Friday, March 29, 2013

Easter Year C - conclusion

It seems strange to be blogging about Easter on Good Friday but then Easter is the only way this Friday can be called Good. Without resurrection his was just another crucifixion and while Jesus might have attracted a larger crowd it was business as usual for those who did the dirty work of death. So even though the ground shook at his passing as the sun’s light failed and his innocence was proclaimed in the end he was still dead. But in the pregnant pause of the Sabbath while the women wept and the disciples hid and the chief priests and scribes danced a jig the new thing was announced in heaven and cursed in hell for as in Adam all die so in Christ now all are made alive. And so in the pregnant pause of the Sabbath the songs of victory began to be sung by angel choirs while Jesus mocks the one who had tried to tempt but failed to seduce. Peter saw it coming. “I now understand God shows no partiality.” The psalmist saw it coming. “I shall not die but live and declare the works of the Lord” Paul saw it coming.” The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” The women no longer weeping tell the disciples who stop hiding and the chief priests and scribes have to pay the piper and dance to a different tune. It is the idle tale that informs every tale that ever was or ever will be told. “He is not. He is risen!”

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Easter Year C - Luke 2:1-12

Luke 24:1-12

"It seemed to them an idle tale." Pastor Kyle looked up the Greek for "idle tale" and loosely translated it means BS, if you'll pardon my Greek. There are some who still think of it that way but you can hardly blame them given the lack of evidence to the contrary. But then the idle BS doesn't stop Peter from rushing out to see for himself so I guess even disbelief looks for proof. For Peter and the rest who will listen to his version of the idle tale the linen cloths lying by themselves is more than the mind can comprehend, which is what amazement means in every language. I think in some ways amazement is better than acceptance and if I could I would go back to a time when the resurrection was more than I could believe - not an idle tale mind you - but something so extraordinary that I might tremble at the thought of it. Maybe when my time comes to enter this story more fully, when my seeking the living among the dead is personal, resurrection will be beyond belief and not something I simply state as a fact of faith. In the meantime I seek to be surprised by a resurrection that is more than just a familiar (but not idle) tale.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Easter Year C - 1 Corinthians 15:19-26

1 Corinthians 15:19-26

To hope in Christ only for the next life is just as pitiable as to hope in Christ "only for this life..." To hope only for the future is to reduce the resurrection to a reward or some sort of panacea for the pain of the present. But the hope of resurrection has as much to do with the way one lives in this life as whatever life we will live in the next. The death that came through Adam is still a very real enemy that seeks to limit not just our mortal life but our spiritual life as well so that we never fully live the freedom that came out of the empty tomb with Jesus. But because Jesus died for all and rose above the boundary imposed by Adam’s rebellion we are free to live as those who have “already passed from death to life.” (John 5:24)  If by faith I am confident that the forever future imagined by God is a done deal then I am free to live as if death has already been destroyed. A life that anticipates resurrection is as much a resurrected life as the life that awaits us.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Easter Year C - Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24

Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
"There are shouts of exaltation in the tents of the righteous" is one of the verses from Psalm 118 that we read at graveside services where "I shall not die but live" takes on a new meaning for both the living and the dead. For those gathered to grieve it is a declaration of the hope of reunion with the one gone on before. For the one laid to rest it is the reality of life beyond the womb of the world that is as mysterious to us as this life must seem to the newly born babe. Since "we know in part" as we peer through "a mirror dimly" (1 Corinthians 13:12) everything we know about the next life can only be imagined from the context of this life. That is not to say we cannot confidently cast the vision of a future life without sorrow, sighing, tears or pain, a life where death dies and is buried forever. But the details of whatever is coming is beyond our knowing in the same way we could sense something on the other side while we were floating in our mother's secret place but had no frame of reference for what was coming next. Which is why the righteous live by faith and not by sight, trusting that the Lord who has made this day has made the next as well,  therefore we will rejoice and be glad in all our days.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Easter Year C - Acts 10:34-43

Acts 10:34-43

When Peter says he “truly understands God shows no partiality” he understands God is no longer limited to a chosen nation (Israel) but now accepts people who “do right” no matter what nation they come from. Of course God has always been partial to people who do right so in some ways it doesn't seem like very much has changed at all. But if “no partiality” means Jesus “ordained as judge of the living and the dead” acts like the Jesus who went about “doing good and healing those oppressed by demons” then the “no partiality” clause is only limited by Jesus’ capacity to show mercy. “Father forgive them for they know not what they do” means mercy is shown even to those who “put him to death by hanging him on a tree” which truly is no partiality. 

Friday, March 22, 2013

The Feast of the Passion Year C - conclusion

Calvary hosted the Texas Lutheran University choir last night. The concert was (fill in the blank with over the top adjectives and then add a few more). However, one of our younger members, Miriam Etheredge, found me in the narthex to voice her concern about a song in the program. The next to last song was listed as a world premiere of an arrangement of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah and Miriam pointed out that we put that word in a box at the beginning of Lent and were not supposed to say or sing it until Easter morning. I told Miriam she was quite right and should go tell the choir director. I don't know if she did or not but the choir didn't sing it so the world has to wait until next week for Hallelujah to come out of the box. Truth to be told I was disappointed we didn't get to hear it (and would have gladly made an exception) but maybe that is the point so that Miriam playing the part of "and a little child will lead them" reminds us all of the power of our Lenten rituals. This Sunday we will read the Passion Narrative at all our services, including our gathering at Zio Carlo Brew Pub where the story will be read in a public place and maybe be overheard by some who unlike Miriam do not know the story by heart.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Feast of the Passion Year C - Luke 22:14 - 23:56

The Gospel according to Luke
Some of us remember when the Sunday of the Passion was called Palm Sunday and we didn't read the rest of the story until the Thursday we call Holy and the Friday we call Good. Some suspect the change from Palm to Passion allows the faithful to be less so and skip the Triduum (The Great Three Days). That may be true but it really doesn't matter (unless you are a liturgical Luddite) as Two out of Three Great Days happening on the Sunday before the Third Day still gets Jesus where he needs to be before Easter sunrise. But there is also a compelling reason to read the passion narrative all at the same time and out loud but only if the congregation speaks the part that belongs to all of us. Crucify! Crucify! CRUCIFY! It always makes me a little uncomfortable, as it should, and reminds me that given the same set of circumstances I would have deserted, denied and yelled crucify.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Feast of the Passion Year C - Philippians 2:5-11

Philippians 2:5-11
The operative word in having "the mind of Christ" is "let" as in allow or permit. Or maybe a better way to think of it is to welcome or invite the mind of Christ to "dwell in you richly". (Colossians 3:16) It is not something that comes naturally to us as our minds resist being conformed to a way of thinking that would willingly let go of power (especially equality with God) for the sake of those who are always seeking to exploit even the illusion of power. It is out of vain ambition that our minds are occupied with all manner of self serving thoughts and subsequently destructive ways of being. We even think of God that way and imagine that after Jesus went back to wherever he came from he never again did such a foolish thing as empty himself. But if the mind of Christ reveals the mind of God then the exaltation of Jesus is to be continually emptied. I don't mean that Jesus is crucified again and again but that the power that God in Christ wields is the infinite capacity to love which never proceeds from a position of power. So God in Christ is emptied in order to be one with humanity hell bent on filling itself up in the Divine hope that we would grow weary of our futile way of being and let the mind of Christ do the thinking.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Feast of the Passion Year C - Psalm 31:9-16

Psalm 31:9-16
There comes a point in prayer when the irresistible force of believing what one hopes will be runs into the immovable object of what is. The psalmist has not reached that point and judging from the litany of lament may never give up on the hope of deliverance. That is because the psalmist believes the last word belongs to God (my times are in your hands) so even a life spent in sorrow where continual misery saps one's strength while enemies conspire and friends betray can be endured as a "slight and momentary affliction" (2 Corinthians 4:17) The capacity to endure the terror that surrounds is not a given and takes an enduring courage beyond our ability, so the mere fact that the psalmist continues to pray would seem to say the prayer has been answered as the irresistible force of hope pushes back against the unmovable object of overwhelming trouble.

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Feast of the Passion Year C - Isaiah 50:4-9

Isaiah 50:4-9

The word that sustains the weary is that the teacher himself was wearied by beatings, insult and spitting. Wakened by the word, "the Lord God will be my help at the break of the day" the student who is at the same time the teacher set his face like flint and gave his back to the whip, his head to thorns, his hands and feet to nail. The suffering and sorrow of God is the word for those who are wearied by life contending against them, confronted by inconsistency, struck by down by grief, insulted by trouble. The Lord will be my help at the break of day because the Lord was broken for all my days. To waken to this word despite all that would weary the soul and crush the spirit is to be opened to the distant song of vindication that is always near. It is not an easy answer, a simple solution, a wish fulfillment. It is a Word that inhabits flesh and blood, yours and mine, for when one is wearied by weeping and too tired to sing, when the difference between giving up and continuing on hangs in the balance, we become for each other in shared sorrow and suffering the Word that sustains until the day when all weariness will be a thing of the past. 

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Lent 5 C - John 12:1-11

John 12:1-11

What do you do when the man who raised your brother from the dead comes for a visit? If you are Martha you serve dinner. If you are Mary you spend more time at the feet of the teacher. It appears as if nothing has changed and yet everything is different. It is as it always was for Martha, table set, bread baked, food and fellowship with friends. A week before she could not have imagined it would ever be this way again. But now her brother, for a moment lost to life and here found again, sits at table with the One who weeping called him out of the tomb. And with laughter and much toasting “L'Chaim!” To Life! everything is as it was and she hopes always will be. And then Mary, perhaps weeping herself, does the unthinkable and brings death back to life. Nothing has changed but everything is different. Her act of extravagance, scoffed at by Judas, “What a waste” is prophetic. The one who raised my brother has a date with death himself but instead of the stench of four days the fragrance of perfume filled the house. You can’t think of death in the same way when Lazarus is sitting at the table with you. Like Lazarus Jesus will be lost for a time but when he is found again death itself will be defeated and everything will change and even what is the same will be different. The poor who you always have with you will be made rich to sit at the table as bread baked and wine poured ushers in food and fellowship and feasting like has never been before and will be forever and ever. Amen. L’Chami! To Life!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Lent 5 C - Philippians 3:4-14

Philippians 3:4-14
Paul doesn't know how to do anything half way. He spent all his time and energy amassing an impressive Hebrew of the Hebrew's pedigree but then in turning to Christ trashed it all. "I regard them as rubbish..." Granted he sees his former confidence as an impediment to knowing Christ and attaining an eternal inheritance and in that sense we all need to let go of whatever might stand in our way of taking hold of Christ. On the other hand I would not know Christ except for the teachers and preachers who in the past passed on the traditions that shaped their lives of faith. Even Paul would not have know the Christ who took hold of him apart from the storied history of the people that God called out of Egypt. So I will hold onto to my Lutheran heritage, but not too tightly, so that I can take hold of the Christ who meets us outside the boundaries of our particular and peculiar expressions of the faith.

Lent 5C 2010

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Lent 5 C - Psalm 126

Psalm 126
The memory of mouths filled with laughter sustains those whose eyes brim with tears. A sustaining memory is a good thing in and of itself but in this case the memory of rejoicing in the past leads the psalmist to hope that the present weeping is also sowing seeds of future joy. The apostle Paul will say it this way. "...our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us." (Romans 8:18) Of course Paul is thinking of the ultimate rejoicing that will be revealed in the forever future and while I believe that to be true I am also confident that there are penultimate days of fortunes restored rejoicing that bring forth tears of joy and spontaneous laughter. While those days might be hard to come by and pale in comparison with what will be they do happen even in the midst of the most difficult of times whenever kindness is shown and love is freely offered and received. It could be a healing hug, a tender caress, a gentle smile or even (as strange as it may seem) a necessary word of correction that is accepted and acted upon. But however it happens rejoicing is always a gift and the fortune that is restored is hope.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Lent 5 C - Isaiah 43:16-21

Isaiah 43:16-21

“Do not remember the former things…” is not so much forgetting the captivity of the past as it is putting the past in its rightful place. The things we have done or left undone or the things done to us or not done for us are former things and have no power except the power we give them whenever former things prevent us from perceiving present things. Not that we don’t continue to create former things in our present. It is an odd sort of thing that we often prefer captivity to freedom so that even when a new thing springs forth we slip back into the more familiar patterns of former things. That is why this new thing that springs forth begins with a promise. “Do not be afraid. I have called you by name. You are mine.” (Isaiah 43:1) God makes a way in the wilderness for us, maybe in spite of us, with the hope that one day we would leave the illusion of comfort in captivity to live as those known and named by God. “God has made a new beginning from the ashes of our past; in the losing and the winning we hold fast.” (J. Ylvisaker) The threatening things are extinguished, the wild things are tamed, the crooked things are made straight, the difficult things brought down and the rare resource of water in a desolate and dry place gushes forth in abundance. Every day lived in the promise of God’s abiding and healing presence is the new day that springs forth so that the siren call of former things might be drowned out by the sound of praise. 

Friday, March 8, 2013

Lent 4 C - Conclusion

Pr. Michael Coffey (1st English Lutheran Church, Austin TX) calls the prodigal son story the parable of the party. The texts for Lent 4c might be labeled in the same way even if the ecclesiological party word (it begins and ends with an A) has been put away for forty days. But then in the same way that the ultimate party (it begins with an R) follows death the preparation for all the Lent 4c parties begin with something that is put away for awhile until "surprise" there is a cause for celebration. Joshua presides over the end of the manna "what is it?" diet and the wandering people enjoy the produce of a promised land. The psalmist wasting away in silence finally speaks up and out of confession comes glad cries of deliverance. The apostle Paul proclaims good news to the Corinthians stuck in old ways that in the Christ they are a new creation and so is everyone else. And both of the lost boys in the parable of the party are gifted with a father who says, "everything I have is yours - always was, always will be. " Party on. Excellent.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Lent 4 C - Luke 15:1-3, 11-32

Luke 15:1-3, 11-32
The proper sons (Pharisees and scribes) were grumbling because Jesus was eating and drinking with the prodigal sons (tax collectors and sinners) without punishing them for their prodigal-ness. It could be that Jesus knows that being prodigal (wasteful, reckless) is punishment enough and that those who stay home can be just as lost and dead as those who spend all they have in distant lands and end up coming home hungry. Of course the point of the parable is that the party will not be a joyful family reunion until the brothers sit down to dine together. So while the younger son suffered from hunger and the older son suffered from resentment it was the father who suffered the most waiting for his children to love each other as much as he loved them. Sad to say God is still waiting. 

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Lent 4 C - 2 Corinthians 5:16-21

2 Corinthians 5:16-21

The apostle Paul makes it sound so simple. “If you are in Christ you are a new creation…” How is it then that so many new creations continue to live in old ways regarding themselves and others and even the Christ from a human point of view? It is because we continue to cling to our old skin, stretching or shrinking it to make it fit even when it is obvious to everyone else that it doesn't.  Becoming a new creation is as much a death as it is a birth and both birth and death are very difficult things to do. So how do old creations learn new tricks? It begins and ends with what sounds so simple – a new point of view. That is we no longer think of Christ or others or ourselves from the point of view that sees reconciliation as compromise and forgiveness freely given as cheap. Or the point of view that accepts reconciliation for self but withholds it from others. Or worse, the point of view that accepts reconciliation for everyone else but can’t quite come to accept it as true for self and so the old skin clings to us as much as we cling to it. But if we dare to shed the old skin without fear of being naked we will die to the human point of view of selfish ways (ways that are both self-serving and self-denying) and become the new creation we already are all because of who God is. God does not count your sins against you. You can stop counting them as well.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Lent 4 C - Psalm 32

Psalm 32

The sad truth about ourselves is that we don’t get to “happy are those” until our bodies have done some wasting away. It comes from being so good at hiding iniquity or living “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” even though we've never left home. Hopefully sooner, rather than later, we come to our senses and realize that acknowledging our deceit has a direct effect on whether we live as “happy are those” or as those who are “dried up as in the heat of summer.” That is the gift of groaning all day long for if we were not made uncomfortable by a hand heavy upon us our ignorance would grow content with the bit and be curbed only when caught by torment or trouble. And so “happy are those” who both hear and tell the truth about themselves and determine to be less stubborn next time so that their groaning will give way to glad cries of deliverance.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Lent 4 C - Joshua 5:9-12

Joshua 5:9-12
Forty years of “what is it?” manna and now finally something new! Time and again in their wilderness wanderings the children of Israel lamented of their meager fare. “We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!"” Complaining of their present they forgot the pain of their past as the memory of fish and fruit failed to recall the disgrace of Egypt. In reality the “no cost” meal was the manna God freely provided. The fish and fruit, the “no cost” meal in Egypt, was paid for by slavery and harsh treatment. Of course those who complained never did get off the manna diet and dying in the desert their only comfort must have been that at least their children would see the promised land. That hope did not disappoint as Joshua and the children of disgrace are set free and manna is forever off the menu in the land of milk and honey. When in our wilderness wandering we lose our appetite and mis-remembering the past long for something that never was God calls us back to faith through a “no cost to us” meal that cost God’s life. Sustaining us in our weakness God provides for the journey until manna is taken off the menu and we sit down to dine at the forever feast. 

Friday, March 1, 2013

Lent 3 C - conclusion

I spent the first two days of this week in Chicago and only got back to Dallas on Tuesday night by the grace of God and the ability of a smaller carrier (Spirit) to avoid all the complications of multiple connections and options that make major airlines (American) more attractive but in this case more vulnerable to a Chicago snowstorm. There were a lot of unhappy people at ORD all trying to figure out what to do when what they planned to do was no longer an option. In the vast scheme of things it is only a vexing inconvenience to be stranded at an airport you were hoping to depart on time. But if you are a gate agent at the same airport it is equally vexing and requires quite a bit of patience – or perhaps thick skin - to respond kindly to people who are less so and have no one else to vent on but you. Maybe we should just go ahead and blame God who sent the storm in the first place and determined that some should be stuck and some (like me who has always, always, always flown American) should get home. The texts for Lent 3C – mid lent – ask and answer the questions that defy our ability to order the world according to simple – or even complex – algorithms. Isaiah explains it this way – God’s ways are not our ways. The psalmist thirsts for God like a west Texas rancher thirsting for water watches cloudless skies. It would seem that Paul who himself is saved only by the grace of God wanders back into the territory of the law but it is only to point out that the Corinthians are not ultimately in control of their own fate - even if they are not uninformed. And Jesus asks the question about the tragedies that happen without cause as a way of pointing us to the One who will dig around a tree that should have produced fruit long ago just to give it another chance.