Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Christmas 2 B - Ephesians 1:3:14

Ephesians 1:3-14
It is one thing to be chosen but being chosen by God before the beginning of time is on a completely different scale. Truth is it doesn't get much better than that. Of course a good number of people who identify with these passages have been familiar with first choice status most of their lives myself included. But these passages were first penned to those who had little choice about anything in their life as they were slaves and women within the Roman Empire. Of course there were some exceptions but the vast majority of Christians in the first century would have heard these words as a stark contrast to their everyday lives of institutional servitude. The history books claim that Constantine saw the sign of the cross that would conquer and made the choice for Christianity but the truth is the women and slaves had come to believe their first choice status no matter what the empire said and maybe Constantine just recognized the handwriting was on wall. In a sad twist of fate his choosing to make Christianity the religion of the empire meant that those who were first in the radical faith of Christianity went back to being last in the official faith of the Empire. I don’t know for sure but I’m thinking the second time that Jesus wept was when Constantine conquered the cross by painting it on his soldier’s shields.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Christmas 2 B - Psalm 147:12-20

Psalm 147:12-20
The law of the Lord was a gift to Jacob and Israel even if they failed to abide by all its decrees. We tend to think of laws as restrictions that limit freedom even if some limit to freedom is a good thing. But the people of Israel thought of the law in terms of relationship. “I will be your God and you will be my people.” Set free from bondage in Egypt God gave them the law as an identity that made them unique among the nations and set them apart as a treasured possession of the Most High. If the law was God’s gift to the children of Israel then the children of Israel were the gift that God got. Perhaps God is not so unlike us in that respect. God desires the intimacy of human relationship that is freely given and received. Of course it was not all love and kisses as on more than one occasion God grew tired of the people called God’s own. “What can I do with you, Ephraim? What can I do with you, Judah? Your love is like the morning mist…” (Hosea 6:4) But as much as the law and decrees kept the people of Israel connected to God it was God’s promise to Abraham that kept God in the game. Even if they were children who misbehaved they remained God’s children. And so it is with us whose identity is found in the law of Christ which is the law of love. Love God. Love Neighbor. We might fail on both accounts but God’s love endures forever.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Christmas 2 B - Jeremiah 31:7-14

Jeremiah 31:7-14
Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, proclaims a different sort of weeping for the “great company” destined to return to Zion by brooks of water along straight paths of no stumbling. I’ve always felt badly for Jeremiah as one who was destined to be a bearer of bad tidings. If I had my druthers I’d choose to be Second Isaiah who gets mostly good bits even if he is writing from captivity in a Babylonian garden. But even if most of Jeremiah’s book is grim, as was his lot, there are these wonderfully bright bits of promise that must have given the prophet a reason to be glad, if only for a moment. “The young women rejoice in the dance and the young men and old shall be merry.” Our troubles pale in comparison to what Jeremiah’s people endured but because all troubles are personal I believe comparisons have little value. There will always be someone who has it worse than we do until at some point we stand at the end of the line and look to the left (or right) and realize we are at the end of the line. So this word of promise speaks to every life scattered by circumstances beyond one’s control, put down by hands too strong to resist, languishing in prisons of sorrow and suffering. It may be that we have more mourning to endure before sorrow is turned into joy but if we believe the promise then God is always waiting on the other side of whatever troubles us to tend to us as a shepherd gathers sheep or comfort us as a parent embraces a child. Point is the God beyond knowing knows our plight and in the Word Made Flesh did something about it. Emmanuel. God with us.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Christmas 1 B - Luke 2:22-40

Luke 2:22-40
This is another Biblical story I learned through the Lutheran liturgy even before I could read. We sang the “Nunc Dimittis” (Latin for “Now Dismiss”) after communion (once a month in those days). Of course the most important thing about "Now Dismiss" was to be dismissed from the church service which was all the salvation I was waiting to see. Even so it was a story that captured my imagination. In my mind Simeon was an old man waiting his whole life for this moment and he died as soon as the song left his lips. But it wasn’t a sad story to me. He got what he wanted. Dismissed in peace having seen what he longed for as his life came to the hoped for conclusion. I am not so sure I know what I hope to be the conclusion of my life and finding myself in the difficult just past the “middle years” I can’t imagine my passing at this point would look anything like peace. But then Simeon’s ending is Jesus’ beginning and Jesus’ ending will turn out to be the beginning for Simeon. Maybe that is why he could depart in peace and we will as well, no matter when our last song is sung.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Christmas 1 B - Galatians 4:4-7

Galatians 4:4-7
When my time had fully come at 3 AM on December 24 the flu put me out for the count. 48 hours of wracking cough, aches and pains, fever, and fitful sleep. Not good timing when my plan that morning was to make omelets to order for our homeless ministry Room in the Inn guests (including a lobster option no less – thank you to the cooking crew that covered for me) and then four services that night (thank you to the pastor crew that covered for me). I foolishly thought if my fever broke I could still preach at 11 PM and even worked out a way I could use the flu to talk about the incarnation which I will do for you now so as not to let my drug induced imagination go to waste. (Take that Pastor Ethan – even on Nyquil I can rock the pulpit) When the time had fully come Jesus was born into a body like mine. No, not my size, shape or color but born into a body that could be laid low by a microscopic virus. Born into a body that was susceptible to the elements, to hunger, to thirst, to lack of sleep, to all manner of physical maladies. But more than that; born into a body wracked by grief (Jesus wept). Born into a body that ached for the lonely and the lost (he had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd) Born into a body that felt the pain of a creation gone horribly wrong (he came to that which was his own but they knew him not) But unlike my time in the crucible of the flu Jesus body did not recover from what was done to him. He was sent to those who were under the law to redeem them but they treated him with cruel contempt, mocking him in his suffering and ultimately robbing him of his life by stripping him naked and nailing him to wood. Not a Merry Christmas story but then I’m jacked up on Nyquil (just kidding) and what I need is a Savior who can defeat the virus of my sin not a no crying he makes baby in a manger. The latter is our fairy tale. The former is God’s plan. When the time had fully come God put on our flesh, died our death and then kicked it in the butt so that we would never, ever be laid low by death. Merry Christmas. 

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Christmas 1 B - Psalm 148

Psalm 148
Psalm 148 is an all inclusive “Praise the Lord!” song but unless “Sweet Jesus!” or some other less than pastor- like expletive counts as praise I've not appreciated the tempestuous wind doing God’s will on Mustang Island, TX. But maybe that’s the point the psalmist wants to make. Even the things we think of as less than praiseworthy when they address us – fire, hail, creepy things, sea monsters – have to bend the knee, albeit a fin in the case of sea monsters, to the LORD GOD ALMIGHTY. Sun, moon, stars, mountains, hills, all creatures great and small, all of creation praises God because “the Lord has raised up strength for the people.” But here’s the thing even the creative psalmist could not imagine. God’s strength would be made manifest in weakness. The praise of the sovereigns of the earth, at least a Roman governor named Pilate and a Jewish high priest named Annas, was to silence God’s strength by nailing Jesus to a tree but surprise (!) even the grave was compelled to praise the one it could not hold. We too are compelled to praise the One we cannot contain or confine in our holy houses of wood and stone, theologies and rituals. That’s because God is always coming to us in new and surprising ways not unlike a tempestuous wind that long ago blew through a house in Jerusalem depositing fire on the heads of young men and maidens so they could praise God in languages they had never learned. So praise the Lord in whatever way you can which means that even the song of sea monsters is pleasing to the one who “created the Leviathan for the sport of it.” 

Monday, December 22, 2014

Christmas 2 B - Isaiah 61:10 - 62:3

Isaiah 61:10 - 62:3
The ransomed of the Lord’s “return unto Zion with singing” (Isaiah 35:10) song was stilled when they saw the ruins of their beloved Jerusalem. That is what makes the words of the prophet so powerful. We tend to keep silent in times of suffering – stiff upper lip and all that - but Isaiah sings with his whole being of what will be in the midst of what is. Not for his own sake but for the sake of those who cannot sing, who have no hope, who lament of life itself and long for the grave, if only to swallow up their sorrow. But Isaiah’s faith has the audacity to believe the ruins will be rebuilt, the city that is a byword among the nations will be made great and the whole world will be blessed by the beauty of their story. Their story is our story for once we were no people, condemned and cut off, but now we are God’s own people, holy and dearly loved. So do not be silent but in the midst of difficult days sing the sing of salvation in such a way that others will be compelled to join the song or at least hum along.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Advent 4 B - Luke 1:26-38

Luke 1:26-38
“How can this be?” There are many who will say “it can’t” or “it wasn’t” but then Mary is the only one who can say for sure. If Luke is half the historian my father is he will have checked his sources and I don’t doubt Mary could have been one of them. Of course we don’t just talk about the virgin birth we confess it and even though that might sound like the same thing it isn’t. Confessions are not explained; they are confessed which is to say, believed. Not like Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy though some would say the virgin birth is a fairytale. Confessions are not constitutions though some would make them equally binding. But the Christian confession of faith ddoesn'tso much bind us to a set of beliefs as it identifies us as those who adhere to a particular story of what God is about in our world. This is the story of “God with us” which is “God for us” in every space and place and time from before the beginning into the forever future. “Let it be to me according to your word.” Mary entered the story in a time and place where people threw rocks at unwed pregnant teenagers until they were dead. (God help us those places still exist) She accepted what would likely lead to her death because she trusted her life was in God’s hands. “Let it be to me according to your word.” There is no greater statement of faith in the scriptures and though she is venerated as “Theotokos” (God-bearer) her faith was worthy of praise even before the Spirit overshadowed her and the little Lord Jesus lay asleep in her womb. Faith bears God into the world even now so that you and I enter Mary’s story, which is God’s story, whenever in the face of an uncertain future we say, “Let it be to me according to your word.”

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Advent 4 B - Romans 16:22-27

Romans 16:25-27
The secret kept hidden for long ages but now disclosed never-the-less remains a mystery. God in human flesh, not just as a disguise for the Divine but the Holy “in, with and under” the profane; "the immortal, invisible, God only wise" born into the little Lord Jesus who cried for Mary’s milk before he fell asleep on the hay. A mystery, yes, but not one beyond our ability to comprehend for it was love that came down and graced our world with beauty and truth and wherever compassion and mercy are made known God is fully present. But humans prefer gods of fire and smoke, of rigid rules and regulations, and by that I mean gods who are more predictable and in many ways more easily manipulated. This God brings about the obedience of faith by entering our reality, the good, the bad and the mundane. So that if we truly want to be about what God is about we have to be more connected to each other and not just the ones who are like us. Touch the leper. Eat with the tax collector. Welcome the sinner. The reverse is true as well as Jesus let a woman scorned bathe his feet with tears and another quench his thirst and still another clutch his robe. He called dim disciples to follow him and deposited the kingdom into their hands expecting the mystery to be continually revealed in and through them. And we who have been strengthened by the Gospel they proclaimed are obedient to the faith whenever we reveal the mystery to the little piece of the planet we inhabit.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Advent 4 B - Luke 1:46-55

Luke 1:46-55
The “great thing God has done for me” made Mary great with child without her betrothed’s participation or consent. That is not normally a cause for rejoicing even if the child hidden in her secret place was the Messiah. But let’s be clear. Mary is not a member of the ruling class and the “servant Israel” of whom she sings is hardly a significant player on the world’s stage. But Mary is naturally naïve and believes in, or at least hopes for, the promise of God come true. And come to think of it even the secular songs of this season seem wonderfully naïve in a world so full of woe. “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, Jack Frost nipping at your nose…” There is more power in hope than in any other human emotion save love although they are so closely related as to be the same thing. And miracles, like songs that imagine God come down to lift up the lowly, do not need to be fully realized to be more than true. When Mary’s boy was full grown the mighty she imagined cast down from their thrones lifted him up on a cross until crying out in agony he breathed his last. But the song she sung when he moved in her womb could not be stilled and the refrain of His resurrection was just the prelude to the chorus that is sung even now in eternity. God has done great things indeed.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Advent 4 B - 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16

2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16
David may believe his desire to upgrade God from tent to temple is all about God but truth is David is embarrassed that Israel’s God is housed in such a humble abode. More to the point, such a humbly housed God is a poor reflection on the new king on the block which is why David needs God to move uptown into a temple of gold and stone and cedar. We lust after bigger buildings and consider churches that house ten thousand more significant than "two or three gathered in my name" who love the Lord with their whole lives. The church may be built to glorify God but it magnifies the power and prestige of the humans that build it. If bigger is better why did God choose a manger in a stable and an unwed teenage girl to birth the Messiah into a world that would despise his teaching so much it would attempt to shut him up by nailing him to wood? The upgrade God desires is not a church made of stone but a permanent dwelling place in your heart.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Advent 3 B - John 1:6-8;

If the Pharisees were playing a game of hangman with John they’d be losing but truth is they don’t care about his answers as long as they can hang him. A voice crying in the wilderness always means trouble for those who color their religion within the lines and questions like “who are you?” are a set up for a take down. But John doesn't care about their questions because he knows he is pointing to something greater than anyone can imagine. And if we believe Matthew’s account of John’s question for Jesus (are you the one or should we look for another?) even the voice in the wilderness wondered if he got it right. That’s because John was also in the dark even though he was tasked with pointing to the light. He thought himself unworthy of untying Jesus’ sandals while Jesus considered washing his disciple’s feet the true measure of a master. That’s not to say John and Jesus weren't on the same page when it came to calling out the Pharisees and teachers of the law  – You brood of vipers – but Jesus does something John could not imagine the Messiah would do. He dies. But the light of Jesus was not extinguished by death rather it lit up hell like a Christmas tree and banished the power of darkness and death once and for all. 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Advent 3 B - 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
I don’t know about you but there very few things I do that can be followed by “always” or “unceasing” or “in all circumstances”; except sin, of course, but maybe that doesn't count because it comes so naturally. I’m actually a little suspicious of those who claim to live this text and that behind all the smiles and the God is so good alleluias are lives of utter desperation wrapped in praise the Lord pastels. (BTW this is not an autobiographical post. I look best in Advent blue.) Rejoice always and give thanks in all circumstances. Really? Isn't that called denial? There are times when the most faithful response is a lament that curses the darkness. Which is why God’s will cannot be that we manage this on our own but rather depend fully on the One who sanctifies and keeps us sound in every and all circumstances. So rejoicing can happen even when we have every reason to weep and giving thanks can take place even when we have every reason to lament and prayers can happen always because the “Spirit intercedes for us with groans words cannot express.” (Romans 8:26) Not denial but acceptance that even in the worst of times the promise of God to be present is more than enough reason to give thanks. 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Advent 3 B - Psalm 126

Psalm 126
The first four verses of Psalm 126 remember the dream come true as exiles returned home and mouths were filled with laughter and tongues tingled with joy. When the memory of the moment is recounted the psalmist is glad indeed. But apparently those fortunes have been spent and in the same way that the dry wadis of the Negev wait for the spring rain the psalmist asks that the past be repeated in the present. Restore our fortunes like the watercourses of the Negev so that tears sown in sorrow will reap joyful songs. Faith remembers the joy of the past to endure the pain of the present by hoping in the promise of the future. You might be in a time of waiting and if so need to remember the times when rejoicing came easily and if you cannot perhaps there is someone who can. Which is why if you are so gifted as to be in a laughter tongue tingling time of being glad indeed give thanks to the Lord and do what you can to share your sheaves of joy with those who weep.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Advent 3 B - Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
Isaiah 61 is the measure of whether one has been anointed by the spirit of the Lord or not. Good news for the oppressed not narrow views that suppress life and love; healing words that bind up the broken hearted not harsh speech that hurts; liberating words that free one from the fear that God is not ultimately and completely “for us.”  It does not mean there are no words of correction or constraint. Just the opposite. Right behavior flows from right relationship and right relationship is established by unconditional love. Or as Jesus said, “Perfect love casts out all fear” When we live more fully into the unconditional love of God we are less likely to withhold love from others and ourselves which may actually be the harder of the two. The brokenhearted healed, the ones who mourn comforted, the faint of spirit made strong, all are signs of the Spirit whose speech blesses the world with light and love and liberty so that good news for the oppressed is just as good for the oppressor as freedom for the captive is ultimately freedom for the captor.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Advent 2 B - Mark 1:1-8

Mark 1:1-18
The beginning of Jesus’ story anticipates the end of our story which because of Jesus will not be as final as it otherwise might have been. And like the messenger who prepared Jesus’ way through the wilderness Jesus makes straight our crooked paths so that our crying out will be shouts of victory and not cries of lament. But the end of our salvation story does not deny the hard path walked by John or Jesus. Both paid dearly for their proclamation of the truth and while resurrection is certainly a happy ending to what would have been a tragic tale the marks of suffering remain to remind us that it was the baptism of His death that forgave our sin. So we who benefit from John’s prophecy and by virtue of our baptism by the Holy Spirit are joined to Jesus’ death walk on paths that are sometimes as hard and unyielding as the ones they walked but because the Good News begun has walked all the world’s paths we never walk them alone. 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Advent 2 B - 2 Peter 3:8-15

2 Peter 3:8-15
So how are we to “regard the patience of the Lord as salvation” while worrying about “the rest of the world is toast thief in the night day of the Lord?” Even if we are confident of our own reserved seat in the forever future we can hardly sit still when it comes to those for whom God’s infinite patience will one day run out. Lives of holiness and godliness are only holy and godly in so much as they are lived for the sake of those who do not know the peace and patience of God. And so God’s desire that none perish may dove tail with our own – at least for the “none” that we know – which is why waiting patiently is not the same as waiting passively.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Advent 2 B - Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13

Psalm 85
We could use a long embrace with steadfast love and faithfulness and more public displays of affection between righteousness and peace. That’s because when God’s people live as “sin blotted out” forgiven folk, fortunes are restored, hearts rejoice and the land itself yields an increase. But when envy kisses bitter strife and hatred and selfish ambition embrace everyone suffers. And so God speaks peace by forgiving sin to turn hearts towards the pathway prepared by righteousness, which is always an attitude before it shows up as behavior. It would be a lovely thing if the church could fall madly in love with righteousness and peace and act like a school girl or boy giddy with the first blush of young love. Imagine what we could accomplish by throwing caution to the wind and recklessly engaging in PDA of the sort that would make those outside the faith long for the same sort of relationship we have with each other and the God who whispers, "Peace."

Monday, December 1, 2014

Advent 2 B - Isaiah 40:1-11

Isaiah 40:1-11
“Comfort, comfort” is a doubly welcome word when it feels like you’ve paid double for whatever it was that required you to pay a penalty in the first place. In the same way being fed and gathered and carried and gently led is welcome relief to those who like grass and flowers wither and fade. More often than not we are fully responsible for the painful predicament produced by our sin but there is also a good bit of life’s consequences that operate outside the boundaries of cause and effect. I imagine there were a good number of those carted off to captivity in Babylon that could not trace a clear line between what they had done and what was being done to them. So in the middle of the captivity, when the memory of Jerusalem was fading, or worse when the memory of its destruction was like a recurring nightmare, the prophet speaks God’s words of hope and healing. “Comfort, comfort” is what was needed to endure the everyday abuse of captors who mockingly demanded, “sing us songs of Zion” as if joyful songs could be conjured up like some cheap parlor trick. God visits us in the worst of times to remind us that the best of times can be experienced when anticipated through hope. The valley of despair will be lifted; the mountain of desperation will be brought low, the uneven and rough places of sorrow and suffering will be made smooth because the word of the Lord is consistent. “Comfort, comfort.”