Monday, April 30, 2012

Easter 5b - Acts 8:26-40

Acts 8:26-40
The Ethiopian eunuch was well respected in the court of Candice but in Jerusalem denied access to the temple of the faith he was so anxious to understand. Cut off from the people of God by race and circumstance he none-the-less worshipped the God whose holy word branded him unclean. It is no surprise then that one so excluded would be drawn to the suffering servant described by Isaiah and wonder if the word about the prophet or someone else might also be a word for him. So God sends Philip the Greek to evangelize the African official into the faith of Jesus the suffering Jew. Irony is not lost on the Lord. Truth is the eunuch already had all the faith he needed and indeed was the one who asked the question, “What is to prevent me from being baptized?” Unfortunately the church has more often than not excluded those who in the church’s estimation are lacking, without allowing that God is more than able to compensate for whatever we are without.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Easter 4b - conclusion

My longtime friend and colleague Kevin Kanouse was re-called to be the shepherd of the Northern Texas Northern Louisiana Mission Area on the first ecclesiastical ballot tonight at our Mission Assembly. I came in second. He had 190 votes. I had 9. I appreciate those nine people even if I wasn’t one of them. More importantly I appreciate the sacrifice my friend has made to wear the heavy yoke of bishop for the past twelve years and now for six more. There are rewards in that call, no doubt, but what you sacrifice to be bishop is the gift of the congregation which cannot be replicated or replaced. You can pastor a “synod” or as we have come to call it a “mission area” but the parish is the place where pastors experience congregational joys and sorrows bishops can only experience from the outside. Because they are called to be pastor to all the congregations of their territory they are in some ways pastor to none. That is not to say the call to set aside the personal relationship with a single parish for the sake of the “synod” is less or more, only that it removes one from the more intimate relationships of shepherd and sheep, pastor and parishioner. But their sacrifice is our gain as bishops connect us to each other and the wider church and call us to the mission that is more than whatever happens in our own backyard. So it is appropriate that on the week the lectionary celebrates Good Shepherd Sunday the Northern Texas Northern Louisiana Mission Area has reconfirmed the call of our small g Good Shepherd Kevin who has led us well these past twelve years and will continue to do so for the next six. So well done good and faithful servant and may God continue to re-call you to serve.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Easter 4b - John 10:11-18

John 10:11-18
We had a Rambouillet lamb named Louie who grew up to be a sheep so tame as to be a nuisance. I’m not sure the Good Shepherd analogy works when the lamb won’t leave you alone and even the wolf retreats from the constant bleating for treats. Then we tend to demand much from our Good Shepherd not the least of which is bleating for treats. But then this text is about the Shepherd and not the sheep and whatever it is we do or say or need doesn’t much matter as the Good Shepherd cares for us by giving and or withholding. Unfortunately we, like Louie, are often tame to the way of faith so as to be a nuisance to ourselves and everyone else for that matter. The good news is the Shepherd’s life laid down and picked up breaks through our “tameness” and gives us a new lease on life that is a treat in and of itself. "The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want."

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Easter 4b - 1 John 3:16-24

If my mind could convince my heart of the surpassing greatness of God’s goodness maybe it would stop condemning me. But then maybe the purpose of the condemning heart (aka conscience) is to get the mind to pay attention to what the hands are doing or the mouth is saying. Word and speech and truth and action are to work together for the common good which includes our own. That is because when we please God by helping others we are gifted with the Spirit of a quiet heart, a peaceful mind, a mouth full of praise and hands that help.  Martin Luther said it this way “A Christian is a child of the Holy Spirit, an heir of eternal life, a companion to the holy angels, a ruler of the world, and a partaker of God’s divine nature. A Christian is a wonder of the world, a terror to Satan, an ornament of the church, a desirable object of heaven with a heart full of fire, with eyes full of tears, with a mouth full of supplications and with hands full of good works.”

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Easter 4b - Psalm 23

Psalm 23
Souls are restored when guided along right pathways even if it takes a rod and staff to get us there. That’s because we can get lost in the shadow valleys of this world where the lines between right and wrong are obscured by selfish desire and sinful pride. Truth is our sight can adjust to low light and we grow accustomed to being less than we were meant to be and before you know it we can’t tell the difference between a green pasture and a desert. But the Lord like a shepherd does not abandon us to our wandering ways but prods us with the rod of the Law even as the staff of the Gospel frees us to live into peaceful places of soul refreshing rest.  

Monday, April 23, 2012

Easter 4b - Acts 4:5-12

Acts 4:5-12
The same Peter who cowered in courtyard and wept bitterly because of it has become the rock who will not back down even when confronted by the powers that be who “crucified Christ”. But that is what resurrection can do to you that the cross cannot. I don’t mean that we neglect the mandate to preach Christ crucified. We wouldn’t pay attention to this Galilean prophet if after being as dead as you and I will one day be he hadn’t walked out of the tomb. The Romans crucified Jews all the time. But as a good friend and colleague pointed out to me the other day our focus on the cross can obscure the point of the resurrection. We are meant to be transformed into resurrection people even if the cross is the way we get there. The cross accuses and convicts and like Peter brings bitter tears – and rightly so. But on the third day those who cower in courtyards of their own design are to walk out of tombs of shame and guilt to live as people set free from sin and death once and for all. It doesn’t mean we stop sinning or falling short of all we will one day become. It does mean we recognize that confession is for the amendment of our sinful life and act accordingly.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Easter 3b - conclusion

By the third Sunday of Easter the faithful have returned to their designated pews and we go back to business as usual. As much as we relish the Easter celebration it is akin to a house guest that you like well enough but are just as happy when they leave and the spare bedroom can go back to being a spare room again. For all the bluster of Peter’s speech we do have a propensity for killing whatever is the author of life for us in favor of that which never satisfies. Like the psalmist only honest confession affords us peaceful sleep. We are children of God, as John writes, but when we see him as he is there will be so much more to come. And the broiled fish proof of the resurrection is just God doing the incarnation again so that we would see and believe.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Easter 3b - Luke 24:36-48

Luke 24:36-48
“Peace be with you” doesn’t do the trick. “Look at my hands and feet” doesn’t dispel disbelief. Even touch me and see doesn’t get a “My Lord and my God!” But eat a piece of broiled fish and maybe the impossible will seem more plausible to doubting disciples. In the everyday necessity of nourishment the crucified, dead and buried Messiah is accepted as really resurrected. It is the final and most intimate act of the incarnation that the One who rose beyond the boundaries of death and life entered this realm again to share a morsel with those still bound by mortality so that seeing would be believing. In that sense “have you anything here to eat?” might be the most grace filled words ever spoken by Jesus.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Easter 3b - 1 John 3:1-7

1 John 3:1-7
There is no way around it. Since we all sin we are all guilty of lawlessness even though in the love the Father has lavished upon us we are children of God now and when Jesus is revealed we will be like Him. That means even as children of God by virtue of our rebellious nature we do not abide in God or know God or see God. But then John will go on to say, “This is love: not that we loved God but that God loved us…” (1 John 4:10) So the ultimate consequence of our lawlessness is that God loves those who do not love in equal measure but who purify themselves with the hope that when we do see Him as He is Jesus will not see us as we are but what we were always meant to be.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Easter 3b - Psalm 4

Psalm 4
When we love illusions and seek after lies we lose sleep even if we pass out in the process. Like a good magic trick we ask to see it again and again, albeit more slowly this time. But we never quite catch the sleight of hand or see the trap door in action until it’s been sprung. That dishonors God’s glory because living the lie devalues our own being. God’s desire is to do wonders in and through and with us so that gladness of heart is our everyday experience even when we are in distress. I would hope the answer to “how long will you dishonor my glory” is not “as long as I have breath in my being” but even if it is I trust that the wonder God can do in and through and with us is no magic trick.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Easter 3b - Acts 3:12-19

Acts 3:12-19
The scene that precedes this speech to the people is the healing of the lame man. “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” (Acts 3:6) I’m sure there were some in the crowd who had not called out “crucify” and so can hardly be held responsible for killing the “Author of life”. And even if Peter claims it as Gospel truth Pilate never intended on letting the peasant preacher go free. Jesus was far too disruptive to peace in Judea which made him far too dangerous to Pilate and hence to Rome. Furthermore Peter and all the disciples deserted Jesus in his most desperate hour. But maybe Peter has forgotten his curses in the courtyard? Then again being Holy Spirit anointed with fire and tongues and preaching on Pentecost and being God’s agent for “lame man walking” might mean you forget “I once was blind” because “now I see.” We all act in ignorance even though we claim to know the truth which we easily trade for the lie because we can’t tell the difference. The place of peace is a balancing act of absolute responsibility and perfect freedom which is often expressed as self-righteousness in the case of the former and the habits of hedonism in the case of the latter. It might sound as if we are between a rock and a hard place. But true peace is in recognizing our limitations. Some repent of trying to control everything. Others repent of being controlled by anything. No matter what side of the equation you find yourself the path to peace is to repent and turn to God who is more than able to overcome our lameness.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Easter 2b - conclusion

I’ve been riding my mare Seraphina (the fiery one) on the streets of Richland Hills to get her ready for her Western Worship debut this Sunday. Yesterday I rode around town with Bob who was riding Duke. Seraphina was interested in Duke’s pedigree until she realized he was a gelding. Unfortunately all the boy horses in her life are fixed. Western Worship at Calvary is one of the highlights of our church year even though the Sunday after Easter is generally known as “low” Sunday. The lilies have faded. The trumpets have been put away. The Christmas / Easter pilgrims return to their Sunday rituals while the faithful return to familiar pews. As exciting as it is to see a full church on Easter it is the Sunday after, and all those that follow, that is more moving to me as those who make a weekly pilgrimage to the sanctuary live each day as the blessed who have not seen and yet believe.  

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Easter 2b - John 20:19-31

John 20:19-31
In the Gospel of John believing is seeing. We can speculate as to Thomas’s whereabouts that first day of the week but his absence is for our benefit as we who have no hope of seeing nail scarred hands or spear pierced side are blessed by believing none-the-less. I don’t know if my “not seeing” believing is due to childhood indoctrination – my guess is I’ll be a cradle to grave Christian – or because the story continues to capture my imagination and stir my soul, but for whatever reason I have attached my life to his and even when I fail to live the life in his name I trust Jesus’ life is somehow lived in mine.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Easter 2b - 1 John 1:1-2:2

1 John 1:1-2:2
Sin by its very nature is deceptive so that even when we confess our sins we can walk in the darkness that masquerades as light. That is why posting the Ten Commandments on every street corner of the planet won’t get the job done. We tend to think of sin as behavior which means we can do something about it. It might be a carrot or a stick but in the end the cure for sin is encouragement or enforcement. But sin is far more devious and demonic so that while behaviors might be modified the root cause is not. To use the old language - we are by nature sinful and unclean – which means our orientation is rebellion and resistance to the relationship God desires to have with us. So what can we do? We confess that we do not want to be all that we were meant to be and trust that God’s mercy is more than able to break through the darkness that clouds our vision - and not only ours, but the darkness that engulfs the whole world. When attitudes change, not by threat or reward but the compelling love of Christ the grip of sin will be loosened and we will walk more fully in the light of love which is a real relationship with God.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Easter 2b - Psalm 133

Psalm 133
In three short verses Psalm 133 states the obvious and makes me wonder why the church doesn’t pursue unity with more purpose. Instead of pouring the precious oil of peace on each other we heap insults on each other's heads and draw theological lines in the sand staining the collar of our robes with division. You might expect this of the more strident traditions but even the Unitarians, or so I’m told, don’t always get along. Go figure. The fragrant extravagance of good and pleasant unity imaged by the psalmist is the blessing that falls from heaven and unity is bestowed from above whenever it is understood from below as the very essence of what it means to claim Christ as Lord.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Easter 2b - Acts 4:32-35

Acts 4:32-35
When believers are of one heart and mind there are no needy persons among them because believers are of one heart and mind. When hearts and minds go their own way members who withhold are struck down dead (Ananias and Sapphira) and widows who speak Greek are denied food for speaking Greek. (Acts 6) It should be of some comfort to us that those who witnessed the resurrected Christ are subject to the same folly as those of us who have no hope of seeing, let alone touching, nail scarred hands and spear pierced side. Or maybe it should be cause for concern for us that even those who witnessed the resurrected Christ continued to operate as if he were still dead.

Friday, April 6, 2012

The Resurrection of Our Lord Year B - conclusion

We often think of resurrection as the panacea for death and while there is no doubt that comfort comes from the promise of the forever life with no pain, no sorrow, no tears, I think that way of thinking gives death more power than it is due. If we think of death in the same way we think of birth, leaving the womb of this world for life in the next then death is just a transition between the two. We know some births are relatively easy. I speak as a man, of course, but not one uniformed. My own wife after birthing our son without the benefit of an epidural said, “I could do that again.” (Which she did two years later) But then there are the births that are slow and painful and fraught with danger for mother and child. It is so with death as well. Some pass peacefully, surrounded by loved ones, caressed and cared for right up to the edge of this life and the beginning of the next. Some, like the One we remember on this Friday we call Good, are not so fortunate. Nailed naked to the cross while crowds jeered and his mother wept and no one, not even the God he trusted, came to comfort him so that his passing from life through death to life would be for the those who dread death and would do anything to keep it at bay. Jesus enters fully into our life, joy and sorrow, faith and doubt, pleasure and pain, but also our fear of death so that when the stone is rolled away to reveal death as the ultimate deception we who have yet to be born into that life are strengthened to live this one with more joy and courage and kindness. Those who have been born again, in the real sense, are still with us in memories of this life we cherish and the mystery of the future life we anticipate as all who are joined to the Christ are forever and always one.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Resurrection of our Lord Year B - Mark 16:1-8

Mark 16:1-8
It is a strange way to end a story when clearly the women who “said nothing to anyone” must have told something to someone. Then again all the Gospels agree that the reality of resurrection was beyond the ability of the witnesses to comprehend. In the Gospel of Mark being seized by amazement and terror is the tongue tying factor. “Do not be alarmed” wasn’t enough as walking away from the unbelievable they kept their mouths shut, but maybe in the conversations that followed – did you see what I saw? – tongues were loosened and they began to describe what could not be described. Are we any different? We accept as Gospel truth what we cannot describe or understand but at the intersection of the terror of death and the amazement of what waits for us in resurrection our tongues are still tied, not by fear but by an indescribable and glorious hope.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Resurrection of Our Lord Year B - 1 Corinthians 15:1-11

1 Corinthians 15:1-11
“I would remind you brothers and sisters, of the good news…” is a recurring theme of the Corinthian correspondence. Divided loyalty (I follow Cephas, I follow Apollos, I follow Paul, I follow Christ) leads them to argue over minor matters, treat the body of Christ with contempt by making a mockery of the unifying meal, and neglect the greater gift of love in favor of flashier outward signs. The good news reminder shouldn’t be lost on us who have received and now stand in Paul’s proclamation. The Christ who appeared to the long list of witnesses and lastly to Paul has appeared to us whenever in the face of death, our own or the death of those we love, we believe life will have the last word. And reminded that the last word belongs to the life of Christ means every word belongs to Christ, which clearly includes those we speak to each other.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Resurrection of Our Lord Year B - Psalm 118

The Lord is the psalmist’s strength and song because in the “day that the Lord has made” the right arm of the Lord has acted valiantly. But what about the days when “the Lord punished me sorely” and the only place left to go was to be handed over to death?  If every day is a day the Lord has made then the Lord is my strength and my song even in the days that are dark. The promise of what will be is believed because of what has been so that in times of being “sorely punished” one can still hear the echoes of rejoicing and trust they will return. Even the stone rejected cried out in anguish, “My God, My God” before attaining chief cornerstone status. And because the Lord himself was “punished sorely” but not handed over to death forever we can give thanks to the Lord even when our song of salvation is a lament.

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Resurrection of Our Lord Year B - Acts 10:34-43

God’s “no partiality” is still particular even if the promise to Jews was extended to Gentiles. That doesn’t mean the nature of the arrangement wasn’t radically changed. God cut circumcision, the signature sign of the covenant, along with the restricted diet, the observance of days, the sacrifices, etc. But the new “no partiality” is still only shown to those who fear God and do what is right. That means in the most important way nothing has changed in that fearing God and doing what was right was always what God had in mind, even if those who lived the outward signs failed to embrace the inward ways. God desires relationship not sacrifice. So how do we who are the recipients of the new “no partiality” repay the favor? I’m afraid we write new rules and make our peculiarities particular to God. Who knows if the God who gave up kosher to include those who preferred pork might also give up all things for the sake of those God always intended to include in the “no partiality” covenant. Who knows? What we do know is that God determined to die, hung on a tree, for the sake of those who could care less and that means God is partial to those who show no partiality.