Thursday, March 31, 2016

Easter 2 C - Revelation 1:4-8

We leave the letter to the seven churches behind when we translate it too quickly into a prophetic word about our time or anytime to come for that matter. Not that it is not without a current or a future context. It's just that making it all about our time - or a time to come - does not do justice to John or those long gone who suffered tribulation in real time. John is as much a pastor as he is a prophet and his people are being put upon by the powers that be while he is exiled and far from the parishes that are his charge. In the spirit of the Lord he shares a vision where "goodness is stronger than evil; love is stronger than hate; light is stronger than darkness; life is stronger than death." (Desmond Tutu) Those who in our time have profited off this pastoral / prophetic work have missed the point. Endurance is not about escape. It comes from a courage that engages the world as it is so that by the witness of perseverance the world might be convicted and be given the chance to become what it was meant to be.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Easter 2 C - Psalm 150

Psalm 150 is the alternate psalm for Sunday. It’s a noisy praise the Lord psalm and if you were at Calvary on Easter it should bring to mind cymbals and tympani and brass that made our singing “Jesus Christ is Risen Today” rise to new heights. Or the strings and woodwinds that brought “Because He Lives” to life. Now I know the human voice can make a joyful noise all by itself – I've been to a Church of Christ service – but when it comes to noise the voice can’t compete with a clanging cymbal. The mighty deeds and surpassing greatness of God calls for an orchestra and everything that breathes as well. So if our praise of God is to be worthy of notice, as I suggested yesterday, we’ll have to make some noise. Not clanging cymbals alone, which Paul tells the Corinthians are as useless as noisy gongs without the melody of love, but a symphony of serving that is grateful for God’s goodness and moved by the melody of mercy.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Easter 2 C - Acts 5:27-41

For a group of guys who didn’t get it in the Gospels the disciples got going pretty quickly in the book of Acts. With a sound like the rushing of the wind and tongues of flames on their heads and languages not their own they were transformed from confused followers into bold witnesses who rejoiced that they were considered worthy of persecution. How do we enter such a text given that the message which caused such a stir has settled down to become the status quo? It may be that Gamaliel’s advice, ignore them and they’ll go away, accomplished what the Pharisees desired. The church becomes irrelevant when it is no longer “considered worthy to suffer dishonor” because of the name of Jesus. I’m not saying I’m nostalgic for the days when the Gospel enraged the powers that be but I would like to rejoice in being worthy of attention. If we tell the truth the journey of the last four days was mostly about us, i.e. church goers, while for many of our neighbors and co-workers and friends and even family it was just another weekend even if they did spring for a chocolate bunny in a basket. If Monday happens right on schedule and holy week like Christmas is carefully wrapped and put back on the shelf until next year it will be just another, albeit it busy, weekend for us well. But if we were to do something worthy of attention today, speak and act as those who have something worth living and saying and in so doing make this world look more like the world that God had in mind, then like the disciples we would rejoice in being followers who take the lead.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Easter Year C - Luke 24:1-12

“Why do you look for the living among the dead?” was the question the women were asked. It is a strange question given that they had come looking to do for the dead Jesus the proper thing the Passover had denied them. The living was the last thing they expected to find. But now no longer terrified and reminded of Jesus’ words they rushed back to those whose hopes and dreams had died with the Jesus they had left all to follow. Without the benefit of angels in dazzling clothes the women’s tale seemed a tall at best and according to Luke everyone but Peter was satisfied to continue believing once dead was always dead. But then the story is so familiar to those of us who make the church our home that it loses its ability to surprise and have its way with us as well. That is what it would do given the chance. There are those moments when with dazzling clarity the veil between the present and the future becomes transparent and one can hear the song of the infinite choir and taste the forever feast. In those moments we are transformed from those who expect the living and the dead to stay in their own rooms and we become those who see dead people living. Not in some ghostly apparition or chill in the room but in bread and wine shared in the present even as it remembers the past and anticipates the future. Joined to Christ in the meal of thanksgiving the women’s idle tale has its way with us and now expecting the unexpected we are united with the dead now living. So you and I, inhabiting bodies not yet worn out, can, if only for a moment, imagine the joys that for those who have crossed over are forever familiar.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Easter Year C - 1 Corinthians 15:19-26

To hope in Christ only for the next life is just as pitiable as to hope in Christ "only for this life..." To hope only for the future is to reduce the resurrection to a reward or some sort of panacea for the pain of the present. But the hope of the resurrection has as much to do with the way one lives in this life as whatever life we will live in the next. The death that came through Adam is still a very real enemy that seeks to limit not just our mortal life but our spiritual life as well so that we never fully live the freedom that came out of the empty tomb with Jesus. But because Jesus died for all and rose above the boundary imposed by Adam’s rebellion we are free to live as those who have “already passed from death to life.” (John 5:24) If by faith I am confident that the forever future imagined by God is a done deal then I am free to live as if death has already been destroyed. A life that anticipates resurrection is as much a resurrected life as the life that awaits us

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Easter Year C - Psalm 118

On the morning of May 25th, 2000, I was sitting in my brother’s backyard in Chicago drinking way too much coffee and nervously waiting for inspiration. Months before I promised my dad I’d write a song for my grandmother’s memorial service. At that point all I had was “I hope” which was how Grandma Heinze described faith in Jesus. Not “I hope” as in “I wish” but “I hope” as in “I know.” So with grandma’s faith in Jesus on my mind I waited impatiently for a song that was scheduled to be sung that afternoon. And then I remembered a funeral the week before where I spoke the words of Psalm 118. “There are shouts of exaltation in the tents of the righteous for the strong arm of the Lord has triumphed" and within ten minutes I had three verses and a chorus in the key of E and a few hours later “Our Hope” was sung as promised. Of all the parts of the funeral liturgy Psalm 118, appointed to be read at the graveside, seems to fly in the face of reason. When it is obvious that our loved one has fallen and is not getting up again we claim that “I shall not die but live and declare the works of the Lord.” But that is the way of faith where the stone the builders rejected becomes the cornerstone of “I hope.” Defeat is victory, loss is gain, and sorrow is the prelude to joy. While it seems like the truth of “I hope” comes to us as suddenly as it did to me in my brother’s backyard the truth is the only thing sudden about it is that it is the end of waiting. It took Martha sometime to learn the song of Jesus but when she did she sang it with everything she had for her best friend, Jesus. And so like Timothy whose faith first lived in his grandmother Lois the faith of Martha is sung every Easter at Calvary Lutheran Church, Richland Hills, TX in three verses and a chorus in the key of E.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Easter Year C - Isaiah 65:17-25

Isaiah 65 is the alternate reading for Easter or the pitch hitter for Acts 10. No offense to Luke but given the choice I think even Jesus would choose Isaiah. Granted he never read Acts but he did choose Isaiah 61 as the text for his first sermon in Nazareth even if it did end badly (they tried to throw him off a cliff). His faithfulness brings forth the justice of Isaiah 42. He is light for the Gentiles as he gathers Israel in Isaiah 49. In Isaiah 50 he has been given the tongue of the teacher to sustain the weary. He is the servant described in Isaiah 53; a man familiar with suffering and acquainted with grief by whose stripes we are healed. And so given the choice I’m going with Isaiah 65. That’s not only a liturgical decision but a choice of what future informs our present. Is that future a rerun of the old or is it something so new the old cannot even be recalled? I know when I think of the alternate vision where few are taken and the vast majority left behind, where a personal relationship with Jesus is a password to paradise and everyone else can go to hell, it feels a lot like the world I live in today. I want God’s future to be more than that and when I read Isaiah I get a sense that we’ll all be surprised. But how can we say that given all the Biblical evidence to the contrary? We can’t, but we can hope. That’s all. A hope that even though it seemed to end badly for Jesus on a Friday we call Good God made a choice to do something different and it really was a brand new thing.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Passion Sunday Year C - Luke

If a picture is worth a thousand words then the sculpture "The Tortured Christ" by Brazilian artist Guido Rocha says it all. Its obscenity evokes revulsion in those, including myself, who prefer a crucifix to be polite. But the incarnation cannot be fully grasped except when it is depicted as offensive. Granted, we generally associate incarnation with the babe of Bethlehem, angels singing, shepherds adoring, wise ones worshipping. But the incarnation, Jesus emptying himself of the power of God, is only fully and finally revealed in the offense of the cross for he empties himself to be crucified not cuddled. In the end Jesus, the life of love, dies naked and alone his humanity beaten out of him screaming like a wounded animal with no one to offer comfort and no one to come to his rescue. When Luke recounts the story Jesus remembers a thief who is dying next to him even as Jesus forgives the ones who crucify them both. That is the final offense of the crucifixion. Someone should pay. Someone should be held accountable. Someone did. Someone was. Jesus. Remember me.

Passion Sunday Year C - Philippians 2:5-11

“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus…” How is it that the church has failed so miserably at mimicking the mind of God? As it is we are more often the object of God’s lament. "These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips but their hearts are far from me.” Selfish ambition, vain conceit, thinking of oneself to be better than the other are more often the way we think and truth to be told we suffer not as Christ but as those who looking only to their own interests cannot escape the lonely consequences. Of course we dress up our differences in doctrinal arguments and clothed in self-righteous piety are quick to claim conformity to Christ without giving an inch lest our brother or sister be tempted to take a mile. God is grieved when in claiming to defend the Gospel we fail to live it. Holding forth for whatever we hold as sacred or worth fighting over must be able to stand the litmus test of Christ. Though he was fully God He emptied himself to inhabit our flesh and die the death we deserve and therefore in the end He will be the judge. It’s not What Would Jesus Do but What Did Jesus Do that matters. If that is the mind we are to have then giving up is the only way to hold on.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Passion Sunday Year C - Psalm 31

The psalms don’t shy away from suffering and psalm 31 is no exception. Lamenting a life spent in sorrow and sighing, weakened by misery, an object of scorn and derision to friend and foe alike the psalmist is as useless as a broken bottle and as good as dead. But, and there is always a “but” in a lament, but I trust in you, despite my eyes wasting away from grief for I will see the light of your face. But I trust in you for my soul and body in distress is in your hands and will be delivered. But I trust in you, though terror is all around, for you are my God and in your steadfast love I am secure. As it is for the psalmist so it is in all our laments, sorrow and sighing turn on that three letter word, but.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The Sunday of the Passion - Year C

Isaiah 50:4-9a
The Word that sustains the weary is that the teacher himself was wearied by beatings, insult and spitting. Wakened by the word, the One for whom the Lord God was help at the break of the day is the student who is at the same time is the teacher. He set his face like flint and gave his back to the whip, his head to thorns, his hands and feet to nail. The suffering and sorrow of God is the Word made flesh for those who are wearied by the world that contends against them, confronted by inconsistency, struck by down by grief, insulted by trouble. The Lord will be my help at the break of day because the Lord was broken for all my days. To waken to this Word despite all that would weary the soul and crush the spirit is to be opened to the distant song of vindication that is always near. It is not an easy answer, a simple solution, a wish fulfillment. It is a Word that inhabits flesh and blood, yours and mine, for when one is wearied by weeping and too tired to sing, when the difference between giving up and continuing on hangs in the balance, we become for each other in shared sorrow and suffering the Word that sustains until the day when all weariness will be a thing of the past.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Lent 5 C - Philippians 3:4-14

If anyone has reason to be confident in their Lutheran pedigree I have more. Baptized as an infant, bearing a German surname, a Lutheran born of Lutherans, as to education Lutheran grade school, high school, college, and seminary, as to employment nine years a Lutheran school teacher & youth director, and Lutheran pastor for twenty-five. Of course the same could be said of other things as well. Years spent in Bible Study Fellowship, giving more than a tithe, status as a deacon or elder, or even quiet and unassuming piety. It is a sign of our separation from the surpassing value of knowing Christ that even humility can be a source of pride. But when we count our status as Christians in a culture shaped by Christianity as rubbish we might forsake labels of conservative or liberal, progressive or orthodox and cease being churches that compete for clients by claiming to be better at making disciples or providing more programs than the big box down the street. When the surpassing value of knowing Christ means I skip a meal to provide food for someone who is starving, when the debate over health care remembers the children who suffer because parents are poor, when living a moral life is not an option or an obligation but a reflection of Christ then we can we have come close to knowing the Christ. Truth is we can only share in Christ’s sufferings when we can no longer follow the crucified by taking up a cross that is comfortable.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Lent 5 C - Psalm 126

The psalmist laughs out loud anticipating the new thing God has promised through the prophet Isaiah. Like a dream come true freedom is found in the fortune restored and so the captives shout and laugh as the nations offer commentary. But as with all dreams there comes a time when one wakes up and even if pleasant memories remain the demand of the day is that you get out of bed and get on with it. Waking from the dream of the promise the psalmist prays for the dream come true. Be for us water in the wilderness so that the seeds of sorrow sown in captivity will be a joyful harvest of homecoming. Held captive by circumstance, in bondage to desire, controlled and controlling we weep what we sow. But longing for the dream come true the harvest of hope is for us water in the wilderness and like a pleasant dream recalled might even make us laugh out loud.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Lent 5 C - Isaiah 43:16-21

“Do not remember former things…” is written to a people who taunted by their captors, “Sing us songs of Zion” sit by the waters of Babylon and weep. Forgetting former things is not easily done when the "former things" are present things and so Isaiah calls to mind a time before Babylon. Remember the time when the Lord called his people out of Egypt and made a way through the sea and wilderness to the land of promise. Forgetting the present difficulty by remembering something before, when the threat of chariot and horse, army and warrior was extinguished, leads to the perception of something at once the same and new. Like those of the time before your trouble you will be led out of captivity and weeping songs will be turned into songs of praise and even the jackals and ostriches will get it. The something new that springs forth is the hope of the promise that what you can’t forget in the present will not be remembered in the future. It is a new thing for us as well when weighed down by former things of shame and pain we live into the promise that one day we will not remember what we cannot forget.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Lent 4 C - Luke 15:11-32

Like a joke you’ve heard once too often the fate of parables is to become familiar and like the parable of the prodigal lose their punch. So desperate preachers tell the story from the perspective of an imaginary sister or ask “what did the fattened calf think about all this?” or use the father to talk about codependency and enabling destructive behavior. The truth is the parable has lost its punch as we all know the younger son will come to his senses so the father can forgive and his older brother object and at the end of the sermon the congregation will sing “amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me” even if most sympathize fully with the older son in the story. And so the surprise that should come as no surprise is that every three years we spend time and energy trying to put the zing back into a parable we will largely ignore. If, on the other hand, we dare to live into the parable then like my good friend in Pittsburgh, Pastor Tara Lynn who is the older sister/brother in the story, the parable can be so upsetting that you are tempted to preach the epistle. But you don’t because even though you’ve done everything right and worked like a slave all these years you’ve been invited to the party. And even if you think your brother is a “that son of yours” the sound of the music and the smell of BBQ break down your righteous indignation at the extravagant waste of grace so that peeking in the door the Father happens to you as well. That’s the surprise the parable can still muster, when the Father happens to hardworking and hedonist alike, and the fattened calf and ring and robe are as much for children who stay as they are for children who leave only to come home. Surprise!

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Lent 3 C - 1 Corinthians 10:1-13

I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, or in other words, “you better not shout, you better not pout, you better not cry, I’m telling you why…” What do we do with Paul’s warning, or veiled threat, depending on which side of the line you are standing? I suppose the first thing we have to ask ourselves is do we believe what Paul is saying? That 23,000 fell in a day for getting up from the table to play and others, putting Christ to the test, had good reason to fear snakes, while still others should have kept their mouths shut and their complaints to themselves. And more to the point that this is a Divine object lesson to keep the Corinthians, and us I suppose, from making the same mistake and suffering a similar fate? From the perspective of God’s grace these verses carry less weight than the “still more excellent way” of the thirteenth chapter of this same letter but they cannot and I might add, dare not, be dismissed so easily. The reason being, as Paul will tell the Romans, is that God has determined to be both just and the one who justifies. There will be a reckoning and a pardon will be necessary for whether we think we are standing or not we have all fallen into temptation and are without exception guilty. To think or claim otherwise is to engage in theological immorality by testing the grace of God without accepting the consequence of sin or acknowledging the cost to the Christ. In spite of our weakness God is faithful and the strength to be tested is not found in our will power but whether we endure our falling by trusting the way out God will provide.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Lent 3 C - Psalm 32

The sad truth about ourselves is that we don’t get to be “happy are those” until our bodies have done some “wasting away” and I don’t mean the kind that comes naturally. The really troubling “wasting away” comes from being good at hiding iniquity by living life as if “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” even though we’ve never left home. Psalm 32 encourages us to come to our senses and realize that acknowledging our deceit has a direct effect on whether we live as “happy are those” or as those who are “dried up as the heat of summer.” That is the gift of groaning all day long for if we were not made uncomfortable by a hand heavy upon us our ignorance would grow content with the bit and only be curbed when caught by the bridle of torment or trouble. And so truly “happy are those” who both hear and tell the truth about themselves and determine to be less stubborn so that groaning gives way more quickly to glad cries of deliverance.