up for what comes next. The story that follows the lost sheep and coin is the one about two lost sons and a waiting father. The hard working stay at home first son who doesn’t realize all the father has is already his and the lost and found younger son who didn’t know what he had until he’d left it all behind. It is for these two lost children that Jesus comes. The righteous Pharisee who works so hard for what is free and the tax collector who gives away everything of value to get what is worthless. But of course the point is in the punch line and when the righteous ninety-nine find the lost sinner and the lost sinner finds the righteous ninety-nine then both are found by God, because there is as much joy in being found as finding.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Pentecost 16c - 1 Timothy 1:12-17

1 Timothy 1:12-17
1 Timothy 1:12 was the theme verse for our mission trip to San Gabriel Lutheran Church in Alvarado where we built a fellowship hall, finished the sanctuary and put on a day camp for the children of the community. On the night before the trip I still hadn’t written the theme song when Lisa (love of my life) gave me the idea to rewrite the lyrics of a catchy tune by Train. The verses work well but I didn't include the bridge and my chorus is a little different than Train’s because I had to add soul brothers who made up the bulk of the building team. But to be fair to our soul sisters they certainly had muscles to make day camp so while our soul brothers in building had love to show. So here it is and if you know the song, feel free to try and sing the blog.

Considered Faithful (1 Timothy 1:12)
Lyrics by Phil Heinze (6/18/2010) Music Soul Sister by Train

Hey-ay, Hey-ay, AY ay ay Hey-ay, AY ay ay
I thank my Lord, who has given me the strength to serve
Considered to be faithful, appointed to God’s service in the Word.
You call to me and you make the dreams I dream in you come true
When earth and heaven collide you’re the one who’s on our side /
to make things new.

     Hey soul sister ain’t you got the love to show
     You know you do so make it so in all you do and say you know
     Hey soul brother ain’t you got the muscle to make it so
     You know you do so give it all you got to give today

Hey-ay, Hey-ay, AY ay ay Hey-ay, AY ay ay
In God’s time I’m so glad the Spirit caught my mind
Your love gave me direction, put my faith in action I can’t deny
I’m convinced that God’s love can make a difference
When heart and hand together are joined for sake of service
in God’s name.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Pentecost 16c - Psalm 51:1-10

King David did not pen Psalm 51 without persuasion. It’s not that he didn’t know what he had done. He just thought he'd gotten away with it. It began when glancing over the balcony he caught sight of Bathsheba bathing and “look don’t touch” was not enough to satisfy his lust. But his sweet emotion soon turned sour when “the rabbit done died” (Aerosmith) and the consequence of carnal knowledge with another’s wife threatened to show. As with most people in power honesty is the last option to be exercised so the offense is compounded as Uriah the righteous husband refusing to cooperate is killed to protect the throne. David might have been able to live with the lie for a long time, most of us can, were it not for the prophet Nathan who tells the story of a rich man stealing a poor man’s lamb and King David unaware that he is the subject of the story demands the death of the offender. “You are the man” is the end of Nathan’s sermon and the beginning of David’s confession. “Against you only have I sinned” might appear to put Bathsheba into the backseat again, save for the understanding that violating the sanctity of another human being is always a crime against the One to whom all life is precious. That might be the one thing that David gets right and in the end makes him the man after God’s own heart. If our confession acknowledges God as the one we wrong when we harm another, including self, maybe the only persuasion we need in order to be honest with ourselves and others is the desire to return to the God “who cherishes our original innocence” (comment by Erik on last week’s blog) and wants nothing more than to continually create in us clean hearts.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Pentecost 16c - Exodus 32:7-14

Emil Nolde (1867-1956) Dance Around the Golden Calf - 1910
God might be regretting the promise made to Abraham right about now and in a more irreverent moment one might even imagine the Lord uttering Homer Simpson’s exclamation of resignation… D'oh!!! In the end the Lord’s mind is changed to protect the Lord’s name and preserve the promise to the dysfunctional patriarchal family tree so that the disaster visited upon the stiff necked people won’t turn the Lord into the subject of an Egyptian joke. It is a very human image of God that any loving parent of a willfully disobedient child might recognize. God is stuck with these people brought out of Egypt with mighty power and outstretched hand and throughout the wilderness wandering will have to be talked down from the precipice of hot wrath burning against ungrateful people. No other God puts up with such disrespect or is as long suffering as the God of Israel. I wonder if through the changing of the mind God’s mind becomes fixed to forgive in a far more dramatic way when disaster visited upon the Christ means God’s mind cannot be moved away from mercy no matter how many golden calves are created by God’s own people. Oh but surely there is a consequence for worshipping false idols? Of course there is. The idol you worship is false. Or in other words; you can’t get milk or mercy from a golden calf.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Pentecost 15c - conclusion

Deuteronomy 30:15-20; Psalm 1; Philemon 1; Luke 14:25-33

Sarah Beth, my Tuesday night yoga instructor, always invites us into more advanced poses with “if you so choose.’ Of course what she assumes is that a choice can be made when instructed to keep forearms on the floor and with arched back lift feet up and over the head so that feet and forearms are pointing in the same direction aka the Scorpion pose. I so choose every time. It’s my body that is “just say no.” The lessons for Pentecost 15c are about choices and the consequences that follow. The children of Israel about to enter the land can keep the Lord’s commands which will lead to life and prosperity or choose to disobey which will lead to death and adversity. The psalmist can sit in the seat of scoffers and perish with the ways of the wicked or meditate on the Law of the Lord and be like a tree planted by the water. Philemon can accept Onesimus as a brother for the sake of Christ and receive the refreshment of restored relationship or have Onesimus put to death and lose his friend and mentor Paul. The crowds following Jesus can pick up the cross and follow which will mean going where Jesus goes or hold onto all the things of this world and let Jesus go it alone. Of course all that assumes that choices can be made when like my scorpion pose the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. On the other hand there was a day when I began my practice that even the simplest of poses were beyond the ability of my “if you so choose” but having so chosen consistently the body that was weak is stronger and I am closer to the day when my scorpion will no longer sting me.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Pentecost 15c - Luke 14:25-33

Luke 14:25-33
The first Christians didn’t have to wonder what in the world did Jesus mean by carrying the cross or hating family relationships or even life itself. The cost of discipleship was not hypothetical or expressed by increased personal piety or putting an extra something in the offering plate. They carried real crosses to places of crucifixion. They were kicked out of synagogues, disowned by families, excluded from participating in commerce and dragged into courts for confessing Christ. Our problem, if we want to call it that, is no one cares if we follow Christ or not and we are certainly not persecuted for our beliefs. Oh I know we can’t have officially endorsed Christian prayer in secular schools anymore and the Christ has gone missing from Christmas and media caricatures of Christians are generally negative, but do you really want to compare that to being torn apart by wild beasts in the arena? I get a tax break from the IRS for being a minister for goodness sake! No. We are still very much in the mainstream of societal life and so our counting the cost is not nearly as expensive as it was in the past or is in the present for Christians in places like the Sudan or Palestine or Iraq. So how do we count the cost when where we live subsidizes and even celebrates our belief system rather than trying to stamp it out? Speaking for myself I will confess that whatever I do it will not be enough, not because I can’t but because at some level I won’t. I have grown comfortable with one foot planted firmly in the world I love while trying to keep a toe hold in the land I long for. I have borrowed against the unfinished building and accepted terms of peace even before counting the opposing forces. But then that is why Jesus was crucified isn’t it? For the cost I am unwilling to pay, the cross I won’t carry, the ways I will not forsake. Well yes. Yes it is. But that cannot be where it ends. There is, I believe, a hope in the heart of the One who carried the cross for us that one day in our confession of not being willing, feet firmly planted in the ways of the world will slip and toes will take a firmer grip in the world that will be until standing up in the here and now those who won’t… finally will.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Pentecost 15c - Philemon 1

At some point during its history the church decided a short personal correspondence was worth including in the collection that would become the New Testament. Maybe even a laundry list signed by the apostle Paul would have made the cut. Who knows? Its inclusion in the lectionary means that people in the pew rediscover it every three years. Onesimus, the runaway slave, will be put to death unless Paul can persuade Philemon to pardon him. He uses all his powers of persuasion, including some that border on the manipulative, but in the end appeals to his relationship with Philemon. Paul loves Onesimus as a child and Philemon as a brother and does not want to lose either one. The happy ending is that Philemon forgives Onesimus and welcomes him into his household as a brother and Paul breathes a sigh of relief. But it is more than just an interesting story with a happy ending. Lives were hanging in the balance. Onesimus will be put to death. Philemon will lose a relationship with Paul whose ministry changed Philemon’s life. Paul will lose a child and a brother. It is the stuff of our stories where one family member pleads for the sake of another that a relationship restored might bring refreshment. It is the stuff of God’s story where the Son is sent to bring back all who have run away that the family circle be unbroken in the here and now and in the forever home. Maybe Philemon is where the Bible’s rubber hits the road and the master forgiving the slave because he loves Jesus as much as he owes the apostle is why the little letter belongs in the Book.