Thursday, May 29, 2014

Easter 7 A - John 17:1-11

John 17:1-11
It is a shame we haven’t lived the prayer of Jesus, “so that they may be one” in a way the world can see. Instead the church that Jesus prayed to be protected from the world might need to be protected from itself as denominations and non-denominations (which have become denominations unto themselves) divide and disagree to protect thought and word despite the fact that their deeds are often less than pure. And truth to be told even those who elevate unity above all else live less of it than they like to believe. But then the people who were present as Jesus prayed didn’t do much better. Certain men from James, the brother of the Lord, criticized Peter (the Rock no less) for eating with non-Jews and he withdrew from doing what he knew was right. Paul didn’t hold back from expressing his displeasure with the Jerusalem triad, those “reputed to be pillars” and his letters detail the difficulty believers had in making “every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” So I suppose we should not be surprised when the ways of the world creep into the culture of the church. That doesn’t mean we can’t live more fully into Jesus’ prayer even while remaining loyal to the denominational lines we love. If we understood being one as singing together in harmony then every note in the Christian chorus has a place in the choir and as long as we don’t insist on our note being the best perhaps the world would hear a different tune coming out of the church and want to listen or maybe even sing along.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Easter 7 A - 1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11

1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11
In the middle of these passages about fiery ordeals and insults and roaring lions on the prowl is the passage that makes standing firm possible. “Cast all your anxieties on God who cares for you.” The ability to “cast” depends on trusting that God cares for us despite all that tends to increase anxiety. For Peter’s people it was organized persecution intent on stamping out the followers of the crucified and now reportedly resurrected Jewish rebel. Our anxieties are not produced by persecution but that doesn’t mean we do not experience them as fiery ordeals or roaring lions. Relationships gone sour, jobs lost or threatened, more bills than income at the end of the month, cells that rebel and multiply, fears without and within, all of it produces anxiety that steals our sleep and colors our world in shades of gray until we despair of life itself. To lay the blame on lack of faith merely adds to the anxious list which is why Peter reminds his people that “the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.” We are in this thing together. Anxiety is diminished when it is shared as casting cares on God is a communal exercise. 

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Easter 7 A - Psalm 68:1-10, 32-35

Psalm 68:1-10, 32-35
I wonder if the apostle Paul thought about Psalm 68 when he wrote to the Romans, “…while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled through the death of the Son…” It’s a little different than, “may you blow your enemies away like smoke.” That’s not to say God grants pardon without purpose or that the rebellious don’t experience some measure of life as a sun scorched land. David suffered loss of relationships and peace for his many sins despite his “man after God’s own heart” status but God never drove him away or melted him like wax before a fire. Perhaps it is because God’s deepest desire beyond being parent to the orphan, defender of the widow, family for the lonely, pardon for the prisoner, provider for the poor is for enemies to be reconciled.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Easter 7 A - Acts 1:6-14

Acts 1:6-14
I am comforted by the thought of an eternal future where finally free of all that limits life we will live fully into the hopes and dreams and desires of God. But when the faith we preach is more about waiting for eternal reward than living in the temporal reality the question might be asked of us, “Why do you stand looking up towards heaven?” Like most things Lutheran we do better when we balance what will be with what is. So we count on a day of redemption but it is not why we love the Lord. It is for the here and now that we believe despite the gold standard of the Protestant work ethic, namely delayed gratification. Rather we, like the first disciples, are told to leave the mountain and go home because there is much to be done. Living the future in the present is to be devoted to the kind of constant prayer that spends more time on its feet than knees. And while hands clasped together might be more pious, hands open wide for service are more helpful.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Easter 6 A - John 14:15-21

John 14:15-21
“If you love me you will keep my commandments.” In the Gospel of John there is only one commandment and while we have come to think it goes without saying Jesus calls it new. “A new commandment I give you. Love one another. As I have loved you so you must love one another." (John 13:34) The Gospel of John doesn't talk very much about loving enemies and his “no greater love than this” is stated as a benefit for friends. (John 15:3) That is not to say enemies are left out of the loving loop only that in the Gospel of John “love another” (aka people you know) comes first if for no other reason but the sorry history of the church not loving people who sit nearby aka in the next pew. How can the world be loved by church people if church people don’t love each other? That is not to say secular human organizations don’t exhibit discord within their ranks just that the church was founded on the principle of mutual love and affection. So keeping the commandments of Christ begins with making the commandment called “new” an everyday ordinary experience. If you love one another you might actually love me (Jesus) or if you love me (Jesus) you have no option but to love one another. It’s the chicken or the egg quandary. You cannot have one without the other no matter which comes first.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Easter 6 A - 1 Peter 3:13-22

1 Peter 3:13-22
Baptism, which Peter calls an appeal to God for a good conscience, has been the source of division in the church even though both those sprinkled as infants or dunked as adults claim to be baptized into one body. But since there are no step by step instructions in the scriptures as to when, where or how much water to use it’s been left to the church to fill in the blanks, which always means the body of Christ takes a beating. The adult dunkers dismiss the infant sprinklers baptism as invalid because of not enough water and besides babies can’t believe. The infant sprinklers defend themselves saying the adult dunkers are all wet and miss the anecdotal evidence in the scripture of whole households baptized or the meaning of Jesus’ command, “Let the little children come unto me.” I believe all of our rules and regulations surrounding this ritual miss the point that Peter is making.  Baptism is an appeal to God for a good conscience, which is the opposite of a guilty one. A conscience free from guilt and the only thing that brings one to God is Christ dying once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous.  Baptism is a sign not the source of salvation. And if there was any doubt as to the extent of God’s mercy even the spirits in prison who were baptized in the flood – a little too much water if you ask me – get paroled. 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Easter 6 A - Psalm 66:8-20

Psalm 66:8-20
This is a “Praise the Lord” psalm that remembers times of trouble. But not just any trouble, like waking up to a hot water heater leaking trouble that complicates life and blows budgets. It’s not like the trouble you see coming but can’t stop from stepping in and making a mess of things. No. This is “God tested us” trouble. You put us in prison. You loaded burdens on our backs. You let people ride over our heads (presumably on horseback). Refined like silver, passed through fire and water, the God tested psalmist declares, “Let me tell you what God has done for me!” I think we heard it and it didn’t sound very praiseworthy. But then the people who penned and first sang the psalms gave God glory for everything, good, bad or otherwise. If we apply this psalm to our time the tornado that destroyed Moore, OK a year ago today was a test. You flattened our homes. You smashed our cars. You killed our loved ones. You refined us like silver? I have trouble with that. Not because God can’t do whatever God wants. God is God and we are not. But if the cross is how God chooses to be known then “God tested us” does not come as twisters or tsunamis for in the cross of Christ the love of God is tested and through the empty tomb found more true than all the things that trouble us. What then of God testing? It is the cross for us as well. Or as the apostle Paul puts it, “Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2) 

Monday, May 19, 2014

Easter 6 A - Acts 17:22-31

Acts 17:22-31
A statue to an unknown god presented Paul with an opportunity to proclaim to the “extremely religious” Athenians the God “in whom we live and have our being.” It seems such an obvious mission strategy surely someone else had tried to slap a name tag on the god “yet to be named” pedestal but then maybe the Athenians were just as happy to allow their unnamed  god to remain anonymous. Paul managed to persuade at least two people, Dionysius and Damaris, but the absence of a New Testament letter to the Athenians might be a measure of Paul's limited success. A good number of people in our time prefer God to remain unnamed even if they might go to that unnamed god in times of crisis or for cultural rituals that still crop up even in decidedly secular societies. But the God "not served by human hands" still desires humans to search and perhaps in groping find the One who “is not far from each one of us.” It looks to me as if God leaves finding God up to chance and quirky circumstance so it hardly seems fair that a day would be fixed where ignorance is no longer bliss. On the other hand if the world is judged in righteousness by the man God appointed, and Jesus forgave even those who nailed him naked to wood, maybe the rest of God’s offspring have more than just a chance in hell to bump into the God who died in order to be found.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

John 14:1-14

John 14:1-14
“Do not let your hearts be troubled” does not deny the things that hurt the heart. That is why it is followed immediately by “believe in God, believe also in me.” An untroubled heart is not an act of strength or stone faced stoicism. It is as the apostle Paul writes a transformation brought about by the renewing of the mind. (Romans 12:2) Even so “How can we know the way” and “Show us the Father” are legitimate questions. More to the point, if the disciples who saw Jesus “face to face” asked for proof how much more should we “who see as through a mirror dimly” (1 Cor. 13:12) be allowed times of questioning. Jesus didn’t say it explicitly but I’m certain it was part of the plan that when he went off to design dwelling places he meant for the disciples to wait together so that their hearts might beat as one. “Do not let your hearts be troubled” Is not something one does alone. Maybe “the greater works than these” we do is to live faithfully in the waiting time where “asking anything in my name” is not as simple as it sounds. Listen. If you take this verse literally – ask anything in my name and I will do it – your heart will be troubled or worse, hardened. That is not to say our “ask anything” prayers fall on deaf ears. To live fully and freely in a troubling existence means we trust that God’s heart beats as one with ours in good times and bad but ultimately waits to reanimate our heart in the final forever future where hearts are never troubled.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Easter 5 A - 1 Peter 2:2-10

1 Peter 2:2-10
Longing for spiritual milk is a good thing if those well fed on faith do not withhold mercy from those who are less than conscientious about their spiritual diet. If mercy made us God’s people then the spiritual sacrifice acceptable to God is not a piety that isolates but a radical inclusion in the same way that Jesus ate and drank with those the holy priesthood of his day labeled undesirable. That being said Jesus ate and drank with a purpose, namely that those who are starving for lack of a real relationship with God and God’s people might be bathed in the marvelous light of the One who is continually calling us all out of darkness. 

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Easter 5 A -Psalm 31

Psalm 31
“My times are in your hands” is true whether one acknowledges it or not. We were born without being consulted and no matter the manner of our end there is only one way out. Living in-between birth and death we are continually pursued by all manner of enemies that mean to do us harm and sooner or later catch up with even those who live, as they say, a charmed life. Resistance is futile and denial of death leads one to act in ways that may in fact hasten one’s demise. But to say “into your hands I commit my spirit” in the midst of life means the in-between time that we are given belongs to the One whose unfailing love is a refuge, a rock, a fortress. I can live fully into the limitations of my life because the God I trust is limitless. I can be honest about my fear of traps set for me and confess my love of traps I set for myself. The freedom found in the faithful God who dying our death denied death the last word is that we can let go of holding so tightly onto our times and in doing so live them more fully, more honestly, more faithfully. Or as the apostle Paul put it, “whether we live or whether we die, we belong to the Lord.” (Romans 14:8)

Monday, May 12, 2014

Easter 5 A - Acts 7:55-60

Acts 7:55-60
I suppose it is a helpful thing to be full of the Holy Spirit and see the heavens open when you are being stoned to death but in the end no one survives martyrdom without pain. Just saying. Maybe if Stephen had been more diplomatic and not called the high priest and the teachers of the law “stiff necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears” and “betrayers and murders” of the Messiah (7:51-52) they would have been more inclined to listen to his version of Israel’s history. (7:1-54) But he was full of the Holy Spirit and his words were not his own. In the end he followed the way of Christ although his “Father forgive them for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34) was “do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60) which does not give his tormenters the benefit of ignorance and in that way he might be considered more merciful than the Christ. I hope that doesn’t get me stoned. Just saying.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Easter 4 A - John 10:1-10

John 10:1-10
“With you, O Lord” is one of my favorite songs from the Taize community in France. “With you, O Lord, is life in all its fullness and in your light we shall see true light.” There comes a moment in the repeated singing of this simple phrase when the song is more true for me than all the things that tend to diminish the abundant sufficiency of  “with you, O Lord.” By that I mean the seeking after vain illusions where life is measured by one’s possessions or accomplishments or status and on the flip side the devaluation of life that inevitably follows such seeking. Or life in that lonely place where putting on a happy face and keeping busy hides the deep pain or shame or sorrow that despite the practiced skill in hiding it from others is somehow always present with you.  The thief that comes only to steal and kill and destroy does so by deception. The reason it works so well is because we are so good at it ourselves. All this less than sufficient life comes at the expense of significant relationships, most notably the one where “with you O Lord is life in all its fullness”. The good news is that the One who came that “they might have life and have it abundantly” continues to open the gate and call out our names.  Sometimes in ways we can recognize and respond to and other times when reaching the bottom the only way out is up we determine to do that which we've always known was in our best interest. No matter how it happens this abundant life is measured not by possessions but by peace. That peace within when even all around is not anticipates the day when life in all its fullness won’t only be experienced in moments of Spirit gifted clarity or conscience but in the fullness of forever. In the meantime there are places we can go to enter the place of peace in the present. A warm embrace, an act of kindness, forgiveness asked for and received or the sound of laughter or a song in the sanctuary sung again and again and again until it is as true as your heart always knew it was meant to  be.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Easter 4 A - 1 Peter 2:19-25

1 Peter 2:19-25
We should give this text wide berth when it comes to applying it to the meaning of suffering especially the suffering one might endure for doing what is right. That is because God’s approval has nothing to do with how or why we suffer and everything to do with the suffering God endured for the world. “He Himself bore our sins…” That is not to say that endurance holds no reward, so to speak. There is something gained by patient perseverance but the thing that is gained is in the enduring not in the suffering. More to the point the suffering we are called to endure for the sake of Christ is the same suffering he bore. He suffered for us therefore we suffer for others. “Bear one other’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2) And so we suffer the injustices in our world and weep for those who are subjected to literal beatings while making every effort to do whatever we are able to alleviate their suffering. In that way our hearts are broken for the girls abducted in Nigeria and our desperate prayers for their return join the voices of their parents and relatives who cry out for the world to pay attention.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Easter 4 A - Psalm 23

Psalm 23
The 23rd psalm is on the Year A lectionary hit parade - Lent 4, Easter 4 and Pentecost 18 – which makes it difficult for this lectionary blogger to lie down in green pastures on a Tuesday afternoon. It’s also assigned twice in year B but only once in Year C, thank God. Though truth to be told we probably would do well to recite these ancient words more than once a day or at least the first verse. “The Lord is my shepherd…” As long as we recognize that as true for us there are no days so dark that the light and love of green pastures, still waters and soul restoring mercy cannot be anticipated and appropriated and in that way present for us. So we rely on a relationship with the one who leads us along paths that hold the promise of peace and by the rod and staff keeps us moving through the shadow valleys where we otherwise might be tempted to lie down and die. In the here and now we hear the words as promise but one day goodness and mercy will finally fully catch up with us and dwelling in the house of the Lord will be the forever dream come true.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Easter 4 A - Acts 2:42-47

Acts 2:42-47
The first days of the church were giddy indeed. Everyone got along so well they spent “much time together” at temple and table and shared all their possessions without complaining or comparing who gave up more to enrich the common pot. The people of Jerusalem looked upon them kindly and with glad and generous hearts everyone lived happily ever after. It would be nice if it were so but then this would be just another fairy tale with a make believe happy ending. But this is a story of ordinary people thrust into extraordinary times. Persecution from without and divisions from within will follow quickly and the letters of Paul detail the difficulty of grafting Gentiles onto the Jewish vine. The faith we profess survived because of their devotion, despite overwhelming difficulty, to four things - the apostle’s teaching, the fellowship, the breaking of bread and prayer. When these four marks of the faith are forgotten or neglected the church ceases to be God’s agent for revealing the future in the present. When we live fully into the simple truth of the Gospel, “God so loved the world…”; when fellowship means where one suffers all suffer and where one rejoices all rejoice; where the communal gathering around bread and wine anticipates the sumptuous future feast for all people; where the life of prayer not only names the need but seeks to do something about it - the reign of God is at hand and the church has a reason to be whether the Lord adds to our numbers or not.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Easter 3 A - Luke 24:13-49

Luke 24:13-49
“We had hoped…” is how Cleopas and friend express the deep disappointment at what could have been but wasn't. To have come so close to realizing the dream, all Jerusalem shouting as Zion’s King entered the city just as Zechariah prophesied, made it all the more difficult. Jesus of Nazareth, the mighty prophet, clearing the temple of corruption, shutting up Pharisees and Sadducees and self righteous big wigs with clever answers to tricky questions, in word and deed set the city on edge with expectation.  But people in power don’t give up that easily and while Jesus may speak mightily it turns out he’s a pushover and his followers are no match for a coup accomplished in the middle of the night. They woke to find the one who would redeem Israel already condemned and nailed to a Roman cross along with all their hopes for Zion. Heads hung in sorrow, Cleopas and friend head home to Emmaus only to meet a clueless stranger who turns out to know more about the story than they do. Hearts burning within them they don’t want the conversation to end and pressing him to stay sit down to dinner. But then the stranger does something oddly familiar and before they can say a word Jesus vanishes into the breaking and blessing and passing of bread. Take and eat suddenly means more than it did on Thursday night and without waiting for morning they rush back to join the chorus, “The Lord has risen!” This is a story for all who live in that place of deep regret, of hopes and dreams dashed, of disappointments that weigh heavily on the heart and cause heads to hang in sorrow. For in the oddly familiar Jesus appears to us at table when bread broken is a sign of the promise fulfilled and anticipated.  Jesus appears to us when walking together on the long journey home “Lo I am with you always” makes our hearts burn within us because it is truer than we can ask or imagine or believe.  And in the “necessary suffering” the God far off has come near so that all suffering and sorrow and yes, even death itself, might one day disappear.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Easter 3 A - 1 Peter 1:17-23

1 Peter 1:17-23
I remember singing the hymn “I am but a stranger here heaven is my home” at St. John’s Lutheran church in Ancram, New York. I spent the summers of my childhood in upstate New York and if we didn’t make the drive to Hudson to go to the Missouri Synod Lutheran church we’d go to the “other brand” of Lutheran church in Ancram. I’m not sure why I remember St John’s or the hymn to this day as we didn’t sing that hymn at my home church in Chicago. It could have been that St. John’s still had covered stalls for horse and carriage surrounding their gravel parking lot or maybe it was the fans we used to cool ourselves in a country church with no AC – the Lord’s prayer printed on one side and the aforementioned hymn on the other. The members were old – even then – and sang with old people voices (sorry). We were city kids from Chicago and going to a country church at a bend in the road was not our most favorite thing to do – or any church for that matter - since there was swimming and fishing and exploring waiting for us. But maybe the song spoke to me because our father raised us on a steady diet of sad country western songs and the idea that “…earth is a desert drear heaven is my home” sounded like something Tammy Wynette (one of dad’s favorites) would sing. At any rate there is a temptation within the Christian tradition to live as if this life of “exile” (1:17) means the “here and now” is not nearly as important as the “what is to come” and the command to “love one another deeply from the heart” goes no further than the circle of faith, and even that circle is often constricted. But Jesus understood the reign of God as a present reality and while there certainly would be a day when heaven would be our home the followers of Jesus were to work to make this home as heavenly as possible. “When I was hungry you gave me something to eat…” (Matthew 25:34ff)