“All things work together for good” is a bold statement in light of the laundry list of laments that follows. Hardship, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, sword, and being killed all day like sheep led to slaughter sounds more like all things working together against us. I don’t think “all things work together for good” means we should attach some deeper meaning to the suffering that is part and parcel with the human condition. Troublesome times come to the faithful and unfaithful alike but for those who love God all things work together for good because of the “no separation clause” of the covenant. The good for which all things work together is that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. That means God cannot be separated from our suffering and endures hardship, distress, persecution, famine, etc, right along with us. We don’t desire difficult days or rejoice in our sufferings but we do find great courage and strength and enduring hope that even death cannot destroy the relationship we have with the One who sighs deeply for and with us.
Wednesday, July 23, 2014
Tuesday, July 22, 2014
I think the psalmist weeps because the nature of God’s statues is not understood. They are not meant to be burdensome or arbitrary or restrictive of liberty. They are wonderful because they enrich relationships within the human community which is the way God is blessed. The law of the Lord is about living with each other in peace and harmony, celebrating the good gifts of life while together enduring difficulties with dignity and patience and enduring hope. A community living in the light of the Lord, who is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, is redeemed from human oppression which is self centered and judgmental, quick to anger and consumed by hatred. But even secret sins we keep politely hidden diminish relationship and rob us of the joy of living the freedom the law offers. So the psalmist praying for mercy and panting for the commands of the Lord weeps streams of tears for those who do recognize the gift that God offers in the law.
Monday, July 21, 2014
1 Kings 3:5-12
It is a smart prayer for a boy who doesn’t know how to come or go. One wonders how he thought to pray it. You would expect him to pray for the death of his enemies since the boy king had so many. A long life generally follows praying a shorter one for one’s enemies. Riches almost always makes it to the top of the wish list and despite his estimation of God’s people as great a little extra cash is always appreciated. God is surprised and certainly quite pleased that this second son of Bathsheba and David’s badly begun union turns out to be a king worthy of the title. God grants Solomon understanding and a discerning mind and all the rest as well and for a time there really is no king like him. Unfortunately for Israel, and I suppose for God as well, Solomon gives up on the gift of discernment in favor of the counsel of foreign wives and the golden age of Israel ends with a kingdom divided between warring sons. It is the stuff of Shakespeare and the great Greek tragedies and more times than we care to admit our own tales of fortune and folly. It will take a long time but there will be a king born in Bethlehem who eclipses Solomon and all his splendor. He will never know riches and his life will be cut short by his enemies but in the end his poverty is our wealth and his death and resurrection the only hope for friend and enemy alike.
Thursday, July 17, 2014
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
The first hearers of this word were no doubt encouraged by it. Justice will be done and love wins as good will triumph over evil. It is a good word for all who weary of a world infested by evil and the misery it causes even if one hopes God’s judgment is tempered by mercy for weeds in the same way it is for wheat. In the end the final job of judging between wheat and weeds is none of our business and naming some ultimately good and others ultimately evil or dividing along the us and them line might just mean we have some weeds in our wheat as well. Maybe that is the point of the parable on a more personal level. We are weed and wheat, saint and sinner, and only God can pull out one without uprooting the other.
Wednesday, July 16, 2014
The sufferings of the present may not be worth comparing with the glory of the future but when “subjected to futility we groan as in labor” waiting patiently is not as easy as Paul would make it seem. That is why we are in debt to hope, charging to the future what we cannot afford in the present so that these bodies decaying day by day might anticipate the forever future banquet long before the party has started. The nature of faith is to look past the present difficulties without denying that they cause us to groan by keeping our eyes on the prize, which is the day when sorrow and sighing will flee and groaning will cease. In the meantime we wait with eager expectation, albeit patiently, by going deeper in debt to hope.
Tuesday, July 15, 2014
The psalmist looks to the Lord, gracious and full of compassion, in the face of violent people intent on doing bodily harm. Maybe it’s not such a good thing that God is slow to anger and full of kindness when the arrogant rise up against you. One might be better served by a great God of might to smite the evil doers. But then all that is needed is a sign of God’s favor that those who hate will be put to shame, which truth to be told, is where redemption begins for us as well. Not the kind of shame that leads to destructive behavior or self loathing. No, it is the sign of God’s favor that exposes the self that is less true than the self on the other side of shame. Arrogance is shamed by humility, violence by peace, hatred by love so that the wicked forsake their ways and set their eyes on the Lord. There is only one sign that can accomplish such things, the sign upon which the child of the Lord’s handmaid was crucified.
Monday, July 14, 2014
The God of Israel is throwing it down in the deity ring. The first, the last, "there is no other like me" is laying claim to big G God status. Even though the short lived, golden age of Solomon was not solid 14 K and compared to the great civilizations of history hardly compares the Word of the Lord declares otherwise. The One who says “there is no other” is telling the truth. Maybe the proof is that today we praise the God of Israel and not the gods of Assyria or Babylon or Rome. The word the big G God has for the small and of no account is “do not be afraid” which is the way this God is like no other. Small g gods are magnified by great civilizations. The big G God chooses to magnify a nation and people of no account.
Thursday, July 10, 2014
Good soil does not happen by itself and even without the effort of cultivation is the result of flood or glacier or volcanic eruption. Something happens to make good soil. Hard path and rocky ground and thorn infested field take heart. It’s not your fault. Of course we all hope we are good soil, hearing and understanding and producing bumper crops. But if you are like me you have good soil days and bad, times of rejoicing in the word and times of spiritual drought, times of inner peace and contentment and times when choked by cares and concerns you’re doing well to get out of bed. The good news is that seed sown is not conditional on the state of the soil. That’s because the consistent sower sows seed as if it was grown on trees and doesn’t seem to understand or care about the economics of agriculture. You don’t waste seed where it doesn’t have a prayer to produce. Some would rename this parable the parable of the soils but I think it’s still all about the sower who recklessly scatters the seeds of hope and peace and love and life everywhere, no matter what, and hopes that on good days and bad we’ll do the same.
Wednesday, July 9, 2014
“There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” even when those who are in Christ Jesus continue to set their minds on the things of the flesh. That is because the “no condemnation” clause is due to “thanks be to God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 7:25) and not a result of anything we have done or not done as in “I do not understand my own actions. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” (Romans 7:15) However, the experience of “life and peace” is a direct result of setting the mind on the things of the Spirit. This “setting of the mind” is an orientation towards one thing or another. Either you believe you are loved by God period end of sentence or you don’t. Behavior follows belief not vice versa. So to live fully into the Spirit begins with a confidence that the “no condemnation” clause remains in effect even when our minds are hostile to God. That is the radical nature of grace and the risk God takes by dying for ungodly, god-hating sinners before getting a prenuptial. (Romans 5:6,8,10)
Tuesday, July 8, 2014
“When deeds of iniquity overwhelm us…” we look to the Lord to forgive our transgressions and “save us from weak resignation to the evils we deplore”. (God of Grace and God of Glory - LBW 415) The psalmist could not have imagined the awesome deed by which God would get the job done and so sings of a God girded with might whose strength established the mountains and silenced the roaring of the seas. But it was God in Jesus Christ who was overwhelmed by our transgressions and the One who established the mountains and silenced the seas struggled to climb a hill where with his last cry the whole world was stilled. But if that is where the story ends it would hardly be a source of hope. As it is death could not contain the One who established the earth and breaking free from the grip of the grave God set us free as well so that overwhelmed by grace we might be cured of our warring madness and bend our will to God’s control.
Monday, July 7, 2014
Isaiah 55 begins with a word that goes out from the Lord’s mouth as an invitation to the thirsty to come and buy food and drink that delights without money and without cost. It is a word for a recently released captive people returned to Zion who suffer under the weight of harsh conditions while attempting to rebuild a ruined country. As sure as the seasons, Isaiah tells them, God’s word will water your work and even the mountains and hills will sing while the trees and fields keep the beat. It is a word that requires faith which is not the same as proof as the joy and peace will not come without difficulty. But without the word of hope the wicked will return to their ways and the unrighteous to their thoughts which leads inevitably to despair. To hope in the Lord, to trust the promise, is to anticipate the everlasting sign which is not yet and at the same time already present which means we sing the future song even while the fields are choked by thistles and the hills covered with briers.
Thursday, July 3, 2014
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
Even John who “came neither eating nor drinking” wondered about his cousin Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come or should we expect someone else?” (Matthew 11:3) but then Messiahs are held to higher standards than mere mortals. The people who institutionalized the Exodus, ritually recounting God’s intervention through plagues and parted sea, expected the great I AM to show up in the same way the second time round. No one expected that God’s anointed would turn out to be a drinking man and a friend of tax collectors and sinners. Oh vey! What was God thinking? It is clear that in Jesus God is operating outside the religious box of his day which should give the wise and intelligent of our time reason enough to rethink the ways we try to make the one accused of being a glutton and drunkard more respectable. Not that wisdom is vindicated by excess in food or drink but rather in extravagant hospitality that befriends even those who burdened their own people for a profit or whose lifestyle made them ritually unclean. There is no where God will not go to invite the weary and heavy burdened to come and find rest and in doing so hopes Pharisees of every generation will do the same.
Wednesday, July 2, 2014
Ignorance is bliss and if not for the law we would be blissfully ignorant of sin. As it is the law makes us painfully aware of sin’s death grip on our lives as we with Paul lament “I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” But this confession is not the conclusion of the matter as if we were given a spiritual loophole for bad behavior. That is because Paul is not concerned primarily with the actions of the body but rather the inclination of the heart. “These people honor me with their lips but their hearts are far from me” (Isaiah 29:13) is how God describes those who hide evil intent behind the mask of outward piety. Since the locus of the rebellious nature of the human being is a refusal to be fully human (and by that I mean to be satisfied being a creature without lusting after Creator status) then Paul’s cry, “wretched man that I am” is far more serious than simple behavior modification can resolve. So where does that leave us? Some would say it leaves us in the lurch and we’ll live our whole lives struggling with temptations beyond our ability to resist which in the end leads one to despise God or ourselves or despair altogether. No. The conclusion of the matter comes in the verses that follow, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.” (Romans 8:1-2) We do not have to pay our way by penance or accept the way we are is the way we always will be or reject the system as a set up. The resolution of “wretched man that I am” is “there is no condemnation”.
Tuesday, July 1, 2014
If all of the Lord’s works praised and the faithful ones blessed and those who fell down looked to be lifted up the Lord wouldn't need to be nearly as gracious and compassionate and slow to anger. As it is even the Lord’s own people push the Lord to the limit as if slow to anger did not have a tipping point. That doesn't mean the Lord is stuffing until one day even the Almighty can’t help but vent all over creation. No, it means the Lord’s nature as gracious and compassionate is infinitely more patient with us than we are with each other or ourselves for that matter. The gracious and compassionate nature of the Lord overflows in steadfast love that will not abandon us despite our fickle nature and willful ways. So does the Lord have a tipping point? Not in the way that we do but there comes a time when the Lord leaves us to the destructive works of our hands and minds, a spiritual timeout if you will, until lost and alone, bowed down by the burden of our pride or malice or greed or envy or apathy or lust we turn back to the Lord and experience again the steadfast love that upholds and lifts us up.