Friday, December 30, 2016

Christmas 1 A - Hebrews 2:10-18

                    Descent from the Cross, 1435 by Rogier van der Weyden(1399-1464)
The scriptures are silent on the subject but I imagine in sharing our flesh and blood the Almighty must have caught a cold now and then. My good friend and colleague, The Reverend Doctor Ryan Mills (Trinity Lutheran Church, New Haven, Ct.) has been known to describe Jesus becoming like us in every respect in graphic terms that include bodily functions of which I will spare you. Suffice to say the mystery of the incarnation is in the how and not the what. He inhabited human flesh fully, subject to physical needs and limitations. Sharing our life he suffers our death, for us, ahead of us, instead of us. And while we still may be held in fear by the process of dying death itself has lost its hold on us because the grave could not contain Jesus. More than that, since he became like us in every way we believe we will become like him. (St. Augustine) “Changed from glory into glory till in heaven we take our place; till we cast our crowns before him lost in wonder, love and praise” (Love Divine All Love’s Excelling) But why wait? When we are merciful and faithful despite the trials and temptations of our flesh and blood lives we are already like him in the ways that truly matter for this life and the next. 

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Christmas 1 A - Psalm 148

This is an “all God’s creatures got a place in the choir” praise the Lord psalm, though I’d rather not be included in the choir when sea monsters get to exalting the name of the Lord. But then psalm 148 doesn’t discriminate. Young and old, women and men, fire and frost, creeping things and flying birds, wild animals and domestic livestock, kings of the earth and peasants (you get the idea) all are commanded to exalt the name of the Lord who created sun and moon, stars and heavens, etc. etc. etc. But one wonders why the whole world should join the chorus if the horn raised up is only for the people who are close to the Lord. Is everyone else supposed to praise Israel’s God from a distance? This is the part of praise the Lord that the psalmist didn’t see coming. Simeon saw it when Joseph and Mary brought the horn “raised up” to the temple on the eighth day for the rite of purification. “Let your servant depart in peace for my eyes have seen your salvation… light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.” Apparently God does not discriminate either. Preparing for something beyond the psalmist’s imagination God intended the horn raised up for Israel to be raised up for those outside Israel as well. It meant the end of things Israel thought essential to praising God; circumcision and keeping kosher to name but two. So what might that mean for us who also believe God has raised up a horn, formerly for Israel, but now exclusively for us who are close to God by virtue of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ? If God determined the law of circumcision and keeping kosher unnecessary for right relationship what else might be on the table? Well if the psalmist couldn’t see it coming neither will we. That’s the nature of God whose ways are not our ways and whose thoughts are not our thoughts. Maybe that’s why the psalm commands everything that is and ever will be to praise the Lord. Bring it on sea monsters just don't bite me when I'm boogie boarding.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Christmas 1 A - Isaiah 63:7-9

Recounting the gracious deeds of God in the past is helpful when the homecoming is not as hospitable as one hoped it would be. Isaiah 63 is written at a time when the ransomed of the Lord had returned unto Zion with singing (Isaiah 35:10) but their song had been stilled by the harsh reality of a Zion laid waste and neglected during their long exile in Babylon. Which is why they sing the old songs, the ones their captors mocked, (Psalm 137:3) because in the singing of the familiar the present sounded more like the past even if it was not nearly as sweet. But they were free, no longer weeping by the waters of Babylon, and even if their freedom was as difficult as their captivity it would be lived on their terms. It is same for us held captive by situation and circumstance. We remember God’s faithfulness in our past to trust that God will remember us in our present and move us into that more perfect future for the God who has carried us “all the days of old” is more than able to carry us every day.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Christmas Eve - Luke 2:1-20

I don’t mean to “bah humbug” the Christmas story when I point out the fact that God chose to enter our reality in abject poverty while we often celebrate the birth of Jesus’ with eggnog excess. Not that there is anything wrong with family celebrations that pull out all the stops. One would hope that family gathering and gift giving would rise to the level of all the best sentimental Christmas stories where the brightest and best of all our hopes and dreams really do come true. And the charity that happens on the day of celebration is certainly welcome to those receive it. But we miss the point of the birth narrative when we dress it up in tinsel and lights and a single day or season of kindness. There was no place in the inn for the God of creation clothed in human flesh because Joseph and Mary weren’t the sort of family that had reservations at the Bethlehem Hilton. They weren’t even the best Jews as they hailed from Galilee. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46) I don’t know if our gold card status in this life means we’ll be washing dishes in the next ala Luke 6:24 but we might do well to recognize that God has a heart for the poor. After all, Jesus could have been born into the house of David through Herod or better he could have been born into a world of power through Augustus. But God chose a different way so that we would choose the same way and maybe make our Christmas charity last more than a day.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Christmas Eve - Titus 2:11-14

I call it the Lutheran two-step. God acts. We respond. The first step is God’s whereby the grace of God leads without any help from us. God acts out of God’s own being which is “gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Psalm 145:8) and God’s own desire to “be the one who is just and the one who justifies.” (Romans 326) It’s a done deal and cannot be reversed for in the person of Jesus we see the lengths that God will go to convince us that we are loved. You don’t have to be afraid of a God that you can strip naked and nail to a piece of wood. Of course, you don’t have to listen to a God you can kill unless on the third day that same God says “Ta Da!” and walks out of the grave as good as new. The second step is ours. Do we follow God’s lead and deny death any power over us including those deaths we die every day by believing worldly passions can deliver and in believing the lie give ourselves over to impious attitudes and behaviors or do we dance with “the one who brung ya” and become zealous for good deeds? The grace of God is that the first step is not dependent on the second and even if we have the proverbial two left feet God’s lead is more than able to overcome or lack of rhythm.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Christmas Eve - Psalm 96

Maybe the church is not singing the “new song” well enough because it often sounds like we are stuck in a sound loop where shepherds compete for the same sheep and each flock believes itself to be more authentic or pious or worthy or whatever. No wonder the world looks at us “with a scornful wonder.” (The Church’s One Foundation) What the “new song” calls us to do is to harmonize our unique expressions of the song that God has put into our mouths for the sake of those who follow small g gods. Maybe if we sing a song in harmony of the big G God present in the Christ the song of the little g gods will be silenced. We’ve not done that well even though we claim the same Christ. Instead we each profess to know the big G God a little bit better than the other and refuse to acknowledge we are all known equally by that same God. We restrict access and reserve sacraments and argue over adiaphora.  But sometimes one is surprised as I was on Monday morning when at the funeral of Alice Machos Father Brendan Murphy of Saint Paul the Apostle Catholic Church River Oaks invited me to sit next to him in the altar area. But it gets better. He then invited me to stand with him at the altar while he recited the Eucharistic liturgy and consecrated the elements. But it gets better. He reached out to hold my hand while we prayed the Lord’s prayer together. But it gets better. After we shared the peace he returned to the altar where he ate the host and drank some of the wine in the chalice. He then motioned me forward and held out the host. I whispered, “I’m a Lutheran.” He held out the host again so I received it and then he whispered to me, “you can finish the wine in chalice.” (Only the priests drink the wine) Then Father Brenden stepped down to offer communion to all who wished to receive it including Calvary Lutheran members who figured they were welcome even if they weren’t pastored up. It gets better. Father Brenden has a slight Irish accent as you might have guessed given his surname. He is seventy-seven years old and serves a congregation that has multiple services in Spanish. He learned to speak Spanish when he was seventy years old so he could continue serving Christ in a changing church. Sing a new song. Amen. Alleluia. Cheers to you Father Brenden from one priest to another.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Christmas Eve - Isaiah 9:2-7

Isaiah’s vision has yet to be realized even if you believe the great light was Jesus Christ. The boots of the trampling warriors have not been burned and their garments continue to be rolled in the blood of the innocent desperately trying to escape Aleppo. It would seem the deep darkness continues to grow while the light of justice is continually being extinguished. But that is the way of this world where the weak are marginalized if not outright murdered and only the ruthlessly strong seem to survive. The trouble of our time, and maybe every time, is that the vision of Isaiah needs more than a strong arm of the Lord to make it come true as even the babe of Bethlehem, the child born for us, was put to death by the tyranny of the Roman state. I know Jesus didn’t stay dead and there’s certainly great hope in that but it hasn’t done very much to change the nature of this violent wicked world. It’s not a very Merry Christmas message but then for a good portion of our planet Christmas Eve will not be a night of candles and carols. It will be a night of hiding in the shadows and praying for another dawn. I don’t know what the answer is except to say I will not give in to despair although my heart is breaking. I will not succumb to hopelessness even if there seems to be no solution. And I will continue to trust that in the end we will so long for an end to the madness that we will live more fully into the zeal of the Lord of hosts and slowly but surely there will be fewer hell holes like Aleppo. In the meantime, I will do what I can do to use my limited resources to help those who have even less and weep for those trapped in Aleppo and other hell holes so that they are not forgotten. It may be that the rod of the oppressor will only be broken in the final forever day of rejoicing and to that I say. Come Lord Jesus. Please.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Advent 4 A - Matthew 1:18-25

Matthew 1:18-25
Mary doesn’t need Joseph so why do we? It’s a fair question for a virgin birth. Is it just to provide cover once the baby is born? She’d be in just as much trouble as a single mother as she is betrothed and pregnant and claiming God did the deed. So what gives? Well if nothing else it’s for this dream sequence which asks Joseph to do just as much believing as Mary does in Luke’s version of the visitation. Joseph, a righteous man, could be as righteous as the law allows and point to Mary’s swollen belly as proof of the pudding and pick up the first stone to cast it as would be his right as a betrayed spouse to be. Instead he wishes her no harm, which might mean in a culture of arranged marriages where “What’s love got to do with it” is the signature song, Joseph sings “I’ll have a blue Christmas without you.” I like to think that, even if it goes well beyond what text allows. What if he wants to let her go quietly because he loves her even though when she said, “I’ve got something to tell you…” it must have come as quite a shock. “You talked to an angel who said what!?” And so God who loves lovers comes to him in a dream and gives him courage to do what he wanted to do all along but thought he couldn’t, namely take Mary as his wife. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus or in other words, Merry Christmas, Joseph.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Advent 4 A - Romans 1:1-7

Romans 1:1-7
The letter to the Romans begins with a seven verse sentence all of which serves as preface to “grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” It could be that Paul, like this blogger, likes run on sentences because periods just waste time. It could be that grace to you and peace is easier said than done and needs a seven verse sentence to remind the Romans that while they are not nearly as conflicted as the Corinthians there are some hard feelings between Jewish and Gentile Christians residing in Rome. The promise beforehand through the prophets in the Holy Scriptures about the Son descended from David (think Jew) is also declared the Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness for the obedience of faith among the Gentiles, so that both Jew and Gentile might be called “God’s beloved in Rome.” I think there a lot of things the church can get wrong and still claim the cross of Christ but living together in grace and peace as God’s beloved is not one of them. The inclusion of Gentiles into what was a Jewish religion goes beyond any of the denominational divisions that define the church today and we would do well to note that those outside the church see our inability to live together in grace and peace as proof the Gospel is not worth the paper it’s printed on. “Christian unity is not an ideal which we must realize; it is rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate” or so said Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Does that mean the divisions that define us are not essential and we should all join hands and sing Kum by Yah? Well, why not? Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. Or in other words, Kum by Yah. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Advent 4 A - Psalm 80

Psalm 80 is a lament for the Northern Kingdom of Israel that in 722 BCE was conquered by the Assyrians. It started as a family feud between Judah and Israel but after Israel allied with Aram and threatened Jerusalem King Ahaz of Judah sold his soul to Tiglath-Pileser of Assyria and Israel was history. Of course the psalmist thinks God had something to do with it but the truth is this story is repeated throughout the history of the human race. The pride of kings inevitably leads to the bread of tears for common folk. It’s the poets and the prophets that give voice to the people’s pain pleading “Restore us, O God” and promising “then we will never turn back from you.” Sad to say Israel never does come back and Judah will eventually meet the same fate at the hands of the Babylonians. Not a very happy post for a Tuesday morning but then laments are meant to name the pain and not shy away from the reality of suffering albeit from the perspective of faith that holds onto hope that the God who is angry with the people’s prayers will hear their plea and regard their plight with pity. That is how not so happy posts can still be hopeful for laments give voice to faith in the face of sorrow and suffering, so that when scorned and derided by circumstances beyond our control, fed on a diet tears, we pray none-the-less “Restore us, O God!” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Advent 4 A - Isaiah 7:10-16

Ahaz is weary of prophets getting in the way of his politics and so even the offer of a sign as high as the heavens and as deep as Sheol can’t get him to swallow his pride and ask the God of Israel for help. God who is wearied by Ahaz’s feigned piety offers a sign anyway, a sign that Matthew will apply to Jesus even though Isaiah was most likely speaking of Hezekiah, neither of which are named Emmanuel, by the way, but then that is the way of prophecies. They point to a truth larger than the literal one and the same word that finds fulfillment in Hezekiah and Jesus finds fulfillment in our everyday. Emmanuel, God with us is the point of the promise. God with us when we go our own way, choosing the evil and refusing the good. God with us when we feed ourselves with false promises and illusory hopes. God with us for the day when we tire of wearying God and turn again to the promise as high as the heavens and as deep as Sheol and recognize that the hope of God with us is that we would finally and fully choose to be with God. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Advent 3 A - Luke 1:46-55

Luke 1:46-55
This is the song of Zion, the song sung at the Christ’s conception, the song Jesus would sing with his life, the song that would condemn him to death. “It is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish” is how the high priest Caiaphas justified the murder of the One who raised Lazarus from the dead. Power does not care for protest songs and will take any measure to silence them. But Mary’s song will not be silenced. The humble are lifted up. The rulers are brought down. The hungry are fed with good things. The rich are sent empty away. Sung by a peasant girl, impregnated by the Holy Spirit come upon her, she risks her life to carry the light of the world to term. Sooner or later some busy body in Nazareth will notice that Mary is “beginning to look a lot like Christmas” and no one will be around to confess the virgin birth as an alibi. And yet she sings. She rejoices in God’s favor. She sings of the Savior mindful of her humble state who has blessed her for every generation. She sings rejoicing for her people because the Mighty One has remembered to be merciful. She sings the life within her before Bethlehem, before Golgotha, because Mary believes that in the conception of the Christ the future forever promise has already come true. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Advent 3 A - James 5:7-10

We’ve been patiently waiting for almost two thousand years. Of course, every now and then people find a way to profit from predictions of gloom and doom but then the point of patience is left behind. There is nothing you can do to hasten the day, or delay it for that matter, but you can make the wait weary for yourself and others by grumbling, judging, or connecting conspiracy theory coincidences and claiming to know the time and place the Lord himself said is none of your business. No. We are called to wait as those James calls “Beloved” three times in four verses, which means we wait with a lover’s longing. And not only for ourselves but for the sake of those the Lord loves which I’m guessing includes those we don’t. After all, the Judge who stands at the door is the same One who spoke “Father, forgive them” upon those whose fear and envy and self-righteousness nailed him to the mercy seat in the first place. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Advent 3 C - Isaiah 35:1-10

Isaiah 35 was written to the children of Israel in exile, weeping by the rivers of Babylon, tormented by their captors who demanded they sing happy songs of Zion. It is a vision of a better day, a promise for those who were worn down by adversity, weakened by suffering, feeble and fearful of heart, without help, without hope. In the vision cast by the waters of Babylon a new song of Zion is composed where the wilderness rejoices in the glory of the Lord revealed and a way is made through the burning sand and haunt of jackals so that even those who don’t have a lick of sense will not get lost on the holy highway. Of course, a good portion of those whose hands were strengthened and knees steadied by the hope of the promise died by the river where they wept. But for their children born in Babylon the promise did come true and they returned to Zion singing the songs their parents taught them which would have been forgotten forever if their captors tormenting them had not demanded they sing them. As it was for them so it is for us; a promise for unsteady hands and knees that give way, hope for all held captive to doubt and fear, trial and trouble, a promise that inspires holy imagination where sorrow flees from the promise of everlasting joy. Sing the songs of Zion, songs of hope and happiness, joy and peace, even if you are weeping by the waters of your own Babylon for the children are listening and learning. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Advent 2 A - Matthew 3:1-12

Matthew 3:1-12
It appears to me the Pharisees and Sadducees should at least get points for trying. Instead John verbally attacks them for being all repentance and no fruit. (All hat and no cattle) But to what end? Granted, the Pharisees and Sadducees, teachers of the law and keepers of the temple, come out together overcoming their natural animosity towards each other and they give up their respective positions of power to be subject to the poor people’s prophet, but it’s just a weekend excursion for them. The diet of locusts and honey and camel’s hair clothes with leather belt identify John as one who has forsaken the world for the wilderness, which is always the place of preparation for Israel. So when the city slickers come slumming he calls them on it. Who warned you to flee? Confession by itself is not worth the words used to say I’m sorry unless accompanied by a change of heart and hand. That is John’s point. You can’t come out to do a wilderness weekend of wailing and then go back to the city of business as usual. To bear fruit worthy of repentance is to live into the conclusion of confession – the amendment of the sinful life. The One who is coming after will do something more than John and though he will burn the same Pharisees and Sadducees with words like blind guides and brood of vipers and white washed tombs he will gather them in with “Father, forgive them…” And so it is for us. Our confession needs a word of judgment before absolution so that we will not be satisfied with an “I’m sorry” that does not in some measure lead to “I can do better.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Advent 2 A - Romans 15:4-13

The instruction and encouragement of the scriptures were meant to reveal the God of hope so that inspired by the living word we might abound in what the God of hope is all about… which is hope, of course; but what kind of hope? If the incarnation of God in the Christ is any indication of what the God of hope is all about then there is nothing God will not do, nowhere God will not go, to be reconciled to us so that reconciled to God we would be reconciled to each other. Or in other words, “May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another…” And again, “whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.” (1 John 4:20) For this reason Christ became the servant of the circumcised and the mercy and hope of the Gentiles so that with one voice Jew and Gentile would glorify God. Or as Paul will write to the law bound Galatians, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female...” (Galatians 3:28) So if in Christ God has erased the dividing lines of race, status, and gender might it be a safe bet that God’s brightest and best hope is that we would do the same?