Thursday, October 27, 2016

Reformation - John 8:31-36

John 8:31-36
Freedom: i.e. "the power to determine action without restraint." Even in a nation founded on the principle of freedom we are constrained by laws that limit our power to determine action. But then personal freedom, to do and say and act as I desire, is ultimately a selfish ambition that in some ways denies others their freedom to do and say and act as they like. So Jesus is not speaking about personal freedom to do and say and act as we desire. He is speaking of a freedom that changes the way we understand our relationship with God. The Jews “who had believed in him” were still depending on their connection with Abraham to claim their non-slave status as God’s own people even while their land was occupied by the Roman Empire. The freedom Jesus offers is summed up in the idea that those who believe have passed from death to life. (John 5:24) No one is more free than the one who by believing can confess “whether we live or whether we die we are the Lord’s” (Romans 14:8) trusting that “nothing can separate us from the love of God”. (Romans 8:38-39) Here’s the twist. Being made free by the Son makes you the slave of all. (John 13:12-17) Go figure. 

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Proper 25 C - Luke 18:9-14

The Pharisee standing by himself is imprisoned by his piety and for all his tithing and fasting and righteous living he is farther away from God than the tax collector standing far off. The tax collector in the company of thieves, rouges and adulterers is equally imprisoned by his impiety but closer to God because of his humility (or is it shame?) which is entirely appropriate for the life he lives and the company he keeps. Of course, he is still far off, physically and spiritually, despite being justified for knowing who he is. He will never be able to lift his head or give his breast a break until being justified goes beyond saying I’m sorry. But the parable is not about the tax collector nor does it encourage us to “go and do likewise.”  The parable is about people whose pride in practicing religion makes the practice of religion meaningless despite all the effort put into ordering life by religious practices. One cannot be close to God standing by oneself. So perhaps being close to God is to live like a Pharisee and pray like a tax collector?

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Proper 25 C - 2 Timothy 4:6-8; 16-18

The lectionary skips verses 9 – 15 but as usual I think the lectionary people have made a mistake. The laundry list of names and places and the cloak and books and parchments left in Troas make Paul’s fighting the good fight and finishing the race sound a lot like ours. Granted Paul accomplished more than we have but verses 9 -15 reveal the apostle who wrote most of the New Testament as a man who forgets his cloak in Troas and asks a friend to bring it to him because presumably he’s cold. But more important than identifying with his forgetfulness we understand how faithful friends become the agents used by the Lord to rescue us from the lion’s mouth. Paul, deserted by Demas and harmed greatly by Alexander, is rescued from evil attacks because of friends like Luke who is with him and Mark who is useful and of course Timothy who sends cloak and books and above all the parchments so Paul’s ministry of letter writing may continue.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Proper 25 C - Psalm 84:1-7

If you Google the valley of Baca you’ll find out we’ve all been there. Baca is Hebrew for weeping, but the point is not that we are familiar with the geography but that in the passing through God promises to turn the valley of tears into a place of springs and pools of peace. It is not a pie in the sky the sun will come up tomorrow bet your bottom dollar promise, but God’s guarantee for souls that long for lovely dwelling places. Strength in the Lord will not disappoint. It is in the “as they go through” that we “go from strength to strength” and though the song of hope might be sung for a time with weeping eyes through clenched teeth joy will come on the morrow as pilgrim clasps the hand of pilgrim and the song of victory swells to fill the valley of tears with shouts of joy for the living God.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Proper 25 C - Jeremiah 31:27-34

Jeremiah 31:27-34
Every now and then the prophet Jeremiah was given a good word to speak and that makes the promise of “the days are surely coming” noteworthy. Even though none of the people to whom these words were written saw the day that would surely come. They died in the land of their enemy sitting by the waters of Babylon weeping the songs of Zion. Or they were the remnant who returned home only to find ruins not easily rebuilt and vineyards destroyed that were difficult to replant. But because “the days are surely coming…” was believed despite sour grapes setting teeth on edge it was more than just a fairy tale ending for a people plucked up and broken down. Believing the promise was the difference between giving up or going on, between living in spite of or dying because of, and whether they knew it or not it is what it means to know the Lord. And so it is for us who endure hardship and persevere through difficult days knowing in part and seeing dimly all the while waiting for another day that will surely come, when we catch up with the least and the greatest who have gone on ahead of us and know the Lord fully for they see him face to face.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Proper 24 C - 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5

The trouble with itchy ears is you can’t hear very well and wandering into myths that distort the truth is bound to follow when one creates God in one’s own image. The God who is love, first last and always, also puts limitations on liberty and demands more than just the desire of one’s heart with consequences to come should one fail to live up to the sound teaching of the truth. Sound teaching doesn’t always sit well with us, partly because we prefer not to hear the truth about ourselves. But the sacred writings reveal the God who is both and. Both the one who is just and the one who justifies is how Paul puts it to the Romans. Which is why the sound teaching of the Lutheran doctrine of Law and Gospel is the cure for hard of hearing, itchy ears. The Law is not diminished by the Gospel rather it is the necessary first word about us and our world so that convicted by the just God we are drawn to the God who justifies for the Gospel trumps the Law and its demands and reveals the ultimate truth of God’s desire that all would be saved and come to the knowledge of truth. (1 Timothy 2:4)

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Proper 24 C - Psalm 121

Psalm 121
Sometimes even lifting one’s eyes to the hills to ask the question, “from where is my help to come” is more than we can manage. Worn down and weary of weeping, abandoned by friends and surrounded by foes (real or imagined) the hope of help seems a cruel joke. But it is precisely when we cannot go on and maybe no longer even care that the promise is most present, whether we recognize it or not. That is because the promise does not depend on our asking or our recognition. It depends fully on God’s desire to deliver and the nature of the help that is God always present exists beyond the reality of our sorrow and suffering. That means when our ability to believe is passed out on the floor of doubt God is wide awake and preserving for us the life that endures forever.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Proper 24 C - Genesis 32:22-33

It is the story of a younger brother who stole from his older brother and then ran away. After a long time, he comes home and anticipating the worst puts off meeting with his brother one more day. All night long he wrestles with a man he cannot overcome and in the morning blessed by the struggle he crosses the river to do what must be done. It may be that the story is literally true and a cage match with God was necessary for Jacob to be Israel, but I think on another level we’ve all camped by that river and wrestled with that man until finally sick and tired of losing sleep we did what needed to be done.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Proper 23 C - 2 Timothy 2:3-15

                              (Uncle Ernest at Peace Lutheran, Columbus, Nebraska)
"Share in suffering like a good soldier of Christ Jesus." (2 Timothy 2:3)
The only solider in our family is my mother's brother Ernest Smith who was a chaplain in Korea. Uncle Ernest gave me his army cap that had ear flaps because apparently you need ear flaps to suffer like a good solider through the Korean winter. Truth is I don’t know anything about what it means to be a solider but I know a thing or two about suffering and my guess is you do as well. Not that I like sharing it all that much and therein lies the problem for me and for you. We suffer stoically or silently or medicated rather than recognize that suffering is as much a part of life as celebration. But the heart of the Christian message is that the Christ entered fully into the suffering of human history so that we could share in the salvation that will happen when “gladness and joy overtake us and sorrow and sighing flee away”. (Isaiah 35:10) But you cannot have one without the other. No one likes to suffer, or share it for that matter, but if the choice is walk together or go it alone I’m thinking our shared sorrow might just make our ultimate joy more complete. So when life is cold put your ear flaps down by all means, but keep your life open to those whose care and concern will keep you warm. 

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Proper 23 C - Psalm 111

The last verse of Psalm 111 should come first as “the fear of the Lord” or better, the reverence of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. That is not to say it is unwise to be afraid of the Creator of the Universe only that the small g gods have the terror market cornered and truth is any two bit god can make a mortal tremble. But to reverence the Lord with a holy fear is to have a proper perspective on the order of things. God is God and you are not. So the wisdom that comes with reverence, as opposed to terror, is that God does not delight in our being fearful but rather desires us to be in right relationship which in a word is to be faithful. To be afraid of someone, be it God or anyone else for that matter, is not helpful or healthy. But when we stand in awe of the One who is “full of majesty” because the “power of his works” are “faithful, just and trustworthy” we live wisely. Jesus’ baby brother James will say it this way: “Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom.” And that sort of wisdom “is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.” (James 3:13, 17) Fear of the Lord indeed. I’m shaking in my shoes with praise!

Monday, October 3, 2016

Proper 23 C - 2 Kings 5:1-17

She is a minor character, not even named; a little girl stolen from home and made a slave in the house of her enemy. But she has pity on her mighty master afflicted with a skin disease that diminishes all his accomplishments. At her bidding he goes to her little land with gifts expecting to be greeted royally but the little girl’s prophet sends his servant to give instructions to the mighty man. Insulted, he would leave as he came but his servants convince him to do what he was told; wash and be clean in a dirty little river. Humbled by his disease, desperate to be clean, he obeys and is made whole. The little girl sends the mighty man to a little country with a mighty prophet so the mighty man might regain the skin of a little boy. It is as Jesus said. “I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it."