Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Pentecost 11 C - Colossians 3:1-11

Colossians 3:1-11
Life that is not meaningless is a life hidden with Christ revealed when life that is meaningless dies. Therefore put to death the earthly things that diminish life on earth; anger, wrath, malice, slander, abusive language, lies and the like. While it sounds like a “just do it” theology, which as we know rarely gets it done, the revealed life depends fully on the One who did it for us so that the ways we are fond to follow are finally exposed as dead ends. When by putting to death the dead end ways in which we used to live we live the life hidden in Christ, Christ is revealed. The revealed life of Christ is not consumed by greed, possessed by passions or divided by discrimination. Just do it? No. It’s been done. 

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Pentecost 11 C - Psalm 49:1-12

Psalm 49:1-12
Psalm 49 continues the theme of Ecclesiastes, namely, no one gets out of here alive. Or as my theology professor Walt Bouman liked to say, “Eat healthy, exercise regularly, die anyway.” He was also fond of pointing out that despite all the advances in medical science the death rate is still one per person. While that might lead one to despair the Psalmist is confident enough to sing a solution to the riddle. Those whose iniquity brings trouble are not to be feared for even with the wealth of the world at their disposal there is no price that can be paid to purchase a pass on the grave. The wise and the foolish, the persecutor and the persecuted will perish together. While that might seem a Pyrrhic victory the psalmist trusts God will do what cannot be done. “God will redeem my life from the grave and will surely take me to himself.” What the psalmist anticipated and what we and Walt (now gone on to glory) knows is that the ransom for human life, the price paid for a pass on the grave, was God’s own life and that more than foots the bill.  

Monday, July 29, 2013

Pentecost 11 C - Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23

Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23
The opening words of the teacher, son of David, declare "Meaningless! Meaningless!" If you didn't get it the first time he leaves no doubt as to what he means "Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless." Most people prefer to sugar coat reality to make it more palatable as in “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.” (Mary Poppins) Or they defy reality as in, "The one who dies with the most toys wins!" (Malcolm Forbes) The teacher prefers to tell it like it is. He hates the things for which he toiled and despairs of his striving under the sun. Even if you work with wisdom, knowledge and skill you can’t take it with you when you go and others will profit from your pain. The one who dies with the most toys still dies. This might lead one to despair of life but that is not what the teacher declares as meaningless. Vanity of vanities is how the old version goes and that puts the emphasis where it belongs. What is meaningless is a sugar coated reality that convinces one that circumstances can be controlled, the future can be made secure by the accumulation of wealth or wisdom or that with enough effort chasing after the wind can put the breeze in your pocket. The teacher’s instruction is not that life is meaningless; rather life lived without meaning is vanity.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Pentecost 10 C - Luke 11:1-13

Luke 11:1-13
“Teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” Praying was not new to the disciples who as Jews would have done so religiously three times a day so this request has more to do with Jesus than a lesson in proper prayer posture. It’s like asking for the secret handshake, the visible, or in this case, verbal cue that the ones praying belong to the Jesus club. But instead of an exclusive club (we want our own prayer) Jesus begins with a new naming of the God whose name could not be spoken (lest ye die!) as Our Father. Everything that follows, including the parable and the seeking, finding, knocking as well as evil parents knowing the difference between eggs and scorpions, has to do with this naming of God as Father, or better, parent. The “Our Father” is not about gender but genetics. The kingdom come, the asking for daily bread, the being forgiven and forgiving, the temptation from which one is spared all depend on trusting the truth of “Our Father”. And one cannot trust the truth of God as Father unless one acknowledges the Father as “Our” which means we who belong to God belong to each other. (ala Sister Sledge “We Are Family” 1979) When we live “Our” while trusting God as “Father” the kingdom comes, bread is shared, we are forgiven and forgive and the time of trial is not avoided but overcome. And to that let all God’s children say, “Amen!”

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Pentecost 10 C - Colossians 2:6-19

Colossians 2:6-19
The rulers and authorities intended to make a public example of Jesus by nailing him to a cross. But what rulers intended for evil God intended for good and in the ultimate irony the shame of the cross is its glory. Those who killed Jesus according to the demands of the law could not foresee that condemning Christ would in the end fulfill it. We who are not overly concerned with circumcision or keeping kosher or observing festivals must none-the-less admit our tendency to prefer the rules and regulations of religion, if only for the regiment they bring to what otherwise seems too good to be true or too simple to be of much use. Each tradition claims Christ and disagreements about perceived fundamentals of faith lead one to dismiss the other as misguided or misinformed or sadly mistaken. But if God set aside the requirements of kosher and circumcision and Sabbath without a substitution save one, then maybe that’s the only thing we have to hold onto to remain rooted and built up and established in the God who is Love.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Pentecost 10 C - Psalm 138

Psalm 138
The small g gods who covet a capital G will have to listen while the psalmist sings praise of the Lord exalted above all things, especially small g gods. The kings of the earth accustomed to people bowing down to them will have to bow down to a higher power and join the song, whether they like it or not. And so you might expect the Lord of all the earth, who puts little g gods in their place and is King above all kings to act the part. But this One who knows no equal, no rival, no one worthy of comparison, regards the lowly, preserves the powerless, and delivers the needy. Therefore the whole heart of the psalmist gives thanks despite walking in the midst of trouble, for the Lord is near and not far off. We, too, when strengthened in soul by the steadfast love of the Lord trust that the Lord’s purposes for us, which may or may not be immediately apparent, will in fact be fulfilled for the capital G God and the King above all kings hears the words of our mouth and knows the needs of our soul.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Pentecost 10 C - Genesis 18:20-32

Genesis 18:20-32
Abraham does not dispute the wickedness of Sodom and Gomorrah or the punishment God has planned for the twin sin cities. Abraham’s concern is for the collateral damage caused by God’s righteous wrath which must in his mind include his nephew Lot and Lot’s family. Each proposal preceded by “Far be it from you” asks God to reconsider the just sentence on the wicked for the sake of a diminishing population of the righteous. He stops at ten because he either senses he’s gone as far as God will go or he can’t imagine there would be less than ten righteous in the cities on the plain. Unfortunately for the wicked there are only four who are counted righteous, although the character of Lot’s turning back wife turned to salt is questionable. And Lot’s daughters prove to be as sinful as Sodom (Genesis 19:30-36) while Lot drunk in a cave is no saint. So what if no one is righteous? What then? What Abraham didn't know and we can hardly imagine is that God’s desire was that mercy would triumph over judgment for it is God’s will to be both just and the one who justifies. (Romans 3:26) So since none were found righteous, God in Christ became the One through whom we are counted righteous and who knows, might also be the ones for whose sake every sin city is spared.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Pentecost 9c - Luke 10:38-42

Luke 10:38-42
Martha is distracted by her many tasks because truth is without her they won’t get done. Luke doesn't tell us what the many tasks are but I imagine they have something to do with a house full of freeloaders. Not the Lord, mind you. Martha was happy to have Jesus over for a visit. It was all those fisher folk and tax collectors who came with him. Food has to be prepared. The table has to be set. The good silverware has to be polished and counted – because you can’t trust Galileans not to walk off with a fork or three. At any rate there are things to be done and Martha is the only one doing them. It may be that Martha is often distracted by many tasks but if that’s the case maybe Mary spends a lot time sitting and not helping. I know that is not the point of the story but what if everyone chose the better part? Who would wash the dishes? So if Mary was listening closely to Jesus she might hear him say, “I came not to be served but to serve” and get up and help her sister. And then maybe Martha might have a chance to hear Jesus say, “do not be anxious about your life…” and sit down at the feet of Jesus.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Pentecost 9c - Colossians 1:1-14

Colossians 1:1-14
God was pleased to reconcile all things to himself even though all things seem to be pleased to remain hostile to God’s desire. That hostility did all it could to destroy God’s pleasure and in the agony and abandonment of the cross the world came close. One would think that after that God would be pleased to send the whole lot of us to hell but strangely God finds “no delight in the death of sinners” even if some who claim to speak for God do. That is not to say we are puppets to God’s desire only that God’s will be done might mean that what pleases God might finally overcome the human will to please self and that in the same way a moth cannot finally resist the light on a dark night we will be drawn into a love that refuses to be denied. And the surprise of it all is that when God’s pleasure has its way with us we become more pleased to be reconciled to others and in doing so double God’s pleasure. 

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Pentecost 9c - Psalm 15

Psalm 15
Abiding in the tent of the Lord is not a reward for those who walk blamelessly or do what is right. Doing what is right is how you abide in the Lord. Dwelling on the Lord’s holy hill is not a reward for speaking the truth. Speaking the truth is the language of the holy hill where there is no translation for slander and evil. That is because the language of the holy hill is love written by the life of One who stood by his oath, even to his hurt, who offered himself to all of humanity without demanding payment or interest and who though innocent died for those who live by bribes.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Pentecost 9c - Genesis 18:1-10

Marc Chagall - Abraham and the Visitors at Mamre
Genesis 18:1-10
Abraham and Sarah had been waiting a long time for God to make good on the promise of offspring more numerous than the stars. When Sarah heard the promise repeated she laughed to herself because she figured the joke was on her. She didn’t need a mirror to know her body had been passed by the promise too slow in coming due. There are times when wearied by waiting “Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?” is beyond our ability to believe. When the check is not in the mail, when there is no good news to balance the bad, when bodies are beyond healing or relationships are beyond repair we like Sarah might think the joke is on us. But at the end of Sarah’s story God will have the last laugh as Sarah cuddles a cooing Isaac and Abraham rejoices in the gift of the son who will make the starry dream come true. The end of all our stories has been written by the One who came in swaddling cloths and for whom we wait to come again clothed in glory. When we remember the end of the story God has written for us we are able to endure the chapters yet to be written as we wait for the last laugh which God will share with us and the whole creation.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Pentecost 8 C - Luke 10:25-37

Luke 10:25-37
This was the Gospel text six years ago on the day when Alanna Keely Gallagher was baptized into the family of God. On that day I spoke of Alanna joining the company of innkeepers as Jesus the Good Samaritan leaves the wounded and weary in the care of the church until the day he returns promising to repay us far more than we spend. It is a bittersweet memory today as the family of God at Calvary is bloodied, wounded and weary, bearing the weight of Alanna’s murder. But we will gather in the place that Alanna liked the best and process to a “bouncy hymn” (Shine, Jesus, Shine) albeit with weeping eyes because those are the kinds of hymns Alanna liked. The choir will sing the descant of “This Is the Feast” supported by brass and strings because we dare to claim the future as a present reality even when our hearts are broken and the victory seems far away. Parents and friends will speak words of remembrance that will make us cry and laugh at the same time and the Gospel will do what it is meant to do and be the Good News of Jesus Christ that overcomes the bad news of our broken relationship with God and each other. We will embrace one another in our grief and share the peace that passes all our ability to understand though we certainly recognize it when we receive it. We will gather around the banquet meal of hope and healing because joined with Christ we know Alanna and all the saints who have gone on before will be there with us in bread and wine, body and blood. And in confident hope of the life that is eternal we will speak the words of commendation as Alanna the innkeeper joins the company of cheerleaders, if you will, to spur us on to care for the lost and the lonely, the wounded and the weary, at the inn that is the church.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Pentecost 8 C - Colossians 1:1-14

Colossians 1:1-14
Paul makes fruit bearing sound easy but truth to be told even if worms and blight don’t destroy fruit fully grown it takes cooperation of sun and soil and water just to get the tree to bud and the bud to flower. The fruit that we enjoy comes from supermarket aisles, washed and polished, neatly displayed and far removed from the labor that produced and packaged what we take for granted. And so the fruit of faith might be better understood if we were closer to its origin which of course is what Paul is praying for. The Colossian Christians have truly comprehended the grace of God which means they understand that the fruit of faith has little to do with them and everything to do with the One who has rescued them from the power of darkness and transferred them to the kingdom of Christ. A life worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing, is a life that recognizes and gives thanks for faith fully grown and supermarket ready no thanks to our abilities but wholly dependent on the cooperation of Son and Spirit and Baptismal water.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Pentecost 8 C - Psalm 25:1-10

Psalm 25:1-10
The psalmist trusting in the Lord prays for God’s great love and mercy from of old to be remembered so that youthful sin and rebellious ways might be forgotten. While the Lord remembering us in love erases the memory of our rebellion we do not easily forget our own folly or foolishness or willful acts of insolence and indulgence. Memories as fresh as the day they were recorded return accusing and condemning bringing guilt and shame. The enemy that triumphs over me lives in my own heart and mind as I remember what God has forgotten as if God still holds it against me. Forgiveness freely offered is never fully received as long as I continue to hold myself accountable for the sin God forgot long ago. Since the way of the Lord is first and foremost forgiveness the instruction of the sinner begins with trusting the Lord, faithful and loving, and in doing so forgiving self. It does not mean forgive and forget which I think is beyond our ability, or at least mine. What we can do is remember forgiveness whenever we remember what God has forgotten and in so doing be finally free from youthful sins and rebellious ways.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Pentecost 8 C - Deuteronomy 30:9-14

Deuteronomy 30:9-14
The ancestors God delighted in prospering were Abraham, Isaac & Jacob and they reaped the benefits of God’s benevolence before the commandments and decrees were written into the book of the law. As it is written, “Abraham believed and it was credited to him as righteousness.” (Genesis 15:6) If that was true for them then turning to God with heart, mind and soul is not first and foremost about behavior but belief. As long as we think of observing commands as something we have to do “thou shalt not” will always be too hard and far from us. But Jesus abandoned heaven and for our sake crossed the sea of sin and death to bring the Word, his very presence, near to us. It is the heart drawn to God, the mind mesmerized by love, the soul resting secure in peace that makes observing the commands as close as your own breath. When turning to God for the love of Christ compels us observing God’s commands is not something external, something we have to do, but rather an expression of who we are as those who live and breathe the law of love.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Pentecost 7 C - Luke 10:1-20

To be sent out with no purse or provisions as lambs into the midst of wolves doesn't sound so promising unless the success of the mission does not depend on the missionary. In fact, the kingdom of God comes near the house that welcomes peace and the house with the “No Soliciting” sign. Where the kingdom is recognized healing happens. Where it is not recognized the kingdom stands as a sentence against the shortsighted as they are left to their own devices which is always less than what the kingdom offers. The dust shaking judgment anticipates the woes in the verses the lectionary leaves out. It is a litany of losers, where even sin city Sodom is better off “in that day” than the cities who choose not to welcome peace. But even those who proclaim peace don’t quite recognize the kingdom come near for they rejoice not in the name of Jesus but in the power they wield with his name. Jesus redirects their joy from submitting spirits to their names written in the final kingdom come. And if the one despised and rejected, the Lamb who led to the slaughter and before his shearers was dumb is the one who writes the names recorded in heaven, maybe there is hope even for the litany of losers?

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Pentecost 7 C - Galatians 6:1-16

Galatians 6:1-16
Jesus said, “If you love only those who love you what good is that to you? Even the pagans do that.” Which means to fully fulfill the law of Christ one must bear the burdens of those who you are quite happy to see weighed down. In which case the law of Christ cannot be fulfilled unless you bear the burdens of “those who want to make a good showing in the flesh” in the same way you "do not grow weary in doing what is right” for those “who follow this rule.” Maybe the apostle Paul was too close to the conflict to apply his own instruction about gently restoring those who by their transgression troubled him so. Of course it is true of our time as well when well meaning people passionate about defending the faith as they understand it violate its first principle. Love is the law of Christ. Is it any wonder that those outside the faith grow weary of our witness? If we are to be the body of Christ then to be crucified “to the world” is to be crucified for the world. When we argue over doctrine and dogma and in defending the Gospel fail to live it we are no longer defending the Gospel but violating it. Does that mean anything goes and there are no truths to be taught? No. But if the fullest expression of the truth is love then love determines how all lesser "truths" are taught, which means Paul might have to recant his wish that “those agitators go the whole way and emasculate themselves!” (Galatians 5:12) Oy Vey!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Pentecost 7 C - Psalm 66

Psalm 66
Psalm 66 praises the awesome works of God remembering the rescue through the sea when escaping from Egypt the children of Israel were trapped between an army and a wet place. It is the story told time and again down through the centuries. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the Lord heard your cry and with a mighty arm rescued you from Pharaoh’s grasp bringing you to a land flowing with milk and honey. While it is remembered with shouts of joy and singing it is also the story told when the milk has gone sour and the honey runs out, when enemies are all around, when life hangs in the balance and feet are on unsteady ground. When all seems hopeless remembering in the present the providence of God in the past is how one gets through today and into tomorrow. It is remembering God’s faithfulness that preserves the life that is essential, the life of hope. It is remembering God’s mercy that places the feet of faith on the solid ground of trust. And so we remember the awesome work of God on our behalf, not a passing through the sea on dry land, but God in human flesh passing through the sea of sorrow and suffering and death. In the tomorrow that will be the day that never ends the enemy that will cringe before God is death which like the chariots of Pharaoh has been swallowed up in the sea of victory.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Pentecost 7 C - Isaiah 66:10-14

Isaiah 66:10-14
Isaiah might be enamored by Jerusalem’s anatomy but I’d rather be consoled in Paris. On the other hand no city in the world seems to attract as much attention as Jerusalem, which sadly has not been the source of much rejoicing. Jerusalem, which means the city of peace, has more often been a city of sorrow. Isaiah’s vision of the exile’s return to Jerusalem to be nursed and carried on her arm and dandled on her knees was not realized and even the rejoicing of Zionist exiles reclaiming the Promised Land was short lived because of the violence and bloodshed that greeted their return. In our time devout Jews gather at the Wailing Wall to pray for the restoration of the temple as Palestinian Christians weep at walls that surround and separate them from the part of the Promised Land that is their home and all the while God weeps over the plight of all people who love Jerusalem. But in the dream of God’s design those who rejoice in her and those who mourn because of her will both be comforted by her. In the dream of God’s design Jerusalem is for all people a place of peace where the feast that never ends will begin. It may be that we have to do more than pray for the peace of Jerusalem for the dream of God’s design to come true, but not by denying the right of Jewish people to live in safety or by denying the real plight of the Palestinian people imprisoned in their own land. The hatred that exists and is the cause of such suffering will only be overcome when each sees in the other the dream of God’s design. And when God’s dream comes true Paris, although full figured, will play second fiddle to Jerusalem, the real city of amour.