Friday, November 29, 2013

Advent 1 A - Matthew 24:36-44

Matthew 24:36-44
I don’t mean to burst anyone’s Martin Luther bubble but recent scholarship can find no evidence that he ever said “If I believed the world was to end tomorrow, I would still plant a tree today.” It’s too bad because it’s a great quote and if it wasn’t already well known I might claim it as my own. Of course I don’t think whoever said it meant the last day is a good day to plant a tree but that the last day should not change the way one lives every day given that one should live each day as if it was one's last day even if the rest of the world was going to keep going on forever. But instead of tree planting as the proper way to be ready people get goofy on this end time stuff coming up with all kinds of theories as to the day and hour that Jesus himself says only the Father knows. They should plant some trees for all the paper wasted on books better left behind. The way to be ready for the second coming is to live in the love and grace of the first appearing. I doubt very much that the God who so loved the world the first time round has decided it was a mistake and what the world really needs is a good thrashing. Therefore with every tree planted we pray, Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Advent 1 A - Romans 13:11-14

Romans 13:11-14
It’s been one long night since the apostle roused the Romans from sleep. Of course we can all agree that salvation is nearer to us now than it was yesterday and it will be one day closer tomorrow but that doesn’t have quite the sense of immediacy that Paul uses to exhort believers to lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Given the long delay of the second coming we might be tempted to hit the snooze on holy living and roll over for forty winks of debauchery, though sooner or later the sun comes up on a life of licentiousness bringing a hangover of hurt. That being said the motivation for living honorably as in the day is not for fear of punishment or that the end is near but because the outstanding debt of love demands it. The debt of love that one owes the other is also owed to self and a life free from quarreling and jealousy is a life worth living for its own sake. So put on the Lord Jesus no matter how long the night lasts for fulfilling the law of love does no wrong to self or neighbor. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Advent 1 A - Psalm 122

Psalm 122
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem. In Hebrew Jerusalem means the City of Peace. In Arabic it means Holiness and in Greek the Holy City. Claimed by Jew, Moslem and Christian as the capital of their respective faiths the holy city of peace has seen more than its fair share of violence and bloodshed. But while the psalmist would pray for the peace of Jerusalem for the sake of relatives and friends the holy peace that befits the Lord’s house is peace for the world. That kind of peace cannot be established by walls and towers. That kind of peace will not be established by military might. The peace that prospers and makes one glad will come when the human family recognizes that we all belong to each other and our destinies are inextricably linked. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Advent 1 A - Isaiah 2:1-5

Isaiah 2:1-5
“Gonna lay down my sword and shield, down by the riverside, gonna study war no more.” Down by the Riverside predates the War Between the States and sings the desire of all who have on the job training in the study of war. We are a warring species, sometimes for necessary and just causes, sometimes in self defense, sometimes to protect economic self interest, and sometimes, God help us, just because. But I cannot believe that given the opportunity by means of a just peace, or a trustworthy security, or some other mechanism to make war obsolete anyone would not willingly, joyfully, lay down sword and shield. That day has eluded the human race even though some have tried their best to live “All we are saying is give peace a chance.” It is because the only peace that has a chance is the promised peace of God’s path. Whenever we walk in the light of the Lord we give peace a chance to happen in our lives and the lives of those around us in anticipation of the final peace treaty of the forever future where swords and spears beaten into plowshares and pruning hooks will signal the end of the nations warring madness once and for all. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Christ the King Year C - Luke

Luke 23:33-43
"Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." The guilty one anticipates the kingdom of the innocent one. Without hesitating Jesus answers the prayer that is a plea with the promise of paradise, today. Of all the stories told about Jesus; walking on water, feeding five thousand, healing the blind, lame, and deaf, exorcising demons and yes, even raising a dead friend, this story at the end of Jesus’ life defines the royal character of Christ the King. “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them… but I am among you as one who serves.” The one Jesus called Abba said it this way “I desire mercy not sacrifice.” In light of God’s own stated preference how can one continue to hold onto the idea that the righteous rage of Abba could only be appeased by the blood sacrifice of the innocent Son dearly loved? No. In the promise of paradise to a criminal justly condemned, in forgiving those who sure as hell knew what they were doing, the character of God is revealed and by descending to the place of the dead we are guaranteed there will be no where God is not. Jesus. Remember me. 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Christ the King Year C - Colossians 1:11-20

Colossians 1:11-20
The strength to endure everything patiently while at the same time joyfully giving thanks comes from investing our inheritance before fully inheriting it, which means we spend the profit of the future on the deficit of the present. This is where the last will and testament is challenged for while we have no objection to God in Christ being reconciled to us we question the “all things on earth” part for there are plenty on earth we’d rather not include in the reconciled to God inheritance. And therein lies the rub. If through the blood of the cross God is reconciled to all things, then we as one of the all things on earth must be reconciled to the other all things, whether we like it or not. So enduring patiently might mean enduring our own limited vision as much as the difficulties presented by the other “all things on earth” not that happy about our being included in the inheritance. I imagine the only one laughing at the reading of the last will and testament of the One in whom the fullness of God was pleased to dwell will be God upon seeing the faces of the all things on earth surprised by who is included in the all things in heaven.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Feast of Christ the King Year C - Psalm 46

Psalm 46
As a child I remember waters flooding our basement in Columbus, Ohio and the river that ran down our street did not make anyone glad. Of course that is a silly comparison with the earth changing, mountains shaking, seas rising that swept away lives in the Philippines or the collateral human damage when nations like Syria totter and are in uproar. But then the “we will not fear” of Psalm 46 is a defiant declaration of faith in the constancy of God despite unstable ground, rising tides and tottering human institutions. It may be that your ground shaking, waters roaring, tottering nation is more personal and closer to home but the sentiment is the same. “Be still and know that I am God” looks at what is and declares what will be. “There is a river that makes glad” is lined by twelve trees whose leaves are for the healing of the nations so that in that place of perfect peace swords are plowshares and spears are pruning hooks and predators are at peace with prey. (Revelation 22:2; Isaiah 11:6) Therefore we will not fear in the midst of our personal uprisings for we trust that the "we shall not be moved" God of the forever future is with us as our refuge and strength in the earth shaking present.

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Feast of Christ the King Year C - Jeremiah 23:1-6

Jeremiah 23:1-6
I don’t know about the shepherds of Jeremiah’s time but the ones I know work like dogs to shepherd their people. But with the large population of aging sheep or sheep leaving small pastures for larger ones or sheep who've stopped grazing altogether, or worse, lambs who have never been brought to the pasture at all, shepherds find themselves the ones scattered and sometimes even destroyed. We hear this is the new normal of the post Christian era and that our decline is a done deal and nothing short of the second coming will restore the church to its former position of prominence. But then maybe this is just the time that is surely coming, when a post Christian age allows shepherds and sheep to see Christ raised again to the only prominent position that counts. “We preach Christ crucified,” is how the apostle Paul said it. Martin Luther offering advice to a fellow shepherd said it this way. My dear Friar, learn Christ and him crucified. Learn to praise him and, despairing of yourself, say, 'Lord Jesus, you are my righteousness, just as I am your sin." Christ the King crucified, the shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep, is the righteous Branch who executes justice and righteousness by virtue of his suffering and death on the cross in every age, no matter what we call it. Perhaps the word that Jeremiah had for the sheep of his day might be the word needed for shepherds of today. Do not be afraid. Do not be dismayed. I am your Shepherd. Take a day off.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Pentecost 26 C - Luke 21:5-19

Luke 21:5-19
I am grateful for the attention National Public Radio and others have given Kyrie or the “Church in a Pub” that is supported by Calvary Lutheran and Trinity Lutheran but I think the headline “To Stave Off Decline, Churches Attract New Members With Beer” is misleading. First of all decline is nothing new to Christianity as times of decline and subsequent revival are the reality for both the individual and the collective experience of the faith. Secondly using beer to connect people with Bible will not stave off anything as humans tend to have short attention spans for all things secular and spiritual. And lastly none of it matters when one considers these words of Jesus. The temple was the center of the universe, the footstool of God, so that “not one stone left upon another” was beyond the ability of his disciples to understand or accept. What if our physical expression of the faith, seemingly as solid as the ancient temple, is just as temporary? Don’t get me wrong. The institution of church, like the temple, has done marvelous things and I would not be where I am without the gift of Lutheran church and school and seminary. More importantly the message of Christianity mobilized into mission continues to live out the vision of God to make the present look more like the forever future. But if we think the present structures are permanent we have missed the point.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Pentecost 26 C - 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13

2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
Ouch! Paul is not pulling any punches. Get to work you busybodies otherwise you are going on the idleness diet and you’ll lose more than a few pounds, I promise you. It should be of some comfort to the church of our time that the church of Paul’s time, which included at least a few charter members of the resurrection, had to deal with conflicts. And not just doctrinal disputes but practical matters which in many ways are more difficult to deal with. The good news is that the idleness conflict did not destroy the Thessalonians which is the reason the church of today is still around to deal with its own version of "brothers and sisters let us not grow weary in doing what is right."

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Pentecost 26 C - Psalm 98

Psalm 98
Seas roaring and floods clapping are not such joyful images in light of Typhoon Haiyan which might also cause one to question how the steadfast love and faithfulness of the Lord to ancient Israel is understood in the Philippines today. Of course psalms are poetic songs and take liberties with literal images. Even so roaring seas and clapping floods are best experienced from a safe distance. But then David wants his song to celebrate the awesome power of the Almighty and hills singing (i.e. earthquakes) and seas roaring and floods clapping are the best way he can describe the unrestrained might of the Almighty. But this is where the image falls short because the sea doesn't give a damn who it sweeps away into oblivion leaving sorrow and suffering in its wake. There is no equity in the random nature of natural destructive forces as the innocent are just as likely to die as the deserving. And David could not understand God’s faithfulness and steadfast love for Israel apart from David’s victory over Israel’s enemies and in that sense David didn't give a damn for anyone outside of his own kingdom. But in the end it was God who was swept away by the flood as the seas roared crucify and the hills clapped at the sight of his suffering even though their celebration was short lived for when Jesus rose above the storm of death a new song was sung. And the way we sing the new song is to help those who suffer and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:2) ELCA Disaster Response

Monday, November 11, 2013

Pentecost 26 C - Malachi 4:1-2a

Malachi 4:1-2
Ouch! These are not the sort of scriptures I like to read and while as a Lutheran I think I can apply the balm of Paul to the burn of Malachi the truth is there is a limit to God’s grace. Before you brand me a Baptist (I apologize for that reference but I couldn't resist the three b’s in that sentence) let me hasten to add that the limit to God’s grace is our free will which in a weird way is the ultimate expression of God’s grace. That means God is gracious only so far as we will allow God to be so. The arrogance of evil doers is that they create a world in their own image and even the “saved by grace” apostle Paul observes “as you sow so shall you reap”. (Galatians 6:7) You can’t plant weeds and expect to harvest wheat. The trouble is those who revere God’s name live in the same field as the wicked who consistently sow woe. The promise of healing wings is a shield from consuming fire for those who are troubled in the world of the wicked. In the meantime we who revere the name of the Lord are called to work against the ways of arrogance or at the very least not participate in them because you cannot revere the name of the One who did not consider equality with God something to exploit (Philippians 2:6) while you are trying to sit on God’s throne.

2010 post

Friday, November 8, 2013

Pentecost 25 C - Luke 20:27-38

Luke 20:27-38
We miss the point of these verses if we get distracted by Jesus’ short discourse on the state of marriage in the forever future. The Sadducees don’t believe in the resurrection and so their silly construct of one bride for seven brothers doesn't deserve a serious response. But more to the point Jesus is letting us know that the relationships that foreshadow the forever future, like marriage, are just that – a shadow of a future reality so bright that it blinds our minds in the here and now to what will be in the there and then. What will be is nothing like what is or more to the point what is cannot possibly describe what will be. But less we lament the loss of forever love Jesus concludes his comments with an image even the Sadducees will recognize, the burning bush God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, a God of the living, who delights in individual identity. So of course you will recognize the one who slept next to you for 50 years and both delighted you and drove you crazy but in the kingdom come, marriage, or the lack of it, will be like comparing life in the womb to life in the world. One leads to the other but they are clearly not the same. 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Pentecost 25 C - 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17

2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17
“…do not be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed…” Whether they were quickly shaken or not the Thessalonians were certainly worried that they had missed the boat or at the very least wondered why the immediate return of the Christ was taking its own sweet time. Apocalyptic anxiety has come and gone ever since. Hal Lindsey predicted the late great planet earth would come and go before the turn of the last century but he was left behind by Tim LeHaye and Jerry Jenkins and didn't make nearly as much profit. I have trouble understanding why people still get worked up about this when the scriptures clearly tell us to chill. Listen. What will be will be whenever it will be and you and I have no part to play in it. We are to trust that no matter what happens whenever it happens God is for us and that our passage from the present to the future is already booked and paid in full. In the meantime the blessing of eternal comfort and good hope is given to us so that we engage in good works and words in the here and now without worrying about the there and then. Or in other words - Jesus is coming again. Look busy. 

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Pentecost 25 C - Psalm 17:1-9

Psalm 17:1-9
This prayer of the younger version of David gives voice to the plea of the innocent who looks to the Lord for vindication. If you try my heart you will find it pure. I haven’t cursed those who curse me nor returned violence for violence. I've stayed on the straight and narrow even when your path was not easy to discern and have not given up my hope in you despite the fact that the wicked have surrounded me and threaten my life. Of course the Lord did deliver David from the wrath of King Saul and God never abandoned him even though there came a time when David’s heart, consumed by lust and power, was no longer as pure as it was when he penned this prayer. So the man after God’s own heart who prayed to be the apple of God’s eye was vindicated not because of his innocence but because God’s steadfast love could not let go of the young man hiding in a cave even when he was an older man hiding his sin behind the curtain of the crown. To David’s credit he understood his deepest desire was for his Psalm 51 heart (Create in me a clean heart, O God) to be recreated so he could pray Psalm 17 again. Or as St. Augustine penned it, “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.”

Monday, November 4, 2013

Pentecost 25 C - Job 19:23-27

Job 19:23-27
Job is the Shakespeare of the scriptures and if for no other reason needs to be read for the creative way the anonymous author addresses the age old question of why bad things happen to good people. Of course the answer is we don’t know or in Job’s words, “I've spoken of things I did not understand…” (Job 42:3) But in chapter 19 Job is still complaining and maintaining he is innocent (which ironically he is) and trying to figure out why God has taken everything from him so that even little children despise him. (19:18) But just when you think he’s finally going to listen to his wife’s advice (just curse God and die – 2:9) Job returns to the hope that even if everyone else has abandoned him God has not. Job is not so much a lesson about patience – unless patience allows for loud lamenting and bitter complaint – as it is about remaining in relationship with God even when everything indicates God no longer cares about you. It’s either faith or stubbornness but then maybe in Job's case they’re the same thing.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

The Feast of All Saints Year C - Luke 6:20-31

Luke 6:20-31
Luke’s version of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is a little more difficult to deal with than Matthew’s, depending on which side of Luke’s line drawn in the economic sand you are standing. Poor or rich, hungry or well fed, weeping or laughing, despised or rejected? Like many of the stories and sayings in Luke’s Gospel the plight of the poor gets special attention and the Good News for the poor is generally Bad News for the rich. But that’s not to say it’s all good news for the poor, for the down payment on future rewards is rejoicing in being hated, excluded, reviled, and defamed, all the while turning the other cheek and doubling down on coats taken away. As my seminary professor Walter Bouman liked to say about such things, “Yes, but will it play in Poughkeepsie?” So what do we of the “God loves everyone, saved by grace party” do with such a seemingly partisan text? Unfortunately we have to say the Bible is very clear. God takes sides. We can choose to ignore that or soften it but we cannot escape it. On the other hand what if God’s taking sides is to counter the sides we take? It may be that God as ultimate parent is not that different from human parents who in loving their children equally attempt to create and maintain environments where siblings are encouraged to share. So no matter which side of the line you currently stand God’s ultimate purpose is for us all to stand on the same side because in the end that is a parent’s greatest joy.