Friday, December 30, 2011

Christmas 1b - conclusion

Seraphina got a Parelli® bit for Christmas which turned out to be a great gift for me as well, or anyone else who rides my Arabian mare. It’s like she’s a different horse although it may be that with this bit I’m a different rider. Lisa, love of my life, but sometimes annoying know it all equestrian (because she is) tells me it’s because “Phina” fought against the snaffle we were using since it put undue pressure on her tongue. The Parelli bit doesn’t do that and consequently she doesn’t act like she has a piece of metal in her mouth. I think there is something to be said for the practice of religion that does not put undue pressure on our lives so that we are always in some way fighting against it. Even very pious people that deserve our admiration and seem to have it altogether don’t appear to enjoy it very much. On the other hand those who live without boundaries hurt themselves and others and would benefit from a bit that curbs their enthusiasm. But when horse and rider are one there is nothing more exhilarating or beautiful. So is it is with the life of faith when we respond to the cues of the Lord when the bit is not a burden but a blessing.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Christmas 1b - Luke 2:22-40

Luke 2:22-40
This is another Biblical story I learned by means of the Lutheran liturgy before I could read. We sang the “Nunc Dimittis” (Latin for “Now Dismiss”) after communion (once a month in those days). Of course what I learned was that the service was almost over and we would be dismissed, for which I was always eternally grateful. Even so it was a story that captured my imagination. In my mind Simeon was an old man waiting his whole life for this moment and he died as soon as the song left his lips. But it wasn’t a sad story to me. He got what he wanted. Dismissed in peace having seen what he longed for, his life came to the hoped for conclusion. I am not so sure I know what I hope to be the conclusion of my life and finding myself in the difficult just past the “middle years” I’m can’t imagine my passing at this point would look anything like peace. But then Simeon’s ending is Jesus’ beginning and Jesus’ ending will turn out to be the beginning for Simeon. Which is why he could depart in peace and we will as well, no matter when our last song is sung.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Christmas 1b - Galatians 4:4-7

The Adoration of the Shepherds by Caravaggio, 1609
Galatians 4:4-7
The fullness of time is the pregnant pause in the history of humanity where God, born of Mary, inhabits human flesh only to be worn out like a garment on the cross and be re-robed in resurrection. It is usually lost on people of relative power and prestige – even the 99% enjoy some of the benefits of capitalism – that the Galatians were slaves or women without any rights or privileges. Galatians 4:7 is a big deal to those who have less than nothing. I think we treat it as a birth right and fully expect all the privileges associated with the royalty of the righteous. So maybe the lesson to be learned from this text is that we who hear it as a given realize we have siblings who have trouble believing it and therefore we need to hear it for ourselves as a gift and not a given. And if we act as if we are surprised and delighted by such a gift of grace maybe they will be as well.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Christmas 1b - Psalm 148

Psalm 148
Psalm 148 is an all inclusive “Praise the Lord!” song but unless “Sweet Jesus!” or other less pastor- like expletives count as praise, I’ve not appreciated the song of tempestuous wind doing God’s will on Mustang Island, TX. But maybe that’s the point the psalmist wants to make. Even the things we think of as less than praiseworthy when they address us – fire, hail, creepy things, sea monsters – have to bend the knee, albeit a fin in the case of sea monsters, to the LORD GOD ALMIGHTY.  Sun, moon, stars, mountains, hills, all creatures great and small, all of creation praises God because “the Lord has raised up strength for the people.” But here’s the thing even the creative psalmist could not imagine. God’s strength was made manifest in weakness. The praise of the princes, at least a Procurator named Pilate and a High Priest named Annas, was to silence God’s strength by nailing Jesus to a tree but even the grave itself was compelled to praise the One it could not hold. We are also compelled to praise the one we cannot contain or confine in our holy houses of wood and stone, theologies and rituals. That’s because God is always coming to us in new and surprising ways, not unlike a tempestuous wind that long ago blew through a house depositing fire on the heads of young men and maidens so they could praise God in languages they had never learned.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas 1b - Isaiah 61:10 - 62:3


Isaiah 61:10 - 62:3
It is hard to imagine righteousness and praise springing forth on this overcast day after Christmas in Texas but then I imagine it was easily more difficult for the “captives returned unto Zion” to find reason to rejoice when they first saw the ruins of their beloved Jerusalem. That is what makes the words of the prophet so powerful. We tend to keep silent in times of suffering – stiff upper lip and all that - but Isaiah sings with his whole being of what will be in the midst of what is. Not for his own sake but for the sake of those who cannot sing, who have no hope, who lament of life itself and long for the grave, if only to swallow up their sorrow. But Isaiah’s faith has the audacity to believe the ruins will be rebuilt, the city that is a byword among the nations will be made great and the whole world will be blessed by the beauty of their story. Their story is our story for once we were no people, condemned and cut off, but now we are God’s own people, holy and dearly loved. So do not be silent but in the midst of difficult days sing the sing of salvation in such a way that others will be compelled to join the song, or at least hum along.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas Year B - conclusion

The Calvary Café is closed for the season but we did a special Choir Café on Wednesday (Braised Beef in Red Wine, Asiago Roasted Garlic Mash, sautéed vegetables and a Pastor Phil Salad) because the hand bells and sanctuary choir were practicing for the feast of music that will feed the faithful gathered on Christmas Eve. We invest a lot in a single night that could change the world if only the reason for the season inspired us to do more than just sing peace on earth. This Christmas “War Horse” will most likely be a box office bonanza but the more important and largely ignored story of that war to end all wars was captured in the 2005 film Joyeux Noel.  It tells the story of Christmas 1914 where along some sectors of the western front German, French and English soldiers met in No Man’s Land to exchange gifts and play soccer and sing songs of peace. One wonders if that senseless war could not have ceased at that point except that the generals and politicians and those who profited from the call to arms could not imagine such a cease fire would accomplish what they desired – which had nothing to do with peace, or the reason for season for that matter. So let us sing joyfully of peace on earth tomorrow night but then let us resolve to live the song so far as peace depends on us. (Romans 12:17-18) Merry Christmas!


Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas Year B - Luke 2:1-20

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 Mary was greeted by her baby boy resurrected, which is easily more marvelous than the O Holy Night she treasured.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

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 20, 2011

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 19, 2011

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 relentlesslyremind 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 16, 2011

Advent 4b - conclusion

I read a New York Times article that said retailers are worried people are not keeping pace with what was a successful “Black Friday” start so they are running their Saturday before Christmas sales – the second biggest shopping day of the season – this Saturday. I never worry about how many Saturdays or shopping days are left until Christmas since I always wait until the eve of the season anyway. But while shopping I’m always reminded of the passionate sermon I preached one year against the material aspect of Christmas.  Jack Welty, who was a corporate manager for a retail chain, took me to task. He said he depended on the season – no matter what the reason – to provide not just for his family but all the families that depended on the sales he worked so hard to generate. He was right, of course. But then things are always more complicated than the simple solutions a preacher is tempted to offer in twelve minutes. The reason for the season understood that, which is why the “Black Friday” we call “Good” has nothing to do with sales.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Advent 4b - 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 is 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 14, 2011

Advent 4b - Romans 16:25-27

Romans 16:25-27
The secret kept hidden for long ages but now disclosed never-the-less remains a mystery. God in human flesh, not just as a disguise for the Divine but the Holy “in, with and under” the profane; the immortal, invisible, God only wise born into the little Lord Jesus who cried for Mary’s milk before he fell asleep on the hay. A mystery, yes, but not one beyond our ability to comprehend for it was love that came down and graced our world with beauty and truth and wherever compassion and mercy are made known God is fully present. But humans prefer gods of fire and smoke, of rigid rules and regulations, and by that I mean gods who are more predictable and in many ways more easily manipulated. This God brings about the obedience of faith by entering our reality, the good, the bad and the mundane. So that if we truly want to be about what God is about we have to be more connected to each other and not just the ones who are like us. Touch the leper. Eat with the tax collector. Welcome the sinner. The reverse is true as well as Jesus let a woman scorned touch his feet with tears and another quench his thirst and still another clutch his robe. He called dim disciples to follow him and deposited the kingdom into their hands. In the end a friend kissed him into captivity and he died for a world that continues to betray him. The mystery held secret throughout the ages is not such a mystery after all. God loves, period, end of sentence.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Advent 4b - 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.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Advent 4b - 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16

2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16
David may believe his desire to upgrade God from tent to temple is all about God but truth is David is embarrassed Israel’s God is housed in such a humble abode. More to the point, such a humbly housed God is a poor reflection on the new king on the block, which is why David needs God to move uptown into a temple of gold and stone and cedar. We lust after bigger buildings and consider churches that house ten thousand more significant than "two or three gathered in my name" who love the Lord with their whole lives. The church may be built to glorify God but it magnifies the power and prestige of the humans that build it. If bigger is better why did God choose a manger in a stable and an unwed teenage girl to birth the Messiah into a world that would despise his teaching so much it would attempt to shut him up by nailing him to wood? The upgrade God desires is not a church made of stone but a permanent dwelling place in your heart.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Advent 3b - conclusion

I am thankful to Neil and Debbie Krey who were blessed by Debbie’s mother, now gone on to glory, who gifted the Calvary kitchen with a side by side True Temp reach in refrigerator, a 20 quart mixer and an immersion blender. (the saws-all of kitchen equipment)  It reminds me that our 10 burner 50,000 BTU Imperial Range came to us to a large degree through the generosity of Cynthia Defrang’s parents and the knowledge and culinary connections of Stub Wilkerson. It might not be such a big thing in other congregations but the people of Calvary have become accustomed to a level of dining beyond the traditional Lutheran potluck and so the gifts of individuals bless the whole body in more ways than one. Isaiah encourages the captives with promises of “comfort, comfort” that like our weekly gatherings around fellowship tables and altar bind up the brokenhearted and set prisoners free. The Psalmist remembers laughing loud and long and prays that God might again restore fortunes like watercourses filled with spring rain. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances is a communal activity so that when one rejoices all rejoice; and the reverse is true as well and cause enough for giving thanks, for in the circumstances where when one weeps all weep. And in the Gospel John points to the one greater than he whose sandals he is unworthy to untie, even though Jesus will see it differently and even stoop so low as to wash his disciples’ feet.  

Thursday, December 8, 2011

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

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.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Advent 3b - 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
I don’t know about you but there are very few things I do that can be followed by “always” or “unceasing” or “in all circumstances”; except sin, of course, but maybe that doesn’t count because it comes so naturally. I’m actually a little suspicious of those who claim to live this text and that behind all the smiles and the God is so good alleluias are lives of utter desperation wrapped in praise the Lord pastels. (BTW this is not an autobiographical post. I look best in Advent blue.) Rejoice always and give thanks in all circumstances. Really? Isn’t that called denial? There are times when the most faithful response is a lament that curses the darkness. Which is why God’s will cannot be that we manage this on our own but rather depend fully on the One who sanctifies and keeps us sound in every and all circumstances. So rejoicing can happen even when we have every reason to weep and giving thanks can take place even when we have every reason to lament and prayers can happen always because the “Spirit intercedes for us with groans words cannot express.” (Romans 8:26) Not denial but acceptance that even in the worst of times the promise of God to be present is more than enough reason to give thanks.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Advent 3b - Psalm 126

Psalm 126
The first four verses of Psalm 126 remember the dream come true as exiles returned home and mouths were filled with laughter and tongues tingled with joy. When the memory of the moment is recounted the psalmist is glad indeed. But apparently those fortunes have been spent and in the same way that the dry wadis of the Negev wait for the spring rain the psalmist asks that the past be repeated in the present. Restore our fortunes like the watercourses of the Negev so that tears sown will reap joyful songs. Faith remembers the joy of the past to endure the pain of the present by hoping in the promise of the future. You might be in a time of waiting and if so need to remember the times when rejoicing came easily and if you cannot perhaps there is someone who can. Which is why if you are so gifted as to be in a laughter, tongue tingling time of being glad indeed, give thanks to the Lord and do what you can to share your sheaves of joy with those who weep.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Advent 3b - Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

Isaiah 61:1-11
Isaiah 61 is the measure of whether one has been anointed by the spirit of the Lord or not. Good news for the oppressed, not narrow views that suppress life and love; healing words that bind up the broken hearted, not harsh speech that hurts; liberating words that free one from the fear that God is not ultimately and completely “for us.”  It does not mean there are no words of correction or constraint. Just the opposite. Right behavior flows from right relationship and right relationship flows from unconditional love. Or as Jesus said, “Perfect love casts out all fear” When we live more fully into the unconditional love of God we are less likely to withhold love from others or ourselves, which may actually be the harder of the two. The brokenhearted healed, the ones who mourn comforted, the faint of spirit made strong, are signs of the Spirit whose speech blesses the world with light and love and liberty so that good news for the oppressed is just as good for the oppressor.
          

Friday, December 2, 2011

Advent 2b - conclusion

Calvary Youth Feasting on the 2011 Mission Trip

I’ll be heading to Dallas shortly to get started on one of my gourmet meals we auction off to support various charities. This one was for last summer’s mission trip and was purchased by Tom and Madge Earnshaw, a wonderful couple we have served at least three times in the past. I’m starting with a Pissaladière; (a savory an onion tart with Niçoise olives, roasted tomatoes and really good anchovies – which some of you no doubt think of as an oxymoron) followed by Scallop Bourride (scallops with roasted red peppers in a garlic broth), Curried Roasted Parsnip Soup, Daube de Boeuf en Croute (Beef Pot Pie - but it sounds fancier in French), one of my French themed salads with Basil Honey Vinaigrette and finally a Raspberry Truffle Cake for dessert. A feast of fat things for sure! I think all the gloom and doom end times nonsense we hear spoken as if Gospel truth obscures the real message of the end, whatever time that may be. God will make things right once and for all and all the beauty and joy and warmth of human relationships will finally be free from that which tends to whither the soul and diminish what we were always meant to be, objects of God’s desire destined to celebrate the feast that has no end. “Comfort, comfort” is how Isaiah says it. The psalmist sings of lovers kissing, righteousness and peace in a tender embrace. Peter celebrates God’s patience, who does not want anyone to miss the party. And the beginning of the Good News of Jesus means the end of our story will be a happy one. Bon Appetit, Mes Amis!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Advent 2b - 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, November 30, 2011

Advent 2b - 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, November 29, 2011

Advent 2b - Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13

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

Monday, November 28, 2011

Advent 2b - Isaiah 40:1-11

Isaiah 40:1-11
“Comfort, comfort” is a doubly welcome word when it feels like you’ve paid double for whatever it was that required you to pay a penalty in the first place. In the same way being fed and gathered and carried and gently led is welcome relief to those who like grass and flowers wither and fade. More often than not we are fully responsible for the painful predicament produced by our sin, but there is also a good bit of life’s consequences that operate outside the boundaries of cause and effect. I imagine there were a good number of those carted off to captivity in Babylon that could not trace a clear line between what they had done and what was being done to them. So in the middle of the captivity, when the memory of Jerusalem was fading, or worse when the memory of its destruction was like a recurring nightmare, the prophet speaks God’s words of hope and healing. “Comfort, comfort” is what was needed to endure the everyday abuse of captors who mockingly demanded, “sing us songs of Zion” as if joyful songs could be conjured up like some cheap parlor trick. God visits us in the worst of times to remind us that the best of times can be experienced when anticipated through hope. The valley of despair will be lifted; the mountain of desperation will be brought low, the uneven and rough places of sorrow and suffering will be made smooth because the word of the Lord is doubly consistent. “Comfort, comfort.”

Friday, November 25, 2011

Advent 1b - conclusion

Josh and I left Fort Worth in the very early morning for two days of father son beach camping and boogie boarding. Hopefully by the time you are reading this we’ll be catching some Gulf surf on Mustang Island. Mary Ruth and I had a father daughter date on Tuesday night to celebrate her sixteen years of life. We had a lovely dinner at Cat City Grill and a macchiato at Avoca and then got home in time for the Dancing with the Stars final. It’s a nice way to start Advent, a season to reflect on and be thankful for all God has done for us, even as we wait with eager expectation for the joy to the world that will come, and of course by that I mean the second coming, not Christmas. The texts for Advent 1b contain some frightening images if it were not for the promise found in each one. In the face of national calamity Isaiah counts on the Lord remembering “we are all your people.” The psalmist counts on being restored in the light of God’s salvation after being fed a steady diet of tears. Paul’s gracious salutation to difficult people counts on “the greatest gift of these is love” that is more than able to overcome divisions in the body of Christ. And the “stay awake” of the Gospel is an invitation not a threat for the One who will come on the clouds is the same One who was born in a stable.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Advent 1b - Mark 13:24-37

Mark 13:24-37
2000 years is a long time to stay awake so I can understand how the church has dozed off now and then. It is true for you and me as well. We have times when wide awake to God, to others, to ourselves, we live each day as if it were the last; while there are other times we sleep walk through the daily routines lulled into complacency by the checklist of one thing after another. Living each day as if it were the last is to be profoundly grateful for each moment, giving thanks for each breath, each beat of the heart, fully aware of the gift that is our life. And that means we are more open, more generous, more care-full with all our relationships, but especially the relationship with the One who will come on the clouds with great power and glory. Not because we are afraid of what will happen, even if we should take a nap, but because being awake to Jesus gives meaning to all our living. And the good news for those who are sound asleep and snoring is that the One who will come on the clouds with power and great glory is the same One who prayed “Father forgive them” for those who knew what they were doing when with nails they pinned him to wood and gloated while he died in agony. I'm hoping that means despite the description of sun darkened, stars falling, heavens shaking the second coming will be more like waking to a dream than being lost in a nightmare.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Advent 1b - 1 Corinthians 1:3-9

1 Corinthians 1:3-9
 It is a gracious beginning for a letter dealing with divisions in the body of Christ prompted by people puffed up with spiritual pride. But then the history of the church has been rife with divisions of one sort or another so I suppose it really should not surprise us when they occur. Maybe we should be surprised when the church actually works as it was intended and those enriched with gifts use them for the benefit of the body and not to draw attention to how gifted they are. But then the church is populated with sinners and that presents some problems when it comes to being blameless on the day of the Lord. Perhaps being blameless has less to do with being perfect and more to do with love that expresses itself in the less demonstrative spiritual gifts, like patience and forbearance and long suffering; not a product of pride or rigid piety but true fellowship with Jesus, who as Paul will tell the Philippians, emptied himself to take on the form of a servant. Fellowship with Jesus - that is the greatest gift the body possesses because you can't have fellowship with Jesus and not have fellowship with other believers.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Advent 1b - Psalm 80:1-7; 17-19

Psalm 80
The psalmist does not stop talking to God even when fed on the bread of tears or drinking from the bowl of weeping. When life laughs at us and circumstances conspire to mock our hopes and dreams we tend to turn away and wonder what good is God. But I suspect the psalmist gives voice to what we know deep down – in the end there is nowhere else to go.  “Stir up your strength and come to help us” and the repeated refrain, “Restore us, O God” are prayed with a confident hope that God hears the prayer, even if God’s anger “fumes” over things done and left undone, said and left unsaid. Of course we know what the psalmist did not; the One at the right hand of God is the confident hope of all prayer, for His strength was made perfect in weakness and in the darkness of his death we see the light of our salavtion. 

While searching for images I found this Early Morning Prayer by Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Bob Hostetlers Prayer Blog.
O God, early in the morning I cry to you.
Help me to pray
And to concentrate my thoughts on you:
I cannot do this alone.
In me there is darkness,
But with you there is light;
I am lonely, but you do not leave me;
I am feeble in heart, but with you there is help;
I am restless, but with you there is peace.
In me there is bitterness, but with you there is patience;
I do not understand your ways,
But you know the way for me…
Restore me to liberty,
And enable me to live now
That I may answer before you and before me.
Lord, whatever this day may bring,
Your name be praised.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Advent 1b - Isaiah 64:1-9

Isaiah 64:1-9
“O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence…” but not today, thank you. It’s my daughter’s sixteenth birthday and I’m sure that would ruin her day. Granted the apocalypse will have to land on somebody’s birthday, I just prefer it not to be Mary Ruth’s, or mine for that matter. I know there are those who look forward to the second coming, but I hope the second coming comes long after I am gone. It’s not that the planet and its people wouldn’t welcome something better than what we presently endure; it’s just that the peaceable kingdom doesn’t arrive, well, very peaceably. So we remind God, who often seems silent and hidden, “we are all the work of your hand” so “now consider; we are all your people.” God is present where judgment and mercy meet. We acknowledge that in our present condition we are not all we were meant to be or want to be or could be but even so God is forever connected to us as potter to clay, parent to child. So on this day in particular I am grateful for the work of God’s hand that is Mary Ruth: not perfect, mind you, but more than I deserve and everything I could ever hope for.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Christ the King Year A - conclusion

If you celebrate Christ the King Sunday you’ll probably sing Crown Him with Many Crowns. It was written in 1851 by Matthew Bridges, an Anglican who had converted to Catholicism. The hymn was based on Revelation 19:12 “and on his heads were many crowns.” He wrote six verses and the hymn became hugely popular. Godfrey Thring, a devout Anglican priest, was suspicious that Catholic theology was being sung in Protestant churches (heaven forbid!) so he wrote six verses of his own for use in Protestant circles. Over the years the twelve verses were used in varying combinations so that now most hymnals contain four, two by Bridges and two by Thring, but truth is no one can tell the difference. And Christ the King is pleased.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Christ the King Year A - Matthew 25:31-46

Matthew 25:31-46
The sheep didn’t recognize Jesus in the hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, imprisoned stranger but they provided help anyway. The goats didn’t recognize Jesus either but it sounds like if they had they would have done something about it. That’s why this text is not about works righteousness and the reward, or punishment, is not about what you do. It is about who you are because “being” and “doing” is the same thing. The sheep were motivated by the obvious need of others and did what they could to alleviate the suffering of the Jesus hidden in the sick and isolated. For whatever reason the goats were not motivated by the obvious need of others and so did nothing to help the Jesus hiding in plain sight. So if you see this text as primarily about gaining reward or avoiding punishment you’ve missed the point and perhaps the Jesus hiding in the need of others. But then it should not come as a surprise to those who claim Christ as King that God is interested in the welfare of those who live on the margins, after all Jesus was born into poverty and died a stranger, thirsty and naked imprisoned by nail and wood.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Christ the King Year A - Ephesians 1:15-23

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

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Christ the KIng Year A - Psalm 90:1-7

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

Monday, November 14, 2011

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

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

Friday, November 11, 2011

Pentecost 22a - conclusion

My Morey Baja® boogie board arrived in the mail today ahead of schedule. Unfortunately the red tide has not left the Texas coast and water that kills fish is not something I want to wade in or ride on. It’s a shame since over the years we’ve weathered high winds and driving rain, a blue northern that dropped the temperature by 30 degrees and fog and mist that kept us in our tents praying the bet your bottom dollar sun would come out “tomorrow, tomorrow.” But we’ve also known days of endless waves, beautiful sunsets, gentle breezes and balmy weather to slow the pace of life and your heart rate at the same time. But you can’t weather red tide. You just have to stay away until it goes away. So I’ll put on my wet suit and sit on the couch with my Morey Baja® and watch Blue Crush and maybe God will see me and have pity and push a cold front through that will spare both the fish and our Thanksgiving vacation at the same time. The hope in Zephaniah for something different than destruction comes in the last chapter where the God offended in chapter one gathers a remnant from the offenders to be a pleasant planting and a people pleasing to the Lord. The psalm begins and ends with the Lord as refuge but the verses in between name the killing tide that is our willful rebellion. Paul encourages the Thessalonians to build each other up even though the Lord is going to tear everything down. And in the economics of the Gospel lesson those who have get more while those who have nothing get less than that but only because they believe God operates in such a manner. Like the risk everything five and two talent servants I’ll be watching the beach reports for the red tide to go out and even if I have to drive eight hours for one ride I’m catching a wave on my new board.  

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Pentecost 22a - Matthew 25:14-30

Matthew 25:14-30
The servant who is given one talent believes his master is harsh, reaping where he does not sow and gathering what he did not scatter, while the first two servants take advantage of the master’s generosity to the benefit of both master and servant. It could be that the one talent servant reaps what he sows and gets the harsh master he imagines. Even so it hardly seems fair that from those who have nothing even what they have will be taken away, but then again the image of God as a harsh master can be found throughout the scriptures and would give us good reason to fear judgment and bury our lives in rigid rules, not risking anything lest everything be taken away. But there is a more profitable image of God as one whose “slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” compassion compelled him to reap the harvest of our sin that he did not sow and gather those scattered by their own will. To live that vision means we take advantage of God’s generosity and risk the kind of things Jesus did investing the five and two and one talent of the Gospel in our everyday and everywhere so that in the end God might reap a harvest of abundance beyond our one talent servant imagination.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Pentecost 22a - 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
“Therefore encourage one another” seems uncharitable at best considering the impending doom for everyone else where the “will come as a thief in the night” is a day of the Lord from hell. Surprise! And doesn’t the idea of an eternal from the beginning plan to make the biggest surprise of human history sudden destruction bother you? Even the most vicious small g god humans have invented is capable of that. So what if the surprise “thief in the night day of the Lord” is mercy not judgment? And staying sober is living in the light of radical love, the kind of eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners life that got Jesus killed so that the destiny of humanity would be salvation not wrath. Now that would be a surprise, wouldn’t it?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Pentecost 22a - Psalm 90

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

Monday, November 7, 2011

Pentecost 22a - Zephaniah 1:7:12-18

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

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Feast of All Saints Year A - conclusion

I’m going to order a new body board today for our yearly Thanksgiving week pilgrimage to Mustang Island State Park which means I’ll smell the salt air and ride the surf in my dreams tonight. It happens every year that as the day draws near to trade my pastored up shirt for a wet suit I’m able to be on the beach long before we get there. In theological terms we say that is future present which just means we live the promise before it’s fully realized. The Feast of All Saints would be a sad day indeed if it were only about remembering those who have died. But it is at the intersection of memory and expectation that the saints and we are most present. They with us in fond memory and we with them in hopeful expectation. In the same way the first lesson imagines the God far removed being so present as to reach out and wipe away tears. The psalmist already tasting the goodness of the Lord invites the still afflicted to hear and rejoice. In the epistle the hope that purifies is that we will be what we already are. And the Gospel promise is that “blessed are you” doesn’t wait for circumstances to change but lives the promise in the present. Surf’s up!   

Thursday, November 3, 2011

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

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

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Feast of All Saints Year A - 1 John 3:1-13

1 John 3:1-3
The hope that purifies is that we are what God says we are, beloved children. I know the analogy to human parenthood falls short of the glory of God, but when I consider that God loves me in the way that I love my children, Joshua and Mary Ruth, I am purified from all that would make be believe I am less than I am; a beloved child of the creator of the universe. The love God has for us cannot be limited by all the things said and unsaid, done and left undone that limit our response to that love, in the same way that not a day goes by when I don’t marvel in the miracle and give thanks for the gift of my children. That is the hope that purifies, God giving thanks to God for the miracle and gift of a child that is you.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Feast of All Saints Year A - Psalm 34:1-10

Psalm 34:1-10
Delivered from terrors and saved from troubles the psalmist rejoices in the goodness of the Lord. Sometimes the only way out of trouble is through it which is what the cross is all about. To fully bear the weight of human sin the cross must have struck terror in Jesus, if only for a moment. “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?” But the terror of the cross is temporary and “into your hands I commend my spirit” is the beginning of the forever life that shines forth in radiance from the empty tomb to bathe the world in the light of resurrection hope. Because Jesus endured the trouble and terror of the cross we can sing “taste and see that the Lord is good” even when the days we face are not.  

Monday, October 31, 2011

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

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

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Reformation Year A - conclusion

It’s early in the morning on Reformation Sunday. I’m sipping a tall bold at my Starbucks. On the way over here NPR was featuring a professor of religion who was discussing the current state of affairs in the American religious life. We’re still a spiritual nation but not quite as religious as we used to be. That’s not good news for “organized” religion but then we should be used to that by now. Even if Jesus said the church would be founded on a rock it has never been stationary. Even so the life of faith was never meant to be lived alone. It’s just in our nature to congregate and when we do organization inevitably follows. So the church goes through times of plenty and times of want, times that call for correction and times when we really do get it right. Today we’ll see a lot of red in the pews, even if you live in a blue state, and we’ll sing “A Mighty Fortress” with choirs and brass adding to the festival feeling and we’ll remember Martin Luther, the saint and sinner who got us started. But while it might seem Reformation Sunday only celebrates things Lutheran it’s really about the freedom found in the Gospel that, organized or not, is what our religion is all about.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Reformation Year A - John 8:31-36

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

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Reformation Year A - 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 25, 2011

Reformation Year A - Psalm 46

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

Monday, October 24, 2011

Refomation Year A - Jeremiah 31:31-34

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