Friday, October 29, 2010

Reformation - conclusion

Jeremiah 31:27-34; Psalm 46; Romans 3:19-28; John 8:31-36
I suppose I should have said something about being Lutheran this week, after all Reformation is the Lutheran 4th of July and you wouldn’t celebrate independence without some flag waving and fireworks. So here is a Luther quote that might make a bang, “If I am not allowed to laugh in heaven, I don't want to go there.” Which I think he was only able to say because of this flag waving quote, “Faith is a living, bold trust in God's grace, so certain of God's favor that it would risk death a thousand times trusting in it.” Radical trust is what it means to be a Christian of the Lutheran flavor even though Lutherans, like everyone else would prefer a cross the t and dot the i system where God had to play by rules we understand and ultimately control. But to trust that God loves with no strings attached, no down payment required, because God’s very nature is love means God’s love is truly free. I don’t mean all paths lead to the same truth. Only Jesus crossed the t and dotted the i in the way that means no one else has to. There is only one way, only one truth, only one life that makes this life and forever life possible. So what if we were to say this Reformation Sunday that we’d be willing to risk death a thousand times if the laughter in heaven came from more people than our limited knowledge and doctrine allows for? But then why wait? A bold trust in God’s grace means we don’t have to wait for heavenly laugher for whenever we are so certain of God’s favor to live at peace with all people, especially those who disagree with us – even fellow Lutherans – the laughter in heaven is God’s.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Reformation - John 8:31-36

What do you mean by saying, “You will be made free?” It is a good question even if those asking aren’t looking for an answer. They believe their heritage is the only truth that matters, though their ancestors were slaves in Egypt and they themselves are subject to Roman occupation. And these are Jews who believed in Jesus! But before one can understand the truth that frees, one must know the truth about oneself. The trouble with coming to know the truth about oneself is our inherent gift for self deception, rationalizing attitudes and actions that conflict with being disciples continuing in the word. If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. So Jesus tells the truth about them and about us which when heard is the beginning of being set free by and for a greater truth. Living the truth of the Son that sets us free from our everyday being in bondage to the true word about us is what it means to be disciples remaining in the word which is to say, you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Reformation - 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 26, 2010

Reformation - Psalm 46

No Fear. It is more than a bumper sticker declaration of one’s willingness to engage in reckless behavior. The “No Fear” of Psalm 46 is not found in bravado but in being still in the refuge and strength of God’s very present help. Be still when mountains tremble. Be still when waters roar and foam. Be still when nations collide and kingdoms totter. Be still when your place on the planet is less than secure, when troubles rise and circumstances conspire against you. Be still. The help that comes in the morning is available through the night for the Lord of Hosts with us, stills us. Don’t get me wrong. There is plenty to fear and much to lament. But God in our midst, like a stream making glad, enters times of trouble turning them and us into holy habitations. No fear does not wait for a day to come but living fully into the present pauses in stillness inviting the eternal into the everyday so that with the psalmist we will not fear even if…

Monday, October 25, 2010

Reformation - Jeremiah 31:27-34

Jeremiah 31:27-34
Every now and then the prophet Jeremiah was given a good word to speak and that makes the promise of “the days are surely coming” noteworthy. Even so none of the people to whom these words were written saw the day that would surely come. They died in the land of their enemy sitting by the waters of Babylon weeping the songs of Zion. Or they were the remnant who returned home only to find ruins not easily rebuilt and vineyards destroyed difficult to replant. But because “the days are surely coming…” was believed despite sour grapes setting teeth on edge it was more than just a fairy tale ending for a people plucked up and broken down. Believing the promise was the difference between giving up or going on, between living in spite of or dying because of, and whether they knew it or not it is what it means to know the Lord. And so it is for us who endure hardship and persevere through difficult days knowing in part and seeing dimly all the while waiting for another day that will surely come, when we catch up with the least and the greatest who have gone on ahead of us and know the Lord fully for they see Him face to face.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Pentecost 22c - Conclusion

Jeremiah 14:7-10;19-22; Psalm 84:1-7; 2 Timothy 4:6-8; 16-18; Luke 18:9-14

Aubrey, the Thursday morning boot camp instructor at LA Fitness, said yesterday that we’re not afraid of change or what it takes to make it happen which is why we come to boot camp. That was right before some body changing torture disguised as exercise. When in the middle of a leg numbing lift your boot camp instructor cries out, “Oh my GOODNESS!!!” you think to yourself I’ve changed enough, thank you very much. The lessons for Pentecost 22c are about the change which comes only when one does the hard work to make it so. The children of Israel doing the hard work of honest confession set their hope once again in the God they had forsaken. The Psalmist having come through the Valley of Tears is strong in the Lord because of it. Paul, experiencing hardship, desertion and attack has none-the-less fought the good fight and finished the race. And though the tax collector is lifted up and the Pharisee brought low both, perhaps, are in need of change; the Pharisee a change of heart and the tax collector a change of behavior. That kind of hard work always leads one to cry out “Oh, my goodness!” which is as much a prayer as it is an exclamation.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Pentecost 22c - Luke 18:9-14

Luke 18:9-14
The Pharisee standing by himself is imprisoned by his piety and for all his tithing and fasting and righteous living he is farther away from God than the tax collector standing far off. The tax collector in the company of thieves, rouges and adulterers is equally imprisoned by his impiety but closer to God because of his humility (or is it shame?) which is entirely appropriate for the life he lives and the company he keeps. Of course he is still far off, physically and spiritually, despite being justified for knowing who he is. He will never be able to lift his head or give his breast a break until being justified goes beyond saying I’m sorry. But the parable is not about the tax collector nor does it encourage us to “go and do likewise.”  The parable is about people whose pride in practicing religion makes the practice of religion meaningless despite all the effort put into ordering life by religious practices. One cannot be close to God standing by oneself. So perhaps being close to God is to live like a Pharisee and pray like a tax collector?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Pentecost 22c - 2 Timothy 4:6-8; 16-18

The lectionary skips verses 9 – 15 but as usual I think the lectionary people have made a mistake. The laundry list of names and places and the cloak and books and parchments left in Troas make Paul’s fighting the good fight and finishing the race sound a lot like ours. Granted Paul accomplished more than we have but verses 9 -15 reveal the apostle who wrote most of the New Testament as a man who forgets his cloak in Troas and asks a friend to bring it to him because presumably he’s cold. But more important than identifying with his forgetfulness we understand how faithful friends become the agents used by the Lord to rescue us from the lion’s mouth. Paul, deserted by Demas and harmed greatly by Alexander, is rescued from evil attacks because of friends like Luke who is with him and Mark who is useful and of course Timothy who sends cloak and books and above all the parchments which may have become the letter that includes the verses the lectionary people left out.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Pentecost 22c - Psalm 84:1-7

If you Google the valley of Baca you’ll find out we’ve all been there. Baca is Hebrew for weeping, but the point is not that we are familiar with the geography but that in the passing through God promises to turn the valley of tears into a place of springs and pools of peace. It is not a pie in the sky the sun will come up tomorrow bet your bottom dollar promise, but God’s guarantee for souls that long for lovely dwelling places. Strength in the Lord will not disappoint. It is in the “as they go through” that we “go from strength to strength” and though the song of hope might be sung for a time with weeping eyes through clenched teeth joy will come on the morrow as pilgrim clasps the hand of pilgrim and the song of victory swells to fill the valley of tears with shouts of joy for the living God.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Pentecost 22c - Jeremiah 14:7-10:19-22

"The Prophet Jeremiah" by Marc Chagall, 1968
There are some who would connect current events in this country with these passages about the Israel of Jeremiah’s day. Both nations chosen by God forsake the tried and true Jehovah for false (little g) gods and subsequently pay the price as (big G) God stews in silence and then vents in violence. I don’t buy it and Lord forgive me if I’m wrong but I don’t think the God who goes to the cross rejects, loathes, spurns or dishonors anyone, let alone those who actually believe in (big G) God. On the other hand there are times in our individual and collective lives when our apostasies are many and loving to wander we do not restrain our feet from places that corrupt. When our wandering leads us into lost and lonely places it seems to us as it did to Jeremiah; God is a stranger in the land, a traveler turning aside for the night, a mighty warrior who cannot give help. Looking for peace we find no good, yearning for healing we find terror instead until at last we come to our senses and stop rejecting, loathing, spurning and dishonoring God returning to the One who is our hope and our Savior in times of trouble, especially when the trouble is trouble we have created for ourselves.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Pentecost 21c - Conclusion

Genesis 32:22-31; Psalm 121; 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5; Luke 18:1-8

We live in a time when a good number of people have opted out of the religious life.  But that should not surprise us when religion is reduced to a rigid set of rules dividing the world into us and them, good and bad, saved and damned. But the opposite is equally unconvincing as religion seeking to be all things to all people ends up being no-things speaking to no one. The compelling truth is somewhere in between rigid rules and self-indulgence. The lessons for Pentecost 21c acknowledge the difficulties life presents and paint a more realistic and compelling reason for the life of faith. Wrestling through the night with the One who cannot be overcome leads one limping to do what both know must be done. Lifting eyes to the hills where there is little hope leads one to see the just in time Lord in the midst of trouble. Persistent faith means we hear and more importantly live the truth despite hard of hearing itching ears. And praying always without losing heart is where faith makes the waiting life a life worth living.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Pentecost 21c - Luke 18:1-8

The promise of a quick response to the cries of the chosen ones would seem to contradict the point of the parable. We are to pray always and not lose heart, like a widow wearing down an unjust judge with continual coming, but then the day and night cry gets an answer without delay. So which is it? Pray for a long time with no answer or justice granted quickly? Maybe finding faith on earth is what the praying parable is really all about. We focus our prayers on everyday needs and as important as those things are to us and others the more important point of the parable is the persistence of faith that waits when the return is long delayed with no end in sight. And if waiting faith remains for the return of the Son of Man, then day and night cries can go without immediate answers in the same way unjust judges can resist persistent widows for some time. That means praying is more about persistent faith than results and the act of praying becomes the faithful answer to whatever prompted prayer in the first place. Or in other words, pray always and do not lose heart.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Pentecost 21c - 2 Timothy 3:14—4:5

The trouble with itchy ears is you can’t hear very well and wandering into myths that distort the truth is bound to follow when one creates God in one’s own image. The God who is love, first last and always, also puts limitations on liberty and demands more than just the desire of one’s heart with consequences to come should one fail to live up to the sound teaching of the truth. Sound teaching doesn’t always sit well with us, partly because we prefer not hear the truth about ourselves. But the sacred writings reveal the God who is both and. Both the one who is just and the one who justifies is how Paul puts it to the Romans. Which is why the sound teaching of the Lutheran doctrine of Law and Gospel is the cure for hard of hearing itchy ears. The Law is not diminished by the Gospel, rather it is the necessary first word about us and our world so that convicted by the just God we are drawn to the God who justifies for the Gospel trumps the Law and its demands and reveals the ultimate truth of God’s desire that all would be saved and come to the knowledge of truth. (1 Timothy 2:4)

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Pentecost 21c - Psalm 121

Easter window at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Irving TX designed by Robert Werberig
The window tells the story of the wounded God who at the crack of dawn keeps His promise, raising the Christ who died for our redemption. Since then, people who bear the mark of the Son follow in His tradition, engaged in the tasks of raising others from death. Each such resurrection here is a small signal of the great resurrection yet to come.

Psalm 121
Psalm 121 is read at funerals during or right after the procession from hearse to graveside. It is spoken by the living on behalf of the one whose eyes closed in death now gaze upon the maker of heaven and earth. It is a defiant declaration that death will not have the last word for the help that comes from the Lord turns the isolation and darkness of the grave into the gateway of the communal life in light everlasting. On Sunday the living faithful gathered at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Irving TX to remember and give thanks for Robert Werberig, pastor and theologian of the church. I remember he once told a group of pastors that ministry wasn’t all that complicated. Just preach the Gospel and pray like a dog. I’ve tried to do both ever since. But more important than remembering Bob was remembering the Lord who was not slow to help him but arrived just in time so that hearing the last line of the 23rd psalm Robert’s final breath here was his first breath in the place where the Lord neither slumbering nor sleeping preserves his life from this time forth and forevermore. Godspeed, Bob. You will be missed until the day when we who know in part and see as through a mirror dimly will know fully and see face to face even as you do now.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Pentecost 21c - Genesis 32:22-33

Genesis 32:22-33
It is the story of a younger brother who stole from his older brother and then ran away. After a long time he comes home and anticipating the worst puts off meeting with his brother one more day. All night long he wrestles with a man he cannot overcome and in the morning blessed by the struggle he crosses the river to do what must be done. It may be that the story is literally true and a cage match with God was necessary for Jacob to be Israel, but I think on another level we’ve all camped by that river and wrestled with that man until finally sick and tired of losing sleep we did what needed to be done.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Pentecost 20c - conclusion

2 Kings 5:1-17; Psalm 111; 2 Timothy 2:3-15; Luke 17:11-19

The texts for Pentecost 20c include two tales of lepers being healed, a “Praise the Lord” psalm and the exhortation to endure suffering like a solider. If this were the list for standardized test the question might be which of the four does not belong. The answer appears to be d.) to endure suffering like a solider. But then there is plenty of enduring patience in the other texts so maybe it’s a trick question. The little girl endures slavery in a foreign land but has mercy on her master and gives him what all the wealth and power in the world could not. The Praise the Lord is prompted by God remembering the covenant and the needs of the people who wait for food and justice and redemption. The ten lepers living lost in the land between have endured isolation and prejudice until healed by Jesus, even if only one is made fully whole. Timothy the young preacher endures suffering for the sake of the people given to him by God that truth rightly explained might obtain for all who hear, the salvation that is in Christ Jesus. Oh yes, and I endured the suffering of losing my complete 2010 folder in Outlook (Wednesday’s blog) until a cadre of techies came to the rescue. Of course by that time I had already decided to go with the magic fairy dust (aka reboot and hope for the best) and low and behold it has reappeared. Praise the Lord!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Pentecost 20c - Luke 17:11-19

The ten lepers meet the Lord in the land between religiously unclean Samaria and racially unclean Galilee of the Gentiles. They are nine Jews and one Samaritan bound together by their disease for in leprosy there is neither Jew nor Samaritan for all are equally unclean. Keeping the required distance they cry out for mercy. Jesus does not disappoint, though “Go and show yourselves to the priests” must have seemed premature as they are not healed until they turn and do as they are told. The one who turns back is the hero, of course, the dirty foreigner more clean than the nine Jewish ex lepers and Jesus makes a point of it but not just as a reminder to be thankful and praise God. It has more to do with a plea for mercy when living lost in the land between. The faith that restored the one restored the nine as well because the cry for mercy from Jesus the master was the act of faith and the turning to go and show was obedience even before healing happened. But the turning back one knows it and the nine do not. The benefit in knowing is that even when skin is clean and health restored one can still live lost in the land between. So faith to be made well is not about skin condition but about the condition of one’s soul which is well when the mercy of God is recognized and praised. And when the soul is well the whole body is clean.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Pentecost 20c - 2 Timothy 2:3-15

2 Timothy 2:3-15
I’ve been suffering this afternoon, but not as a good soldier of Christ. I opened my Outlook to find an email and noticed that my 2010 folder was missing – as in gone – as in no where to be found even after making all the folder and subfolder +’s  into –‘s. I’m hoping those who know more about this sort of thing than I do will be able to share in my suffering and find my missing folder. We live in a vastly different world than Timothy or his mentor Paul but I am convinced some things will always remain the same. Wrangling over words, which the church has elevated to an art form, only leads to ruin. God would be better served and the Gospel more powerfully proclaimed if we would turn all our –‘s to +’s and by that, of course, I mean the cross.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Pentecost 20c - Psalm 111

 Psalm 111
Praise the Lord! I will give thanks to the Lord with a good bit of my heart for my long time partner in ministry Janelle Miller, though I won’t make a big deal about her in the company of the upright, even though the upright at Calvary know she’s a big deal. It might seem odd that I would talk about a person when the psalm’s focus is on the Lord but then the Lord is not known except through people and while Calvary’s Director of Youth and Family doesn’t do anything on her own she blessed the Heinze family on Sunday afternoon by organizing an event called Taste Worship. One of the components of connecting in more meaningful ways with members of your family is by affirming them but, and here’s the real point of all this, when you affirm something good in another you are recognizing God’s gift in them which means you are praising the Lord which is what worship is all about. So worship the Lord today by affirming the people with whom you live and do life. Praise the Lord!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Pentecost 20c - 2 Kings 5:1-17

2 Kings 5:1-17
She is a minor character, not even named; a little girl stolen from home and made a slave in the house of her enemy. But she has pity on her mighty master afflicted with a skin disease that diminishes all his accomplishments. At her bidding he goes to her little land with gifts expecting to be greeted royally, but the little girl’s prophet sends his servant to give instructions to the mighty man. Insulted, he would leave as he came but his servants convince him to do what he was told; wash and be clean in a dirty, little river. Humbled by his disease, desperate to be clean, he obeys and is made whole. The little girl sends the mighty man to a little country with a mighty prophet so the mighty man might regain the skin of a little boy. It is as Jesus said. “I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it."

Friday, October 1, 2010

Pentecost 19c - Conclusion

Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4, Psalm 37:1-9, 2 Timothy 2:1-14, Luke 17:1-10
Some fifteen years ago I gave up the Buckeyes for the Long Horns because two Ohio transplants did the Texas Two Step and had a native born son. I didn’t feel it was right to make my son follow an out of state team so after considering all the options Joshua and I picked the Horns. I know our home town bleeds purple and has a fine school Pr. Kyle loves - although the folks at Dutch’s take a long time to get a burger to a hungry man wearing burnt orange – but to be fair fifteen years ago the Frogs were without a prince to kiss. Now the Bucks are #2, the Frogs are #5 and Texas… well, it doesn’t matter because thanks to some kind members of Calvary (who would grow horns if they could) Josh and I will be sitting on the 40 yard line behind the OU bench doing what true fans do – wear your colors and root for your team no matter what. I have my father to thank for that. He’s a Chicago Cub's fan. As the week wore on I found myself connecting the texts for Pentecost 19c with the state of the church which by all accounts is in decline. For a long time the church has been a front runner and with little effort was able to declare, “We’re #1”. Now the people in the pews are decreasing in number even as their collective age is increasing. We could lament that statistic and despair or with Amos we could write the vision that does not lie in letters larger than life. With the psalmist we can delight in the Lord and despite the present difficulty chose not to fret. With young Timothy the faith rekindled will light a fire in a new generation who will not be ashamed to live the life of love. And hearing the word of Jesus we of mustard seed faith will uproot what appears impossible and plant it in places improbable. “Hook em Horns!”