Monday, December 31, 2012

Epiphany 1 C - Isaiah 60:1-6

Isaiah 60:1-6

The recently released captives who returned to Judah did not find “the ransomed of the Lord shall return unto Zion with singing” (Isaiah 35:10) song upon their return. No doubt it was still a good thing to be free from Babylon’s grasp but “everlasting joy” was in short supply within the ruined walls of Jerusalem. Which meant the promise of God was experienced as both “now” and “not yet”. They were free from captivity but hardly "covered in camels" or well supplied with gold and frankincense. Turns out the light that will rise on Israel will be a long time coming and no one could have fully foreseen that the hopes and fears of all the years would be met in the babe of Bethlehem. Of course the shepherds knew that night but only because the angels told them. And some time later the astrologers from the East will know but only because the star they were following stopped. It is the same for us who live in the now and not yet for we have heard the story and seen the signs that call forth praise for the One who breaks through the thick darkness of our lives. That the dawn of the promise in this life is a guarantee of the glory of the light to come is the hope that sustains us through all our days until the “not yet” is finished and the forever and only “now” begins. 

Friday, December 28, 2012

Christmas 1 C - Conclusion

Twelve years ago on Christmas Day someone left a little red hound puppy at the church which is how we got Rudolph (Rudy) the Red Dog. Three years ago on Christmas Eve Josh found a stray kitten which is how we got a black cat named Evie. Two years ago Mary Ruth and I went to the Home Depot to get a Christmas tree and came home with a Chihuahua we named Feliz Puppydad. After that Lisa said from here on and forevermore no one leaves the house the week before Christmas. I said it doesn't matter because the strays will find us which indeed they did as this year as two dachshunds, Pooh and Bob, turned up on our front porch the week before Christmas Eve. The lessons for Christmas 1c are about the lost and found. When all was lost because of the sins of Eli’s sons Israel’s hope was found in Hannah’s son Samuel. When we lose our voice for praise because of trying times we find it when we remember praise the Lord is about our being made and not the sound we make. When we clothe ourselves in the wardrobe of Colossians we lose the things that don’t fit those chosen by God, holy and dearly loved, to find the life of love that wears well. And finally the boy that Mary and Joseph feared they had lost and then found in his Father’s house was the One who the Father had sent to find them. That same One comes to find us, whether we know we are lost or not, to provide a future and a hope, which of course is a permanent place in the Father's house. Feliz Navidad!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Christmas 1 C - Luke 2:41-52

Luke 2:41-52

Last Sunday night Kyrie Fort Worth decked the halls of Zio Carlo Magnolia Brew Pub with Christmas carols as our largest gathering to date met for sacred song, living word and holy meal. We lit candles while singing Silent Night and Happy Xmas (War is Over) and celebrated the birth of the Christ child who grown to preadolescence in this text will cause his parents no small amount of consternation by slipping away unseen to his “Father’s” house. Some might say that a church meeting in plain sight in a pub dishonors the One in whose name we gather and I can understand why that might be said even if I happen to disagree. Granted the house that Jesus identified with his Father was set apart in the same way our houses of worship are easily identified as such and maybe a pub doesn't qualify, but then what makes a house a home for the “Father” has little to do with architecture and everything to do with the human heart that meets in the house. So Jesus will return to the same “my Father’s” house twenty years later and over turn tables in the house of prayer that had been turned into a den of thieves. Tables are turned on a Sunday night at Zio Carlo to remember the God who is present throughout the week in that place because through the Son the Father’s house can be found wherever people of faith gather.   

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Christmas 1 C - Colossians 3:12-17

Colossians 3:12-17

Paul’s fashion advice to the Colossians begins with the remembrance of who they are in Christ. Remember you are chosen by God. Remember you are holy and beloved or in other words remember you are a desirable object of God’s affection. So what to wear? Paul’s list should simplify our selection and would if not for closets filled with thoughts and ways of being that don’t fit or have worn out or were never very attractive in the first place. And cleaning out the closet is painful even when helped by loving admonishment. But in the end cleaning our closets and improving our fashion sense is only possible if we are helped by those who bear with us and forgive us and encourage and compliment us. You look good in kindness.That compassion really sets off the color of your eyes. You make that patience work, girl. So what to wear? Remember to put on Christ and everything else will fit perfectly. 

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas 1 C - Psalm 148

Psalm 148
I once heard a Psalty Kids Praise CD that said when a cow goes moo it’s praising God. I don’t mean to be a naysayer when it comes to animal praise but I think moo means feed me or milk me or maybe both. Granted the animal praise list of Psalm 148 includes cattle and that might support the moo theory of praise, but then it also has sea monsters and fruit trees and all the weather conditions a Texan can experience in the same day. So this is not the sort of scripture that one takes literally or over thinks. This is a noisy over the top psalm because the very existence of all that is was commanded and established and fixed in place by God, which is how you make it on the praise the Lord list. So praise is not about the sound you make but about you being made. Which means praising the Lord does not require one’s circumstances to be praiseworthy. So I guess I stand corrected.  Praise can sound like you are hungry or just need to be milked. 

Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas 1 C - 1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26

1 Samuel 2:18-26
This is just the beginning of Samuel’s story but the beginning of the end for Eli. It is a tragic tale of a father who cannot bring himself to do what must be done. His sons have desecrated the sanctuary and have turned the people’s sacrifice into profit for themselves. Eli hears the reports and confronts his sons with their sin but cannot bring himself to condemn them to death which is what the law demands. And so in the end it will be Eli and all of Israel that will have to pay for the sins of the sons. The good news in the story is that God’s gift to the barren Hannah is Samuel who is and will be everything Eli’s sons were not and through his intercession Israel will be saved. It is a story that repeats itself throughout the scriptures and all of human history. The practice of faith meant for blessing becomes instead a source of priestly power or superficial ritualized religion or worse the justification for hatred and violence. But God is always working to turn the curse back into a blessing which is why Hannah is gifted with Samuel who in turn is a gift to Israel. And of course that is the story of Christmas. We, like Eli’s sons have sinned against the Lord in thought, word and deed and cannot intercede for ourselves. But Jesus is and will be everything we are not. And so the gift to Mary becomes a gift for world as God works to turn the curse into a blessing. But good news for us will be bad news for Jesus who is born to die for us, instead of us, ahead of us so we do not suffer the consequence our sins deserve. I know it might not be such a pleasant way to begin the week of Christmas but then our sin is the real reason for the season. And in a strange sort of way that really does make for a Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Advent 4 C - Conclusion

How did we get to the fourth Sunday of Advent so quickly? When I was a child it took an eternity of Sundays to light four candles, now it seems those four weeks fly by and with so much still to do and less and less time to do it I could use an Advent 5. But whether it is time that speeds up or we who can’t slow down doesn't really matter. The day will come and go right on schedule and maybe that’s the point. We’re the ones who fluctuate in both our experience of time and our relationship with the Divine. And so like Micah’s vision we live through times of abandonment, but when God comes we know security and peace. Like the Psalmist we live through times when tears are our bread, but when God comes we are bathed in the light of God’s face and are restored. Like Hebrews we trust we can please God with sacrifices and offerings and are never quite sure we've done enough, but when God comes our dependence on law gives way to being embraced by love. And finally the truth of Mary’s song is that we are the proud lost in our own thoughts; we are those who are well fed but always hungry; we are the powerful sitting on thrones of our own design; but when God comes we are blessed for God looks on us with favor. But then God has never left us so this coming and going is really more about our returning, which of course is only possible because God came down.    

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Advent 4 C - Luke 1:39-56

Luke 1:39-56

Mary went with haste to the hill country for good reason. To be unwed and pregnant was not a condition a woman wanted to be found in, especially in a small town where gossip once whispered would grow louder as Mary grew larger. She goes to see Elizabeth, who has had a remarkable conception herself, which may have made her more open to the extraordinary mother and unborn child who greeted her that day. John leaping in her womb prompted an exclamation, which seems to be the proper response to someone leaping in your womb, but this is more than an “Oh my!”  Elizabeth knows that this is one of those moments when heaven and earth meet and all of history pauses to hold its breath as the Holy and Invisible and Immortal is revealed to flesh and blood. And while she proclaims “Blessed are you…” Elizabeth knows that Mary’s blessing is hers as well and one thing leads to another and before you know it there is singing. It is a magnificent song that remembers the promise that God has remembered, to show mercy and strength, to embrace the humble and let the proud be lost in their futile thoughts which is a lonely place to be. Mary sings the powerful brought down and the lowly exalted, the hungry fed and the well fed hungry and in the singing I imagine the two unborn may have done a little leaping. It is lovely thing to imagine, two pregnant women embracing, dancing, singing because while the whole world just kept spinning as if nothing had happened they know the secret about to be revealed in the birth of the child, God with us. But of course as lovely and magnificent as that moment was the song will not be complete until punctuated by a cry of anguish “it is finished.” It is in the finishing that our song begins and the only way to sing it is to enter it, to allow our proud thoughts to be scattered and see that the hungry are well fed and whenever that happens the song goes back to the beginning, My soul magnifies the Lord.   

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Advent 4 C - Hebrews 5:5-10

Hebrews 5:5-10

“You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings.” Really? Did anyone tell the lambs, doves and cattle? It seems like the covenant set in motion from Sinai was based solely on sacrificing something living so God wouldn't strike the children of Israel dead. There were a few prophets who speaking for God imagined that the sacrifice God really desired was for God’s people to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8) but that didn't stop or even slow down the system of sacrifice that, dare I say, the Levites (who have no land) depended on for their sustenance. Jesus came to do God’s will by putting an end to such sacrifice even though it meant the end of him. We don’t kill our pets to appease God but we have own religious systems that like the system of sacrifice allow us to keep God at a safe distance just in case, heaven forbid, we would become more like Jesus because we all know what doing God’s will did to him.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Advent 4 C - Psalm 80:1-7

Psalm 80:1-7

The lectionary offers the option of using Mary’s song, “My soul magnifies the Lord..” in place of the psalm, but I think the lament of Psalm 80 helps put both the prophetic word of Micah and its fulfillment in Luke into the proper context; namely God’s response to all that leads one to lament. Lament is the question of the scriptures; “How long, O Lord, will the wicked prosper?” and the cry of the abandoned, “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?” And so it is for us when in days and nights of questioning, with tears for our bread, when scorned and derided by life’s circumstances, we cry out, how long, O Lord? But there is within lament’s question the anticipation of Mary’s song for “How long will you be angry with your people’s prayers?” believes there will be a day of restoration. That is what makes Mary’s song magnificent. She and all of Israel have waited for this day not in silence but in complaint and when the silent God who is always present finally speaks through the offspring of Mary’s womb the centuries of lamenting are forgotten in the infant’s cry. For the cry of Mary’s offspring on the cross will be God’s lament whereby we are saved.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Advent 4C - Micah 5:2-5a

Micah 5:2-5a
The lectionary for Advent 4C begins with verse 2 of Micah chapter 5 and ends before the fifth verse is finished. Maybe because the rest of Micah predicts the “one of peace” who comes from the little clan of Judah will do some damage to the Assyrians “and in anger and wrath execute vengeance on the nations that did not obey.” (5:15) It’s not quite the stuff of Christmas carols but then Micah was written to people who had suffered the kind of carnage that calls for revenge or at the very least the reversal of fortunes. The Christ that was born in “O little town of Bethlehem” is nothing like the Messiah Micah imagined God would send. It will take a prophet like Paul to realize that God chooses what is foolish to shame the wise, what is weak to shame the strong and that the reversal of fortune that saves the world happens when the “one of peace” dies a violent death.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Advent 3 C - Conclusion

In the old red hymnal that preceded the old green hymnal the Latin name of each Sunday was listed. This Sunday is Gaudete which is Latin for the first word of the second lesson, Rejoice. Long before any of the old hymnals Advent was even more like Lent with a full forty day fast beginning on November 12. Gaudete Sunday anticipated the end of the fast and so a rose candle was lit to lighten the mood. Zephaniah anticipates a day beyond disaster when renewed by the love of God singing will replace sorrow. Rejoice! Isaiah anticipates a day beyond fear when God will be the strength and song of those who declare; surely it is God who saves me. Rejoice! In the peace that transcends understanding Paul encourages the Philippians to trust God in the midst of anxious times anticipating the Lord who is near. Rejoice! And while it might seem that the Gospel is out of sync with the theme – Rejoice! (You brood of vipers) confession anticipates absolution and fruit bearing repentance is always a cause for Gaudete! 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Advent 3 C - Luke 3:7-18

Luke 3:17-18

We don’t hear many “Brood of Vipers” sermons in the Lutheran church. It’s not that we don’t all need and even welcome a stern word now and then it’s just that Lutherans draw the line at being called poisonous reptiles. We’re happy to sing “Chief of Sinners Though I Be” and confess that we are by nature sinful and unclean but call us snakes and we might hiss at you. But with or without the snake reference this may be more of a true word for us than we’d care to admit. While we don’t presume to be children of Abraham we bet on being children of grace and bearing fruits worthy of repentance is more often a postscript than a priority. Like those who came out to be chastised and challenged by John the end of our confession must be “What then should we do?” Of course the question, as important and as necessary as it is, follows God’s answer for Christians of the Lutheran flavor. God’s forgiveness does not depend on our doing; our doing depends on God’s forgiving. True repentance anticipates absolution and in the freedom of forgiveness one cleans out the closet and gives away the extra coat. The good news of John’s exhortation is the end of our comfortable relationship with dishonest ways and vain striving after wealth and power. All of this is made possible by the powerful One who follows, the only anti-venom for a brood of vipers.  

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Advent 3 C - Philippians 4:1-13

Philippians 4:1-13

 “Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say rejoice” is a four part round I sang for years at church camp. It's one of those rounds you just keep singing because it has no obvious ending  and though not nearly as obnoxious as “It’s a Small World After All” it can get stuck in your head. Maybe that’s the point of these four verses – not the obnoxious part – but a way of living that gets stuck in your head and has no ending unless you choose to stop. Of course sometimes stopping is a choice made for us as anxiety mounts and prayers spoken into the silence of God defy our ability to understand. But then that is why we have to sing “Rejoice in the Lord always” as a round. Four parts compelling each other to keep singing and you cannot tell who is leading or who is following and every measure has a Rejoice. It is through the prayer of our life together that the peace of God transcends anxious times to guard hearts and minds and keep the song from stopping. So rejoice in the Lord always and again I say Rejoice!  

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Advent 3 C - Isaiah 12:1-6

Isaiah 12:1-6

Isaiah 12:2-6 is the text for The First Song of Isaiah by Jack Noble White. The first time I heard it was some eighteen years ago at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church when I presided over a funeral for one of their members. The funeral was for a woman who had courageously battled cancer for more years than her original prognosis predicted possible and while we felt a deep sadness at the loss of one so faithful and beautiful and loved, we had a confident hope because of the truth of this scripture set to song. “Surely it is God who saves me. I will trust in Him and not be afraid. For the Lord is my stronghold and my sure defense and He will be my Savior.” In this scripture set to song the physical and spiritual weakness of human flesh, the fear, the doubt, the overwhelming sorrow is lifted with the melody as our singing is joined and supported and sustained by an invisible cloud of witnesses for whom the song is more true than we can at present imagine. Surely it is God who saves me… It is a song of defiant faith against all that would wither the soul with doubt and fear.  Surely it is God who saves me… It is a song of courage for times of trial and a song of comfort for times of sorrow. Surely it is God who saves me… a song for all our days until at last we reach the endless tomorrow. Surely it is God who saves me.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Advent 3 C - Zephaniah 3:14-20

Zephaniah 3:14-20

These are the last verses of the short book of Zephaniah. The rest of the book reads more like the first verse of the prophecy. "I will sweep away everything from the face of the earth," declares the LORD. Zephaniah predicts “a day of distress and anguish, of trouble and ruin, of darkness and gloom,” because Jerusalem has become complacent thinking God will do neither good nor evil. In the same way Assyria, that carefree city, “I am and there is none like me” is full of pride. But those who seek humility and righteousness, who accept the Lord’s correction, will sing for joy for they will be renewed in God’s love. The truth of this short book is that both spiritual complacency and pride are deadly in the life of the believer. We think that nothing we do really matters because God is like the kindly grandparent who might get a little upset but still has milk and cookies for us at bedtime. Or we are full of our own spiritual prowess and piety thinking that we can overcome sin itself and so judge all others accordingly. The woe that complacency and pride visit upon us is the same as the dreadful judgments of Zephaniah. We forget how to sing the song of the heart’s rejoicing and cannot hear the God who longs to exult over us with loud singing. So accept the Lord’s correction this day. Seek after humility and righteousness and sing out loud the song of rejoicing that is in harmony with the Lord.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Advent 2 C - Luke 3:1-6

Luke 3:1-6

Luke names the powers that rule the world because he is writing an orderly account for the most excellent Theophilus and though a physician by training he is an historian at heart. And so he grounds the story of salvation in the names and dates of human history. But Luke the theologian names the powers of the political and religious world to clothe the prophetic word in flesh and blood. The powers of empire and temple cannot hear it yet but the voice that cries in the wilderness will resound throughout the world of Jerusalem and Rome. The mountain of Tiberius and Pilate will be made low. The valley of Herod’s wickedness will be filled. The crooked path of Annas and Caiaphas will be made straight as the rough ways of empire and temple are made smooth. Of course history repeats itself and so we would do well to listen for the voice crying in our time, for the salvation that all flesh will see is not clothed in the trappings of empire or church but in acts of justice, mercy and peace. Closer to home the good news is that when we hear the voice and see that salvation for ourselves the mountain of our pride is brought low, the valley of our fear and self loathing is filled, the crooked paths that have become well worn and familiar are made straight and all the rough ways that keep us from loving are made smooth. And that is good news indeed.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Advent 2 C - Philippians 1:3-11

Philippians 1:3-11

If the Galatians and the Corinthians were like thorns in Paul’s flesh then the Philippians were the healing balm for the pain in Paul’s neck. It’s not that the Philippians didn't have troubles of their own it’s that despite the trials they faced they were more than willing to share his. That is the way of partnership in the Gospel. Or as Paul will write to the law bound Galatians, bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ. Or to the spiritually arrogant Corinthians, you can babble on in whatever language you like but the language of love is the only one that matters. The Philippians understood the rule of love from the beginning when they were the only church to support Paul’s efforts in Macedonia. It’s hard to image how their love might overflow more than it already has but that is Paul’s prayer for those who share his joy and his suffering. It is a prayer for the church of every age when by only speaking the language of law bound doctrine and dogma it is no longer conversant in the language of love. The church is always in need of a Philippian reformation that the good work begun on the day of our Pentecost might be completed on the day of resurrection. Be a Philippian today!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Advent 2 C - Luke 1:68-79

Luke 1:68-79

The lesson that occupies the place of the psalm this Sunday is Zechariah’s Song and expresses the hopes and dreams of a people who have been waiting forever for their fortunes to change and their ship to come in. Zechariah sings it because he is a new father and his voice which had been taken from him earlier in the chapter has returned and that is reason enough to sing. But it is more than the song of a voice returned or a proud father who has high hopes for his son; no less than a prophet of the Most High! No, it is more than that for in a moment of Holy Spirit joy Zechariah sings the longing of every people oppressed by enemies or hands that hate, the longing of all people who yearn for light to shine in the darkness and the shadow cast by death itself. In that sense it is a song for all of us who are often our own worse enemies. Oppressed by thoughts and deeds that lead us far from God we hear a word of promise that in the mighty Savior floating in Mary’s womb tender mercy will rescue us and guide our hearts and minds in the ways of peace. And that calls for a song.    

Monday, December 3, 2012

Advent 2 C- Malachi 3:1-4

“Christ Driving the Money Changers from the Temple” by New Zealand artist Michael Smither, 1972 (Victoria University of Wellington Art Collection, New Zealand)

Malachi 3:1-4

The offerings of Judah and Jerusalem have been less than pleasing and have wearied the Lord. Blind, lame and sick animals are substituted for lambs without blemish and the Lord would rather the temple doors be closed and locked than endure the stench of such dishonest offerings. The priests participate and profit from the scheme while the workers are oppressed, widows and orphans are not cared for and the alien is thrust aside. Perhaps it was because God seemed distant and the rules and regulations of the covenant relationship appeared arbitrary and economically oppressive. What’s a blind ram to an invisible God? And so corners are cut and liberties are taken and before you know it the relationship that enriched the people and God has impoverished both. Therefore God will pay a visit to the temple and do some housecleaning. With overturned tables and coins of money changers scattered the refining fire speaks the word of judgment, “It is written, my house will be a house of prayer but you have made it a den of robbers!” Not a week later the fullers’ soap speaks the cleansing word from a hill above the temple, “It is finished.” We who are more like Judah and Jerusalem than we care to admit need to hear the word of the refiner when our offerings are less than the best and corners that count are cut. And like Jerusalem and Judah in the days of old and former years the cleansing word will make our offering pleasing to the Lord.