Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Proper 22 C - Psalm 37:1-9

Psalm 37:1-9Wicked wrongdoers appear to have it made, prospering in their own way, living large, as they say. The righteous are tempted to fret that the wicked get away with wrongdoing or even envy the life of ease produced by evil devices. But the Lord promises the ways of the wicked will fade while those who trust in the Lord and do good will never whither. Trusting in the Lord and doing good, while waiting patiently for God to act, is itself a reward that does not disappoint and the desire of the heart that delights in the Lord is a life free from fret. Now that’s living large.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Proper 22 C - Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4

Habakkuk cries out his complaint into the silence of God and wonders “what’s the point?” I wonder the same thing when evil events paint a cruel caricature of the human race. But the truth is I know more decent people than the depraved ones that dominate the news and even though good people do not make the headlines they make the world a better place simply by being in it. Even so Habakkuk’s complaint is that God is not doing enough to see that the wicked are diminished and the decent flourish. God’s response is to give Habakkuk something to do. “Write a vision on tablets a runner can see.” Our “make a sign a runner can see” means we speak God’s “wait and see” in the face of all that troubles us and put all our effort and energy into transforming this world to look more like the world God promises is coming. In that way we act out the hope that God’s deliverance is not delayed whenever decent people act decently.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Proper 21 C - Luke 16:19-31

It appears there is a great chasm between the table of the rich and the poor at the gate that is as fixed as the one between Hades and Abraham’s bosom and the only thing the rich man can count on is that his brothers will be joining him sometime in the future. The lesson to be learned seems to be a Christian version of Karma which means we would do well to make a down payment on a mansion in glory by moving into a homeless shelter in the here and now. But that’s the problem with paying too much attention to the details of a parable which are only there to set up the punch line. According to Luke the crowds to whom Jesus first told the joke included money loving Pharisees but I doubt many of them laughed when they heard it. While they claimed to listen to Moses and the prophets their love of money and neglect of the poor at the gate violated the very teachings they claimed to follow. The irony is that the raising of the real life Lazarus led them to believe Jesus had to die in order to save the nation (John 11:45-53) and because of that we, who believe because someone rose from the dead, listen to Moses and the prophets today. But if we don’t want the joke to be told on us we will bridge the chasm between the table of the rich, where we often sit, and the poor at the gate, which we hardly visit, with acts of charity, mercy and kindness motivated not by a need to avoid Hades but the desire to make the world we live in look a little more like Abraham’s bosom.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Proper 21 C - 2 Timothy 2:1-14

The sincere faith that first lived in Lois and Eunice might not be the best thing to rekindle in Timothy given the suffering Paul is experiencing. But something about that faith was so compelling that a presumably loving grandmother and mother believed Timothy would be better off confessing the faith even though it might lead to imprisonment or death. The spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline was not for cowards in the first century. According to church tradition Timothy was beaten, dragged through the streets of Ephesus and stoned to death for preaching what Lois and Eunice and Paul persuaded him was sound teaching of which one should not be ashamed. In twenty-first century America participation in the sound teaching of faith and love carries no threat of persecution and yet according to a decade worth of polls is in serious decline among those in both the Eunice and Timothy age demographic. A whole generation has been lost to the holy calling of God’s purpose and grace and Lois is wondering why. It could be that the most dangerous threat to the faith was to neuter it by making it mainstream until a majority of people could claim to be Christian without practicing or participating in any communal expression of it. So what do we do? We do what Paul preached to his beloved child Timothy - rekindle the gift of God, the sound teaching of the faith and love that is in Christ Jesus. Move out of the mainstream and into the marketplace. Do not be ashamed to give a reason for the hope that you have and with gentleness and respect be people of persuasion for the good treasure entrusted to us is worth sharing.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Proper 21 C - Psalm 146

The Lord does not operate in a vacuum and the vision cast by the psalm cannot be realized without corrective lenses. In the real world the oppressed do not see justice without assistance and the hungry are not fed without being invited to dinner. The only praise of the Lord that makes a difference to the Lord is the praise that makes a difference to those the Lord loves; the blind, the prisoner, the stranger, the orphan, the widow, the ones bowed down by the weight of the world. In the meantime the wicked would helped by those who love the Lord when reminded that the only hope they have is that the Lord will revive them once their plans perish.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Proper 21 C - Amos 6:1-7

Amos’s “alas” could have been written for our time when bad loans repackaged in new paper brought the mortgage industry house of cards crashing down and the rest of the economy with it. Those most responsible got a “get out jail free” card and while the politicians pointed fingers at each other no one grieved over the ruin of “Joseph” except the “Josephs” who lost jobs and homes and for many any hope of finding gainful employment again. In the land of endless distraction, we can be like those lounging on couches listening to idle music oblivious to the fact that shuttered storefronts represent real people who longue not in luxury but for lack of a job and whose only song is a lament. The word of Amos was a warning that went unheeded by those at ease in Zion secure on Mount Samaria until the Assyrians came knocking on the door with an eviction notice. Whether you think we have fully recovered from the great recession or not the way we heed this warning of Amos is to grieve with and for those who still suffer loss of home and livelihood while at the same time acting on the word of James 2:14-17 by providing comfort, support and shelter as we are able. In so doing we anticipate the day when “alas” will be “alleluia” and we will find our place in the many rooms of the Father’s house.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Proper 20 C - Luke 16:1-13

Luke 16:1-13
I don’t know what Jesus is thinking as friends made by dishonest wealth are more than likely “friends in low places” (Garth Brooks) and one wonders what sort of eternal home they own. But that’s the problem with this parable. It doesn’t fit any of the familiar parable patterns where the characters are clearly defined and the conclusions to be drawn are obvious. In this case compound cheating with interest is commended and the children of light are encouraged to imitate the children of this age. But maybe we are not to put much stock in the master’s admiration of the dishonest steward, after all he is still without employment and there is no guarantee that the friends gained by dishonesty will prove trustworthy. What if we are not meant to put this story into a neat parable package that can be filed away and forgotten? Maybe the point of the parable is in the unsettling nature of it and the lesson to be learned is that it reveals the truth about our attempt to serve two masters by neither hating wealth nor fully loving God.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Proper 20 C - 1 Timothy 2:1-7

Can we make supplication, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings for a king, or in our time elected officials, while at the same time engaging in the time honored American tradition of treating those voted into high positions with disdain or outright contempt? The first Christians had no such choice. The kings and people in high places for whom they were urged to make supplication, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings were actively seeking to put them into the low place of the grave and frankly their most ardent prayer was simply to be left alone. The wisdom of this pastoral letter is not about temporal politics but eternal destiny. God’s most ardent desire is for everyone to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. If our practice of politics contradicts a quiet and peaceable life then we are to choose godliness and dignity above partisan positions for the sake of the One who gave himself as a ransom for all. Even so this text does not prohibit passionate engagement in the political process. It just reminds us that what is right and acceptable is to make supplication, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings for people in positions of authority keeping in mind that God passionately loves the person we might disagree with as a politician.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Proper 20 C - Amos 8:4-7

Amos can cry “Hear this” all he wants but those who make the ephah small and the shekel great are deaf to the cries of the poor and needy. Neither do they fear God whose Sabbath day of rest is an interruption to predatory practices where profit is the only bottom line that counts. Consumed by greed they sell even what is swept from the threshing floor so that there is nothing left for charity. The world enamored by wealth and power admires such single minded devotion to succeed at all costs as a sign of superiority but God sees the plight of the poor, hears the cries of the needy, listens to the prayers of those sold for a sandal and swears to never forget. Does that mean God is against profit? No. What Amos calls into question and what God will never forget is when profit comes at the expense of the poor. It should not escape our attention that God chose to be born into poverty and that our attitude towards the poor and needy is a direct reflection of our devotion to the God whose love is the only profit that really counts.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Proper 19 C - Luke 15:1-10

I wonder if there was someone in the grumbling crowd who thought the carpenter from Nazareth would make a lousy shepherd. No one leaves the ninety-nine to fend for themselves in the wilderness to search for the one lamb who is lost unless you don’t mind losing at least a few of the ninety-nine. But then with Jesus the point is always in the punch line. There is rejoicing in finding the one who is lost. So Jesus will lose more than a few Pharisees and scribes in order to find a lost tax collector or sinner but then that isn’t the point either is it? I don’t believe Jesus is being sarcastic when he refers to Pharisees and scribes as righteous. No. If he meant to criticize them he’d call them a brood of vipers or white washed tombs like he does in Matthew’s Gospel. Here he acknowledges the hard work of righteous piety that requires no repentance but in typical Jesus fashion I think it is a set up for what comes next. The story that follows the lost sheep and lost coin is a story about two lost sons and a waiting father. It’s a story about a hard working stay at home first son who doesn’t realize all the father has is already his and a lost and found younger son who didn’t know what he had until he’d left it all behind. It is for these two lost children that Jesus comes. A story for the righteous Pharisee who works so hard for what is free and the tax collector who gives away everything of value to get what is worthless. But of course the point is in the punch line and when the righteous ninety-nine find the lost sinner and the lost sinner finds the righteous ninety-nine then both are found by God because there is as much joy in being found as finding.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Proper 19 C - Psalm 51:1-10

King David didn't write Psalm 51 until he had nowhere to hide. It’s not that he didn't know what he had done. He just thought he'd gotten away with it. It began when glancing over the balcony he caught sight of Bathsheba bathing and “look don’t touch” was not enough to satisfy his lust. But his sweet emotion soon turned sour when “the rabbit done died” (Aerosmith) and the consequence of his carnal knowledge with another man's wife threatened to show. As with most people in power honesty is the last option to be exercised so the offense is compounded as Uriah the righteous husband refusing to cooperate with David's scheme is killed to protect the king's deceit. David might have been able to live with the lie for a long time, most of us can, were it not for the prophet Nathan who tells the story of a rich man stealing a poor man’s lamb and King David unaware that he is the subject of the story demands the death of the offender. “You are the man” is the end of Nathan’s sermon and the beginning of David’s confession. “Against you only have I sinned” might appear to put Bathsheba into the backseat again, save for the understanding that violating the sanctity of another human being is always a crime against the One to whom all life is precious. That might be the one thing that David gets right and in the end makes him the man after God’s own heart. If our confession acknowledges God as the one we wrong when we harm another, including self, maybe the only persuasion we need in order to be honest with ourselves and others is the desire to return to the God who wants nothing more than to continually create in us clean hearts.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Proper 19 C - Exodus 32:7-14

God might have regretted the promise made to Abraham in light of the golden calf and in a more irreverent moment one might even imagine the Lord uttering Homer Simpson’s exclamation of resignation… D'oh!!! In the end the Lord’s mind is changed by Moses who persuades the Lord to protect the Lord’s own name so that the disaster visited upon the stiff necked people won’t turn the Lord into the subject of an Egyptian joke. It is a very human image of God that any loving parent of a willfully disobedient child might recognize. God is stuck with these people brought out of Egypt with mighty power and outstretched hand and God, throughout the wilderness wandering, will have to be talked down from the precipice of hot wrath burning against ungrateful people. No other God puts up with such disrespect or is as long suffering as the God of Israel. I wonder if through the “changing of the mind” God’s mind becomes fixed to forgive in a far more dramatic way when through the disaster visited upon the Christ God’s mind cannot be moved away from mercy no matter how many golden calves are created by God’s own people. Oh but surely there is a consequence for worshiping false idols? Of course there is. The idol you worship is false. Or in other words; you can’t get milk or mercy from a golden calf.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Proper 18 C - Luke 14:25-33

The first Christians didn’t have to wonder what in the world Jesus meant by carrying the cross or hating family relationships or even life itself. The cost of discipleship was not hypothetical or expressed by increased personal piety or putting an extra something in the offering plate. They carried real life crosses to real life places of crucifixion. They were kicked out of synagogues, disowned by families, excluded from participating in commerce and dragged into courts for confessing Christ. Our problem, if we want to call it that, is that no one cares if we follow Christ or not and we are certainly not persecuted for our beliefs. Oh I know we can’t have officially endorsed Christian prayer in secular schools anymore and the Christ has gone missing from Christmas and media caricatures of Christians are generally negative but do you really want to compare that to being torn apart by wild beasts in the arena? I get a tax break from the IRS for being a minister for goodness sake! No. We are still very much in the mainstream of societal life and so our counting the cost is not nearly as expensive as it was in the past or is in the present for Christians in places like the Sudan or Palestine or Syria. So how do we count the cost when where we live subsidizes our belief system rather than trying to stamp it out? Speaking for myself, I will confess that whatever I do it will not be enough. Not because I can’t but because at some level I won’t. I have grown comfortable with one foot planted firmly in the world I love while trying to keep a toe hold in the land I long for. I have borrowed against the unfinished building and accepted terms of peace even before counting the opposing forces. But then that is why Jesus was crucified isn’t it? For the cost I am unwilling to pay, the cross I won’t carry, the ways I will not forsake. Well, yes. But that cannot be where it ends. There is, I believe, a hope in the heart of the One who carried the cross for us that one day in our confession of not being willing our feet firmly planted in the ways of the world will slip and our toes will take a firmer grip in the world that will be until standing up in the here and now those who won’t… finally will.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Proper 18 C - Philemon 1

At some point during its history the church decided a short personal correspondence was worth including in the collection that would become the New Testament. Maybe even a laundry list signed by the apostle Paul would have made the cut. Who knows? Its inclusion in the lectionary means that people in the pew rediscover it every three years. Onesimus, the runaway slave, will be put to death unless Paul can persuade Philemon to pardon him. He uses all his powers of persuasion, including some that border on the manipulative, but in the end appeals to his relationship with Philemon. Paul loves Onesimus as a child and Philemon as a brother and does not want to lose either one. The happy ending is that Philemon forgives Onesimus and welcomes him into his household as a brother and Paul breathes a sigh of relief. But it is more than just an interesting story with a happy ending. Lives were hanging in the balance. Onesimus will be put to death. Philemon will lose a relationship with Paul whose ministry changed Philemon’s life. Paul will lose a child and a brother. It is the stuff of our stories where one family member pleads for the sake of another that a relationship restored might bring refreshment. It is the stuff of God’s story where the Son is sent to bring back all who have run away that the family circle be unbroken in the here and now and in the forever home. Maybe Philemon is where the Bible’s rubber hits the road and the master forgiving the slave because he loves Jesus as much as he owes the apostle is why the little letter belongs in the Book.