Monday, February 28, 2011

Transfiguration Year A - Exodus 24:12-18

In some ways the ancient stories sound odd to modern ears. The glory of the Lord in thick clouds and a devouring fire on the top of the mountain sounds a lot like the lightning strikes I saw last night and even though the closest one may have warranted an “Oh my God!” I understand lightning in scientific terms. The ancients saw God’s hand at work in the timing of what we know as naturally occurring phenomenon. But then we “moderns” often do the same thing by giving extra-ordinary meaning to everyday events as when instead of turning left we turn right and a chance encounter bears blessings. So I guess I’m okay with the children of Israel camped before the mountain giving glory to the Lord for what may well have been Mt. Sinai having a little volcanic hiccup and spewing some smoke. It’s Moses entering the cloud of mountain top devouring fire that defies explanation. He was a reluctant leader in the very beginning and even though barefoot he carried on a conversation with a burning bush he was always looking for a way out. Of course the Lord provided that through signs and wonders, not the least of which was the parting of the sea, but that’s not what Moses had in mind. In some ways God has worn down his reluctant leader so that when summoned to come up to the mountain and camp Moses obeys and does not complain. Maybe a faith that follows without complaining or seeking a way out has less to do with spiritual discipline and more to do with God wearing us down so that like Moses the way out is really the only way in.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Epiphany 8a - conclusion

Isaiah 49:8-16; Psalm 131; 1 Corinthians 4:1-5 ; Matthew 6:24-34

I am writing this post on a laptop while connected to a 4G hotspot via my android phone. The writers of the Bible could never have imagined such a world in their wildest dreams, but they knew a thing or two about anxiety and as good as 4G may be it can’t Google you out of a truly hot spot. The word about worry is as relevant today as it was in the day it was written, which says something about how this ancient word is living and active, able to breathe new life into dry bones. Do not worry, writes Isaiah, for God like a nursing mother will not forget or forsake you. Do not worry, writes the psalmist, but quiet yourself and like a little child climb into God’s lap. Do not worry yourself with judging one another, writes Paul, but occupy yourself as servants of Christ and trustworthy stewards of the mysteries of God. Do not worry about your life, says Jesus, for your life is more than possessions, so seek after the kingdom and the righteouness of God. Tomorrow morning the family and friends of Michael will celebrate his life and bid him God speed to that eternal realm that is without worries. On Saturday the family and friends of Bobby will do the same. It may be that every death is in some way premature, at least to those left behind, but the “do not worry” word we cling to is that in the mystery of the Word made flesh the end of life is its beginning and that this life, like the one we lived for a short while in the womb, was always meant to be temporary housing for the eternal soul.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Epiphany 8a - Matthew 6:24-34

I think the degree to which we are able to live these “do not worry” words of Jesus is in direct proportion to how much “trouble is enough" we have to deal with in our today. It is one thing not to worry about your life, clothes, food, drink, or shelter when you have those things; it is quite another when one is facing trouble with a capital T and the light at the end of tunnel is the proverbial freight train. That’s not to say there aren’t those who seem to be able to live through hell without breaking a sweat but for the rest of us worry is a natural response to more than enough trouble for today and a double dose guaranteed for tomorrow. So let’s admit that even though “you of little faith” would seem to indicate more faith means less worry, worry is not something we can simply will away. And dulling the senses with substance abuse or addictive behavior or sleeping all day just adds to the troubles that made us worry in the first place. So what can we do? Rather than focusing on the worry, Jesus’ brother, James, goes right to the trouble. Writing about faith he says, “Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” (in other words, don’t worry for your heavenly Father knows you need these things) but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? (James 2:15-16) The apostle Paul writing to the Galatians said it this way, “Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2) The worst kind of worry happens in isolation and most often in the dead of night. Reading the scriptures and praying or listening to meditative music might bring temporary relief but we were not meant to bear worry or trouble alone for very long, if at all. Worries shared are less troublesome and is what God intended the community gathered in the name of Christ to be about. When we strive for the kingdom we see that waiting on God is really God waiting on us and that God’s heart is always expressed through human hands. Come to think of it that’s also true for the sparrows at my bird feeder and the lilies in your garden.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Epiphany 8a - 1 Corinthians 4:1-5

1 Corinthians 4:1-5
Paul claims, “it is a very small thing” to be judged by the Corinthians and so he dismisses their acting as judge and jury. He might be telling the truth, that he really doesn’t replay the slights of the day all through the night. Although for one claiming to be comfortable with criticism he spends a good bit of time defending his apostleship and I don’t think there is any doubt the Galatians got under his skin. Paul knows a thing or two about conflicted congregations and if not for his sense of a higher purpose and promise I imagine he would have pulled up stakes from church planting and retired to full time tent making. But he is a servant of Jesus so he does as he is directed. Moreover, he is a trustworthy steward of the mysteries of God and completely committed to the work of revealing the things hidden throughout the ages and now revealed in Christ Jesus. It is a good lesson for the church today, drawing up dividing lines, opposing one another in ways that mock the Gospel we claim to defend. We are first servants of Jesus and called to do as directed, which is to make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond peace for the sake of Christ’s body which is wounded when we judge each other less than faithful. And we are called to be trustworthy stewards of the mysteries of God revealed in the one mystery which is the Word made flesh for the sake of the world.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Epiphany 8a - Psalm 131

Psalm 131
There’s not much to psalm 131 but maybe that’s the point. It is a simple song for the soul, calmed and quieted, like a weaned child finding comfort in the security of a mother’s embrace. A simple song for the soul far removed from the gently sung lullaby and tender touch that in those days made all that was wrong right. It is an invitation to enter child-like innocence, if only for a moment, and rest in the lap of God. But the gift of this simple psalm can only be realized when with heart stilled and mind quieted we let the child within, the one perhaps we only dimly remember, or for some tragically the one that was never allowed to be, take us to the place where we no longer dwell on things too difficult to deal with or too great to understand. Letting go and letting God is not about solving all our problems, resolving all our dilemmas, finding solutions to all the things that need attending. It is about rest and restoration in the same way a loving mother kissed an “owie” and without the benefit of modern medicine somehow made it better. Then with tears dried and laughter restored we went back to whatever we were doing until her lap was needed again. So it is with the life of faith. Taking time away to quiet the heart and still the soul renews our courage and restores our hope so that the worries of each day are less worrisome for we trust God knows our need and is fully present in our everyday. And even though this post is clearly about our relationship with the Lord I’d be a poor son indeed if I didn’t end it with, “I love you, Mom.”

Monday, February 21, 2011

epiphany 8a - Isaiah 49:8-16

Isaiah 49:8-16
If not for verse fourteen I would be tempted to read these passages of Isaiah and say something less than kosher about God. Let’s be honest and say that in times of trial while waiting for the promise “in a time of favor I have answered you,” to come true we live forever verse fourteen “the Lord has forsaken me.” That is why verses fifteen and sixteen sustain us while we wait for green pastures where mountains are brought low and valleys are lifted up, where hunger and thirst are quenched and even the unpredictable weather has heavens and earth singing the eternal spring. The word we rely on for promises not fulfilled is “How can I forget you?” The Lord is more present than a woman wide with child or a mother needing to nurse, for our names are written on the hand of God. Given the transitory nature of our existence the promise of God remembering is eternal which puts our trials in proper prospective.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Epiphany 7a - conclusion

Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18; Psalm 119:33-40; 1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23; Matthew 5:38-48
Why is it just about the point when your body has been boot camped into shape the instructor decides to kick it up a notch? Such was the case yesterday when “Oh my goodness” boot camp Aubree told us we’d reached a plateau and needed to do something about it. Apparently the plateau is a bad place for boots to camp. So instead of the routine to which my body has grown accustomed, previously underused muscles were asked to get with the program and catch up with the rest of me waiting on the plateau. Which means I’m having trouble today standing up from a seated position. If we take the lessons for Pentecost 7a seriously they don’t allow us to get too comfortable. Even those who consider themselves spiritually fit cannot coast in the practice of faith but listening to Leviticus exercise holy living by loving neighbor as self. Every verse of the psalm begins with an action verb as the psalmist praying the longing of the heart is taught, guided, directed so that the promise of God might be fulfilled. The Corinthian church builds with care on the foundation of Jesus Christ when they give up wise ways of the world for the foolish practice of the cross. And in the Gospel, Jesus quoting the word of the ancients kicks them up a notch lest anyone pitch a tent on the plateau. Do not resist evil doers, give to all who ask, turn the other cheek, love your enemies asks underused muscles of faith to get with the program and do some heavy lifting. Thankfully the really heavy lifting was done for us and like boot camp no one who takes the class expects to ever be as good as the instructor.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Epiphany 7a - Matthew 5:38-48

Nikolaï Gay (1831-1894)
These are dangerous words and those who attempt to practice them don’t last very long. Evil doers not resisted are free to do evil to those who fail to fight back. Giving away coat and cloak, going the extra mile, giving to everyone who begs or wants to borrow means the giver goes without. Loving your enemies and praying for those who persecute you means they win and you lose and no one wants to be a capital L loser. We’d much rather bring a world of hurt down on the head of those who mess with us and given the opportunity we utterly destroy our enemies and turn the table on those who persecute us making them rue the day they were born. We can always fall back on “saved by grace” and confess like the apostle Paul the good we would do we don’t and the evil we don’t want to do we do, although a more truthful confession is that loving enemies is the last “good” thing we’d ever want to do. Look at what being perfect and forgiving those who “know not what they do” got Jesus. If that’s what perfection leads to I want no part of it and if you are honest neither do you. So let’s resolve to be less than perfect and keep the practice of our faith safely inside the four walls of our sanctuaries and maybe a little charity on the side as long as it doesn’t cost too much and the people who benefit from our generosity are sufficiently grateful. I trust Jesus will understand, after all he’s got to live by his own words and I’m begging I can borrow a little slack and get a free pass on loving my enemies. If that’s a slap in Jesus’ face I’m sorry, but I trust he’ll turn the other cheek. That just sounds wrong doesn’t it? It even makes me uncomfortable and I wrote it, but that’s what we do when we fail to take these words seriously and put them into practice. We call that failure sin and sin is never more deceptive than when it is practiced by the pious who insulate the life of faith from life in the world, the world that Jesus died to save by a perfection that got him punished. So what do we do? Maybe perfection is a process and what I do today is the foundation for what I might do tomorrow and slowly but surely the life of faith has less to do with an hour on Sunday morning, as important as that is to many of us, and more to do with using the other waking hours of the days of our week to practice the perfection of mercy and kindness and love. God knows there are plenty of opportunities in a week to get it right. And all sarcasm aside we do always rely on saved by grace (without slapping Jesus in the face) because Jesus has a robe of righteousness he's dying to give us.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Epiphany 7a - 1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23

1 Corinthians 3:10-11,16-23
I am always grateful to God and not a little surprised when the foolish church works in wise ways. It is more often the case that God’s temple is adorned with the architecture of this world, jealously and envy, competition and pride, where each believes their way is the only way. Or in religious terms, the church embracing righteousness lives the law which is secondary at the expense of love which is primary. That being said, unconditional love can be an excuse for excess and the love that comes from God does not last long when consumed by indulgence. Which is why the foundation of faith is not in us or in human leaders or denominational loyalty but is built solely on the foundation of God in Christ becoming one with humanity easily deceived by self, wise in the ways of the world and enamored by futile thoughts. How is it we cannot get this right? How can we who know in our heart of hearts that we depend fully on God’s mercy for ourselves not extend it to others? It could be that we really don’t believe it for ourselves and run from God like the younger son in the parable of the prodigal or like the older brother stay home and work like a slave for that which already belongs to us. But when the party happens and everyone who is invited attends the wise church acts in foolish ways and the grace of God that created such an unlikely gathering makes the future appear in the present and the one thing we get right makes up for all the things we so often get wrong.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Epiphany 7a - Psalm 119:33-40

Psalm 119:33-40
Teach me your decrees. Give me understanding. Direct me to delight in your commands that my heart might be turned from selfish gain and my eyes from worthless things. Fulfill your promise and take away the disgrace I dread. It would seem the psalmist has firsthand knowledge of the disgrace of selfish gain and worthless things as, perhaps, do we all. “All we like sheep have gone astray, each of us to our own way”  is how the prophet Isaiah describes the time before we came to our senses to see how far we had strayed and in all our longing how secure we might be, if only… That “if only” is the pivotal point of these verses but the whole point is that the psalmist is wholly dependent on God to teach, give, direct, turn, fulfill and take away. Which means the psalmist is wholly dependent on the Lord to turn the course of worthless wanderings to life preserving paths of righteousness. So what part do we play in all of this? The same part the psalmist plays which is to pray the longing of the heart to know and be known by God or to quote a Kris Kristofferson classic, “Lord, help me, Jesus…”

Monday, February 14, 2011

Epiphany 7a - Leviticus 19:1-2,8-19

Leviticus 19:1-2, 8-18
I am finally sitting down to write this blog and even though the day held legitimate interruptions to my schedule I will confess I participated in no small amount of avoidance behavior. I’m just not a big fan of Leviticus, in fact in less than pious moments I wonder if the Levites didn’t make a good bit of it up to pad their pensions. I question what seem to be arbitrary laws and am highly suspicious of the tyranny of religious systems. On the other hand I cannot escape my Augustinian understanding of the depravity of the human creature, mostly because I know myself all too well. So what turns out to be saving grace for me in this lesson full of law is the refrain. “I am the Lord your God.” It’s not a threat. It’s a promise. It’s not conditional. It’s guaranteed. The grace that is found in the whole of scripture is God’s desire to be in relationship with us. And like all relationships of significance there are sacrifices made, a joining that calls for compromise. We who are less than perfect are made perfect in God and God who is more than perfect takes on imperfection for the sake of loving us. The part that we often miss or worse reject entirely is the prominent feature of Leviticus. To be “holy” has more to do with how we care for others, especially the neighbor, ones in our employ, the poor, the alien, the deaf, and the blind than sacrifices made to God because God’s holiness has everything to do with how God cares for us. Serving the other is serving God and the refrain “I am the Lord your God” is just another way of saying, "remember I love you" which is just another way of saying, "love each other" both of which seem quite appropriate for Valentine’s Day.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Epiphany 6a - conclusion

Deuteronomy 30:1-15; Psalm 119:1-8; 1 Corinthians 3:1-9; Matthew 5:21-37
There are many things I appreciate about Calvary's co-pastor Kyle, his gifts as a preacher and teacher and leader of the church but yesterday he out did himself by sending me a text announcing that T-Mobile is offering free smart phones for two days. So I’m getting a 4G phone today that with a two year contract and a mail in rebate qualifies as almost free! The lessons for Pentecost 6a present choices which translated in religious terms calls for a decision. As soon as we Lutherans hear the D word we get all defensive and get our grace on big time. But truth to be told we who fully embrace God’s grace as accomplished without our assistance struggle with the Biblical imperative to “decide this day whom you will serve.” I think it is because we have a sneaking suspicion that we have to mail in the rebate to get the reward or our failure to decide as response negates God’s decision for us in the first place. But then grace would not be free would it? So how do we balance the equation? I think we do by saying the second choice, to live the truth of God choosing first, is about us and not about God. God’s choice is God’s business and it is irrevocable. So the choice presented in Deuteronomy means to live as those chosen by God is the blessing and not living so is in fact a curse. In the same way the psalmist seeking the Lord in lament and plea decides that blessing follows walking in the Lord’s way. Paul calls the Corinthians to repent of their jealousy and quarreling and follow the example of Paul and Apollos who for the sake of God’s field work together for a common purpose. And even Jesus’ hard words to handle presuppose the cross which is why the call to live more fully into our identity as God’s own, despite all our failings is a gift and not a curse. I call it the Lutheran two-step or Law and Gospel working together so that we would not doubt even if we make the wrong choice the rebate is in the mail.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Epiphany 6a - Matthew 5:21-37

Matthew 5:21-37
In the interest of full disclosure and without the benefit of the iPod confession app to categorize and keep track of my sins, I will confess that I have been angry and insulted a brother or sister on more than one occasion. I’ve sworn falsely and not carried out vows made to the Lord, albeit vows made in times of distress so perhaps that doesn’t count. I have committed adultery in my heart as well. I’ll also confess that I will likely repeat these offenses but will not be cutting off my right hand or gouging out my right eye. Oh yes, and my first marriage ended in divorce. Granted by all accounts I was the injured party and therefore I am grateful to Matthew’s Gospel for giving me a loophole through which to squeeze. Here’s the trouble with this text. No one can squeeze by this laundry list of sin but those who are angry with brothers and sisters can do so silently, whispering “You fool” under their breath. Those who fail to keep vows to the Lord keep it to themselves and the Lord isn’t talking. Those who look upon others with lust do so without anyone being the wiser, let alone the one being objectified. But those who carry the certificate of divorce, even when re-married, hear these words of Jesus differently. If Jesus knew the whole story, knew how painful and lonely and hurt I felt, and that I resisted divorce as long as I could because it was the wrong thing I never wanted to do but in the end was the only right thing I could do, what then Jesus, would you still condemn me? The church throughout the centuries speaking for Jesus has said "yes" and used these words to condemn women, but some men as well, to a life of cut off hands and plucked out eyes demanding they deny themselves rather than divorce the one who beats them every night or day after day makes them feel stupid or dirty or inadequate or simply unnecessary. We can sanitize these words of Jesus and say he’s speaking in hyperbole. We can say he means what he says and we better get serious about sin or suffer the consequence.  Or maybe we say the anger that destroys relationships, the lust that makes us less than human on both sides of the equation, the dishonesty of vows made and not kept and yes, the promise of the wedding day, so full of hope, so full of joy that ends under the cold hard light of the court is as much hell as anyone needs to know. So isn’t there a day of judgment? Of course there is. And we’re all guilty for the way we have failed to live these words or tried to avoid them or worse, the ways in which we who claim the name of Christ have twisted them. Heaven help us. And of course heaven did, though for Jesus it was hell.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Epiphany 6a - 1 Corinthians 3:1-9

I think it is worth noting that Paul never speaks critically of Apollos and since Paul never pulls his punches it must mean that Apollos did not encourage the Corinthians divided loyalty. According to Acts 18:24, Apollos was “an eloquent man, mighty in the scriptures” while Paul describes his own abilities as possessing neither wise nor persuasive words. Sadly those who plant and those who water often do not value each other’s roles and promote their position while devaluing the other. Congregations can also sow the seeds of clergy competition, feeding preacher’s egos with flattery and before you know it like the Corinthians divided loyalties have fanned the flames of jealously and quarreling. But when servant leaders working together recognize in each other the gift of unique abilities for shared mission and ministry the church is strengthened for the common purpose of blessing the world with the grace of God. That calls for a maturity of faith and the solid food of humility in the pulpit and the pew. That happens when both preacher and parishioner remember that “it is grace, nothing but grace, that we are allowed to live in community.” (D. Bonhoeffer Life Together)

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Epiphany 6a - Psalm 119:1-8

Psalm 119:1-8
At first blush it looks like the psalmist believes the blessed walk according to the law in ways that are entirely blameless and that following the Lord’s ways means doing no wrong. But then verse four begins with an exclamation “Oh” that is really a lament. Oh, that my ways were steadfast. Oh, that I would not be put to shame. Oh, that I would consider your commands. Even the declaration, “I will obey” is followed by the plea, “do not utterly forsake me.” Now it may be that the psalmist really thought doing no wrong was within the ability of the blessed but my experience of those who claim to be blameless is that they’re just passing the buck. Even as those who walk in ways that bring shame live the lament “Oh!” in ways utterly forsaken. But if these first eight verses of psalm 119 begin where we are, lamenting “Oh” and praying “do not forsake me”, then we are walking the walk that seeks the Lord. And while seeking the Lord in honest lament and desperate plea is a blessing of sorts the real blessing is in the life of faith that follows; not a walk that does no wrong but an honest walk that depends fully on the blameless One not forsaking us.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Epiphnay 6a - Deuteronomy 30:1-15

Deuteronomy 30:1-15
I’m blogging from Buckeye land where it is at least as cold as it has been in Fort Worth, TX. I’ve been here since Friday night and have driven through two blizzards in as many days. But then that is to be expected in Ohio in February, unlike the sunny south. (except when two cold weather football teams come to Jerry world) I’m interviewing Calvary’s next intern at Trinity Seminary, Columbus Ohio. I look forward to the week for a lot of reasons, but one of the real joys is worshipping with the community in the seminary chapel. This morning was no exception as we sung Marty Haugen’s alternate Morning Prayer setting “In the Morning I Will Sing.” The psalm prayer begins “God of all new beginnings, we give you thanks that last night was not our last night, that we have been given another day full of possibilities, filled with you and the life you offer to all.” See today I set before you life and death is how Moses said it to the people brought out of Egypt by the hand of the Lord. Last night was not your last night and equally important to remember, today is not yesterday. In the morning comes the choice between blessings and curses, to live as if the choices of our yesterdays limited the possibilities of all our tomorrows; or live the new day as if it were a first day and sing the life that makes all life possible. There was One who chose death for us, instead of us, so the Holy, Sacred life would be ours.  The prayer concludes “…be the driving force that moves all our thoughts and words and deeds, so that everything we do brings us closer to the day of your reign.” So last night was not your last and today is set before you as a gift. Choose life.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Epiphany 5a - conclusion

Church of the Light - Ibaraki, Japan - Architect Tadao Ando

Isaiah 58:1-12; Psalm 112; 1 Corinthians 2:1-16; Matthew 5:13-20

I feel the need to add a thing or two to yesterday’s post. While I do think Gospel salt and light flavors and illuminates the good and noble aspects of humanity, all the things worth celebrating about being created in the image of God, it also salts the injuries caused by sin and shines a light on all that has gone horribly wrong with God’s creation. So the image of salt and light is more than just an enhancement. We are transformed by the encounter and in turn become agents of change. That’s why Isaiah writes of a fast of justice to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them. It is what gives confidence to the psalmist that “good will come to those who are generous and lend freely, who conduct their affairs with justice.” Healed by the encounter, bathed in the light of grace we have the mind of Christ and perceive through the Spirit, “what no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived…” So we are salt of the earth when our actions enhance what is good and just and pure as well as the times when the painful word must be spoken as salt rubbed in a wound so that healing might happen. And we are the light of the world when we shine on all of life that is wonderful and mysterious but also when the harsh light of judgment exposes human rebellion and the pain and misery caused by evil intent and wicked actions. When the light of Christ shines through us the good works before others that comes from a fast of justice is the feast of victory, for whenever salt and light make this world look more like the world to come God is praised.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Epiphany 5a - Matthew 5:13-20

Matthew 5:13-20
Given my passion for all things culinary I like to think that Jesus uses the image of being salt to mean we are to flavor the world, not overpower it. After all the purpose of salt is to enhance a dish, to bring out flavors that would otherwise be missed. In the same way that light illuminates what is already there by creating a contrast making an image more interesting. We are to flavor the world and shine light upon what is already there. Salt of the earth and light of the world celebrates the human spirit which is able to overcome insurmountable obstacles and endure hardship and suffering with courage and fortitude. These things are not exclusive to the church though for too long in our arrogance we have acted as if salt were the whole dish and light existed for itself. That does not deny there are bitter dishes that cannot be salvaged or darkness in the human heart that no amount of light can banish. But the salt of the Gospel flavors what are the best qualities of being human and the light of the Gospel shines on what is noble and good. In the same way that salt without a dish to flavor is useless and light with nothing to illuminate serves no purpose the fulfilling of the law and the prophets doesn’t add to what is already there, it just makes it more visible and if you like, more appetizing.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Epiphany 5a - 1 Corinthians 2:1-16

“I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified” is one of the most radical statements in the scriptures. The Romans didn’t crucify without cause and the Corinthian church in the heart of Romanized Greece was well aware of that. To follow Christ crucified was to identify one’s life with a condemned criminal, resurrection notwithstanding. We cannot possibly understand what that meant even in the current climate where being church is no longer cool, even in the ever slimming Bible belt. I’m not saying I want to return to a time when faith meant putting one’s life in harm’s way, though there are plenty of places on our planet where people are persecuted and even killed for confessing Jesus is Lord. I am saying that Paul preached something the American church with its tax exempt status has forgotten or failed to fully embrace. We prefer plausible words of wisdom, narrowly defining faith in terms of what is orthodox or not. Even demonstrations of the Spirit’s power are used to define and divide. Paul’s appeal asks the Corinthian church to bet its life on Jesus, for all practical purposes a peasant crucified as a criminal in a third world country. There is no way you or I would believe such nonsense today. And yet here we are because Paul in weakness, fear and trembling somehow convinced the Corinthians the unlikely and unthinkable was true. We find ourselves in a time not that different asking people in the IPod, my touch, twitter, Google, 24/7 connected world to believe that this Jesus, killed by the Romans in the first century, was God and that claiming Jesus as Lord makes a difference in the here and now. In the past the threat of eternal punishment to coerce belief was good enough but nowadays people are not so easily frightened and believing to avoid punishment or gain reward was never about loving Jesus or haven’t you read the scripture, “perfect love casts out all fear.” No, what convinced the Corinthians was a foolish message that somehow made sense. God in Jesus coming near to us was crucified by the Romans in the first century in a third world country so that we might be drawn into “what no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived…” Imagine that… and believe.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Epiphany 5a - Psalm 112

Psalm 112
Okay, there is something not right with the world when it is 36 degrees in Pittsburgh, PA and 18 degrees in Fort Worth, Texas. It must be that the two cold weather teams decided to make our hometown feel more like theirs. Of course those who will entertain us on Sunday with an exhibition of regulated violence are cozy warm in Omni hotels in Dallas and Fort Worth. A good number of folks who won’t be watching the Superbowl are freezing to death on the street or huddled in shelters on Lancaster Ave. I blogged on Psalm 112 on August 24th, 2010 as it was also appointed for Pentecost 14c I was tempted to re-post since I didn’t have a single subscriber on August 24th and hoped the Calvary members who get this by email wouldn’t notice. But then it occurred to me on this bitterly cold day that the people of God at Calvary will live this word tonight through Room in the Inn in a way we didn’t last August. On the 24th I wrote “The response of the righteous to evil tidings in every age of uncertain times is to be gracious and merciful. Hearts that are steady in unsteady times distribute freely to the poor, lend themselves and their resources generously and deal justly with all in every circumstance.’ Tonight we will distribute freely to the poor by hosting a dozen homeless men in our Family Life Center, but more than a safe place to sleep we will lend ourselves and our resources through relationships established by meals shared and hospitality extended. I ended my post on August 24th with these words which seem approprite for this post as well. “Steady hearts that do not fear live today as if the “I make all things new” endless age was an already though a not yet present reality. And of course it is and will be whenever and wherever the righteous act righteously.