Thursday, December 7, 2017

Advent 2 B - Mark 1:1-8

Mark 1:1-8
The beginning of Jesus’ story anticipates the end of our story which (because of Jesus) will not be as final as it otherwise might have been. And like the messenger who prepared Jesus’ way through the wilderness Jesus makes straight our crooked paths so that shouts of victory will drown out cries of lament. But the end of the salvation story does not deny the hard path walked by John or Jesus. Both paid dearly for their proclamation of the truth and while resurrection is certainly a happy ending to what would have otherwise been a tragic tale the marks of suffering remain to remind us that it was the baptism of Jesus' death that forgave our sin. So we, who benefit from John’s prophecy and baptized by the Holy Spirit are joined to Jesus’ death, walk on paths that are sometimes as hard and as unyielding as the ones they walked but because the Good News has walked all the world’s paths we never walk them alone.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Advent 2 B - 2 Peter 3:8-15

2 Peter 3:8-15
So how are we to “regard the patience of the Lord as salvation” while the rest of the world is toast when the thief in the night day of the Lord arrives as a not so good surprise. Even if we are confident of our reserved seat in the forever future we can hardly sit still when it comes to those for whom God’s infinite patience will one day run out. Lives of holiness and godliness are only holy and godly in so much as they are lived for the sake of those who are not intimate with the peace and patience of God. And so God’s desire that none perish may dove-tail with our own or at least for the “none” that we know which is why waiting patiently is not the same as passively waiting

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Advent 2 B - Psalm 85

We could all use a long embrace with steadfast love and faithfulness and more public displays of affection between righteousness and peace. That’s because when God’s people live as “sin blotted out” forgiven folk, fortunes are restored, hearts rejoice and the land itself yields an increase. But when envy kisses bitter strife and hatred and selfish ambition embrace everyone suffers. And so God speaks peace by forgiving sin to turn hearts towards the pathway prepared by righteousness which is always an attitude before it shows up as a behavior. It would be a lovely thing if the church could fall madly in love with righteousness and peace and act like a school girl or boy giddy with the first blush of young love. Imagine what we could accomplish by throwing caution to the wind and recklessly engaging in PDA of the sort that would make those outside the faith long for the same sort of relationship we have with each other and the God who whispers, "Peace."

Monday, December 4, 2017

Advent 2 B - Isaiah 40:1-11

Isaiah 40:1-11
“Comfort, comfort” is a doubly welcome word when it feels like you’ve paid double for whatever it was that required you to pay a penalty in the first place. In the same way being fed and gathered and carried and gently led is a welcome relief to those who like grass and flowers wither and fade. More often than not we are fully responsible for the painful predicament produced by our sin but there is also a good bit of life’s consequences that operate outside the boundaries of cause and effect. I imagine there were a good number of those carted off to captivity in Babylon that could not trace a clear line between what they had done and what was being done to them. So in the middle of the captivity, when the memory of Jerusalem was fading, or worse when the memory of its destruction was like a recurring nightmare, the prophet speaks God’s words of hope and healing. “Comfort, comfort” is what was needed to endure the everyday abuse of captors who mockingly demanded, “sing us songs of Zion” as if joyful songs could be conjured up like some cheap parlor trick. God visits us in the worst of times to remind us that the best of times can be experienced when thwey are anticipated through hope. The valley of despair will be lifted; the mountain of desperation will be brought low, the uneven and rough places of sorrow and suffering will be made smooth because the word of the Lord is doubly consistent. “Comfort, comfort.”

Friday, December 1, 2017

Advent 1 B - Mark 13:24-37

2000 years is a long time to stay awake so I can understand how the church has dozed off now and then. It is true for you and me as well. We have times when wide awake to God, to others, to ourselves, we live each day as if it were the last; while there are other times we sleep walk through the daily routines lulled into complacency by the checklist of one thing after another. Living each day as if it were the last is to be profoundly grateful for each moment, giving thanks for each breath, each beat of the heart, fully aware of the gift that is our life. And that means we are more open, more generous, more care-full with all our relationships, but especially the relationship with the One who will come on the clouds with great power and glory. Not because we are afraid of what will happen, even if we should take a nap, but because being awake to Jesus gives meaning to all our living. And the good news for those who are sound asleep and snoring is that the One who will come on the clouds with power and great glory is the same One who prayed “Father forgive them” for those who knew what they were doing when with nails they pinned him to wood and gloated while he died in agony. I’m hoping that means that despite the description of the sun darkened, the stars falling, the heavens shaking the second coming will be more like waking to a dream than being lost in a nightmare. 

Advent 1 B - 1 Corinthians 1:3-9


1 Corinthians 1:3-9
It is a gracious beginning for a letter dealing with divisions in the body of Christ prompted by people puffed up with spiritual pride. But then the history of the church has been rife with divisions of one sort or another so I suppose it really should not surprise us when they occur. Maybe we should be surprised when the church actually works as it was intended to and those enriched with gifts use them for the benefit of the body and not to draw attention to how gifted they are. But the church is populated with sinners and that presents some problems when it comes to being blameless on the day of the Lord. Perhaps being blameless has less to do with being perfect and more to do with love that expresses itself in the less demonstrative spiritual gifts like patience and forbearance and long suffering and is not a product of pride or rigid piety but true fellowship with Jesus who, as Paul will tell the Philippians, emptied himself to take on the form of a servant. Fellowship with Jesus - that is the greatest gift the body possesses because you can't have fellowship with Jesus and not have fellowship with other believers.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Advent 1 B - Psalm 80

Psalm 80
The psalmist does not stop talking to God even when fed on the bread of tears or drinking from the bowl of weeping. When life laughs at us and circumstances conspire to mock our hopes and dreams we tend to turn away and wonder what good is God. But I suspect the psalmist gives voice to what we know deep down – in the end there is nowhere else to go. “Stir up your strength and come to help us” and the repeated refrain, “Restore us, O God” are prayed with a confident hope that God hears the prayer even if God’s anger “fumes” over things done and left undone, said and left unsaid. Of course we know what the psalmist did not; the One at the right hand of God is the confident hope of all prayer for His strength was made perfect in weakness and in the darkness of his death we see the light of our salvation.  

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Advent 1 B - Isaiah 64:1-9

Isaiah 64:1-9
“O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence…” but not today, thank you. I know there are those who look forward to the second coming but I hope the second coming comes long after I am gone. It’s not that the planet and its people wouldn't welcome something better than what we presently endure; it’s just that the peaceable kingdom doesn't arrive, well, very peaceably. So we remind God, who often seems silent and hidden until push comes to shove “we are all the work of your hand” so “now consider; we are all your people.” But God is always present where judgment and mercy meet. We acknowledge that in our present condition we are not all we were meant to be or want to be or could be but even so God is forever connected to us as potter to clay, parent to child. So whenever God tears opens the heavens and comes down we pray that God remembers we are the works of God’s hands and so remain connected to God forever.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Christ the King Year A - Matthew 25:31-46

Matthew 25:31-46
The sheep didn’t recognize Jesus in the hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, imprisoned stranger but they provided help anyway. The goats didn’t recognize Jesus either but it sounds like if they had they would have done something about it. That’s why this text is not about works righteousness and the reward, or punishment, is not about what you do. It is about who you are because “being” and “doing” is the same thing. The sheep were motivated by the obvious need of others and did what they could to alleviate the suffering of the Jesus hidden in the sick and isolated. For whatever reason the goats were not motivated by the obvious need of others and so did nothing to help the Jesus hiding in plain sight. So if you see this text as primarily about gaining reward or avoiding punishment you’ve missed the point and the Jesus hiding in the need of others. But then it should not come as a surprise to those who claim Christ as King that God is interested in the welfare of those who live on the margins, after all Jesus was born into poverty and died a stranger, thirsty and naked imprisoned by nail and wood. Help him. Why? It's what Christ followers do.

Christ the King Year A - Ephesians 1:15-23

Ephesians 1:15-23 Paul writes more run on sentences than I do and sometimes his thoughts and mine can be lost in the language so let me keep this simple. This is the hope I want to know. I want to know a hope where God makes all wrongs right. I want to know a hope where all questions are answered. I want to know a hope that includes more rather than less. I want to know a hope that is more merciful than I am. I want to know a hope where fear and doubt and self-loathing disappear into perfect peace. Of course that is the hope of the cross; we just tend to run on about it until the simple meaning is obscured. You do not have to be afraid of a God you can strip naked and nail to a piece of wood. I hope the cross of Jesus Christ is everything I hope it is.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Christ the King Year A - Psalm 90:1-7

Psalm 90:1-7 I can’t read psalm 95 without thinking of the Venite from the Office of Matins in the Lutheran hymnal of my youth. (The 1941 Lutheran Church Missouri Synod red book – the hymnal preferred by God and the angel choirs) As a child it seemed to me a long song sung every Sunday and was printed on two pages that required flipping back and forth to sing the next verse. Of course we all had it memorized so the flipping was just liturgical calisthenics which in some ways is the whole point of liturgy. It’s like breathing, something that generally goes unnoticed but is essential for life itself. The Venite wasn’t very interesting musically and it would be hard to think of it as shouting with joy to the rock of our salvation but it became so familiar that fifty years later it reminds me of so much more than singing the song. That sort of foundational memory is present even when our everyday memory fades and in that way the great God who made the seas and molded the dry land is always present until the last song of this life becomes the first song of the next and we enter God’s face to face presence with thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Christ the King Year A - Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
The Lord God is critical of what seems to come naturally to sheep - pushing with flank and shoulder, butting each other with horns. Maybe the same is true for us for when push comes to shove we would prefer not to be on the receiving end. But God as shepherd prefers lean sheep to fat ones and promises to bring back the strayed, bind up the injured and strengthen the weak. The image of God as our shepherd is for the encouragement of all who have been pushed and shoved by events beyond their control so that rescued from the clouds and thick darkness of despair, well watered and fed on the good pasture of hope; we would no longer be ravaged by doubt and fear. And if we feel secure we might be less likely to push and shove and scatter others to preserve a place for ourselves which would be pleasing to shepherd and sheep alike. 

Friday, November 17, 2017

Lectionary 32 A - Matthew 25:14-30

The servant who is given one talent believes his master is harsh, reaping where he did not sow and gathering what he did not scatter, while the first two servants take advantage of the master’s generosity to the benefit of both master and servant. It could be that the one talent servant reaps what he sows and gets the harsh master he imagines. Even so it hardly seems fair that from those who have nothing even what they have will be taken away. On the other hand the image of God as a harsh master can be found throughout the scriptures and would give us good reason to fear judgment and bury our lives in rigid rules not risking anything lest everything be taken away. But there is a more profitable image of God as one whose “slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” compassion compelled him to reap the harvest of our sin that he did not sow and gather those scattered by their own rebellious will. To live that vision means we take advantage of God’s generosity and risk the kind of things Jesus did by investing the five and two and one talent of the Gospel in our everyday and everywhere so that in the end God might reap a harvest of abundance beyond our one talent servant imagination.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Lectionary 33 A - Zephaniah 1:7, 12-28

Zephaniah 1:7, 12-28
Zephaniah is very popular with the "Save Fort Worth" people that sometimes spend the weekend standing on Sundance Square street corners warning of impending doom for having too much fun. I must admit I don’t find much worth saving in Zephaniah’s graphic description of the day of great distress and anguish. The violence visited on people just like you and me and our children and the image it evokes of God acting out of a fit of jealous rage is offensive. Of course God has every right to punish people resting “complacently on their dregs” who treat God with disdain. You’d be jealous too and might be tempted to express your righteous indignation violently. But that would be wrong wouldn’t it? We might even call it sin. So how is it sin for us to kill someone who treats us with contempt while God can destroy a whole city; men, women, children, animals and call it justice?  And even if the Jerusalem elite were worthy of the most dreadful death the Babylonians didn’t discriminate as the guilty and innocent shared the same fate. Of course years later the Persians did the same thing to the Babylonians. And so the story goes. Maybe the prophetic word is about the destruction we visit upon each other from Cain and Abel to the Holocaust. So even if the faith of Zephaniah requires him to give God the credit it’s always humans who do the dirty work.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Lectionary 32 A - 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
The Thessalonians were worried that those who died before Jesus returned would be left behind. Paul assures them that God has everything under control and whether one is awake or asleep at the time of Jesus’ coming their hope of salvation is secure. I don’t believe Paul is any more informed than I am about the details and even though he shares his version of the timeline his point is verse 18. “Encourage one another with these words.” The words he meant as encouragement are that those who have died will be included in the future final feast. We don’t worry about the same thing as the Thessalonians as we trust that our loved ones are already with the Lord. We even imagine how they are spending their time. Grandpa's gone fishing. Unfortunately these encouraging words have been used to support a less than encouraging theology where a select few are caught up in the clouds (rapture) while the vast majority of people are left behind to endure horrors beyond imagination, although humans are pretty good at imaging and inflicting horrors on each other. I think the true horror is that rapture theology makes the God of grace look like every other god humans have created in their own image. So maybe the encouraging word for us – who no longer worry about where our loved ones are – is that a God who would suffer and die for humanity is not a God who thinks like we do.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Lectionary 32 A - Psalm 70

Psalm 70
The psalmist hopes that his rescue would be pleasing to the Lord which displays a radical confidence in the gracious mercy of the Almighty Big G God. The small g gods always ask, “What’s in it for us?” They have no time for the poor and needy and only provide salvation for those who can pay. But the Big G “God is Great” listens to the laments of the lowly. The Big G God helps those who cannot help themselves and delivers those who have nowhere else to turn because it is pleasing to God. Or in other words it is for God’s sake that the sake of the poor and lowly gets a hearing in the halls of heaven and we would do well to pay attention to the people God attends to for when God determined to enter fully into human history it was through the life of one who may have prayed this psalm more than once. That God entered the psalm of lament may be the biggest thing about the Big G God. No. It is most definitely the Biggest Thing about God.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Lectionary 32 A - Amos 5:18-24

Amos 5:18-24
This text should bring a permanent ceasefire to the worship wars that often consume the church. Contemporary vs traditional vs blended vs emergent vs whatever will come next. Projection screens or hymnals? Long teaching sermons or liturgical based sermons? Narrative lectionary or Revised Common? Communion every Sunday or less often? Arguments over hymns or styles of worship are intensely personal because, well, they are personal. But in all the arguments I've never heard anyone ask about God’s preference. That’s not to say personal preference doesn't have a place in the pew or the pulpit only that God doesn't care about what we think about worship when we argue about it. But more to the point when what we like or dislike about worship takes center stage in our spiritual life we act in opposition to what pleases God and therefore our worship is no longer worshipful. That is because it is all about us and God desires us to think about others in the same way God does. We cannot do the work God intended the church to do if all our work is centered on the way the church works. I could quote endless scriptures on that topic but this one will do. The song that God loves is the hungry belly filled and the parched throat quenched. The melody that makes God smile is the laughter of the oppressed set free and the sigh of the outcast welcomed as friend. So by all means seek out worship that pleases you but only if it inspires you to worship in the way that pleases God which, I’m sorry to say, has almost nothing to do with what pleases you. Ouch or Amen? Or both?

Friday, November 3, 2017

The Feast of All Saints Year A - Matthew 5:1-12

Matthew 5:1-12
“Blessed are those” becomes “blessed are you” when you live the Beatitudes. By that I mean the “rejoice and be glad” and not the "persecuted for righteousness sake". In our everyday the "blessed are you" has a tough time overcoming the literally persecuted. But the “blessed are you” is and was an invitation of what we are to be because it is a promise of what will be. That does not deny “persecuted for righteousness sake” as a reality. That’s pretty much a promise too. But to look beyond being poor in spirit, meek and mourning, starving for justice means one is a merciful, pure in heart peacemaker. As far as Jesus is concerned that is blessed indeed.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

The Feast of All Saints Year A - 1 John 3:1-3

1 John 3:1-3
The hope that purifies is that we are what God says we are, beloved children. I know the analogy to human parenthood falls short of the glory of God but when I consider that God loves me in the way that I love my children, Joshua and Mary Ruth, I am purified from all that would make be believe I am less than I am; a beloved child of the creator of the universe. The love God has for us cannot be limited by all the things said and unsaid, done and left undone that limit our response to that love, in the same way that not a day goes by when I don’t marvel in the miracle and give thanks for the gift of my children. That is the hope that purifies, God giving thanks to God for the miracle and gift of a child that is you.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Feast of All Saints Year A - Psalm 34:1-10

Psalm 34:1-10
Delivered from terrors and saved from troubles the psalmist rejoices in the goodness of the Lord. Sometimes the only way out of trouble is through it which is what the cross is all about. To fully bear the weight of human sin the cross must have struck terror in Jesus, if only for a moment. “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?” But the terror of the cross is temporary and “into your hands I commend my spirit” is the beginning of the forever life that shines forth in radiance from the empty tomb to bathe the world in the light of resurrection hope. Because Jesus endured the trouble and terror of the cross we can sing “taste and see that the Lord is good” even when the days we face are not.  

Monday, October 30, 2017

The Feast of All Saints Year A - Revelation 7:9-17

Revelation 7:9-17
These words were written to encourage and comfort people who were suffering terribly for the sake of the faith. Let’s put aside the thought that Revelation is a road map through Divine destruction with promises of paradise for a select few and consider that the God who wipes away the tears of a multitude too great to count might not want to poke everyone else in the eye. Maybe within the necessary narrative for a persecuted people there is a word that speaks to all humanity created in the image of the holy. There are innocents who suffer all of life as a great ordeal, starving for food or affection with no hope for happiness. Will God wipe away their tears? There are those less innocent who scarred by neglect or abuse suffer the great ordeal of lives doomed to misfortune and out of their pain visit it others. Will God wipe away their tears? There are those not innocent at all but acting out of selfish interest suffer the great ordeal that looks like prosperity but lacks love and mercy and kindness and if they knew that perhaps they would weep as well. Will God wipe away their tears? Can God wipe away every tear from every eye and still be a God of justice? I don’t know but I hope so and not because I need a happy ending to the sad human story but because I hope God does.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Reformation Sunday - Jeremiah 31:31-34

Jeremiah 31:31-34
The days are surely coming… when Lutherans might give up celebrating Reformation Sunday because it’s all about us and remembering Martin Luther and the 95 thesis as a festival liturgy is not as important as embracing a new covenant where confessing Christ is the common denominator that erases denominational lines. But the days have not surely come especially not on the 500th anniversary. And besides every other brother and sister teaches the knowledge of the Lord in her or his own way insisting that compliance to human traditions has divine meaning that is superior to all others. Now I’m not suggesting that we should not remember the past or celebrate the gift of our heritage but the days envisioned by Jeremiah can only come when the knowledge of the Lord unites the least and the greatest in a way that overcomes our natural tendency to divide and conquer. In the meantime Lutherans will sing “A Mighty Fortress” this Sunday and wear red (like a Lutheran version of St. Patty’s Day) and claim that grace was a Lutheran invention. Okay I apologize for that last sentence even if it was fun to write. When Jeremiah’s vision is fully realized the divisions of the past will disappear into the day that will surely come where all people will be full of the knowledge of the Lord and act accordingly.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Lectionary 29 A - 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

1 Thessalonians 1:1-10 
One reason Paul may be continually thankful for the church of the Thessalonians is because he is continually troubled by the church of the Corinthians. And in same way the Philippians and Ephesians may have helped him endure the “who has bewitched you” Galatians, present day overseers may balance the burden of their call by rejoicing in works of faith in one place while laboring with love for ministries that struggle. I don’t know because I’ve been in the same place for twenty plus years and the Calvary that I landed in, by the grace of God BTW, was already a “friendly church serving Christ and community.” But all of us together are called to be the church steadfast in hope and inspired by the Holy Spirit. So how do we help each other be the best we can be and sound forth the word in the Macedonia and Achaia that for us are congregations in Northern Texas and Northern Louisiana and Durant, OK and Clovis, NM? What was then is now. We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Lectionary 29 A - Isaiah 45:1-7

Isaiah 45:1-7
Cyrus the Great was good to all the gods who had been displaced by the Babylonians returning “the images of the gods… to their places and I let them dwell in eternal abodes.” (The Cyrus cylinder 538 BC) Granted he hoped for something in return. “May all the gods whom I settled in their sacred centers ask daily of Bêl and Nâbu that my days be long and may they intercede for my welfare.” But he was especially kind to the exiles from Judah and not only sent them home but funded the rebuilding of the temple and the reestablishment of sacrifices according to the Law of Moses. Not that he gave the God of Israel sole credit for making him “Cyrus, king of the world, great king, mighty king, king of Babylon, king of Sumer and Akkad, king of the four quarters...” But then Cyrus didn’t know he was a pawn in God’s game and that the little “g” gods couldn’t hear or answer any of his prayers. The lesson of Cyrus is that God’s good and gracious will is done with or without prayer (Luther’s explanation to the 3rd petition of the Lord’s Prayer) so that sometimes even less than pious people perform holy acts.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Lectionary 28 A - Matthew 22:1-14


The interesting twist to “many are invited but few are chosen” is that the choice belongs to the invited. Granted the poorly dressed one is dismissed in no uncertain terms but one can’t help but notice the guest list originally included those who declined and they did not suffer a similar fate. It was only after the A-list said, “No thank you” that the good and bad from the highways and byways were invited to fill the void. It could be that the “friend” in less than acceptable garments represents those who attending the banquet would have rather stayed home but even so being tied hand and foot and thrown into the outer darkness seems a little over the top for a dress code violation. We could read this text as a warning to dress up our lives in acceptable fashion or else suffer the consequence. But maybe we would be better dressed if we read it as an invitation to live life like a wedding reception where the party celebrates our very best hopes and dreams. 

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Lectionary 28A - Philippians 4:1-9

Philippians 4:1-9
Writing from prison Paul encourages the Philippians with a lovely laundry list of “whatever is” think on these things which goes well beyond the power of positive thinking. It is, however, an attitude adjustment in the same way we are to have the mind of Christ who did not consider equality with God something to be exploited. (Philippians 2:6) Gentleness evident to all and the double dip of rejoicing is only possible because the Lord is near. It is for this reason that Euodia and Syntyche are to set aside whatever has come between them and remember the Gospel for which they both contend. Paul had no way of knowing his letter would be read by anyone after it had served its purpose let alone for 2000 years of church history. If he had he might not have called out these two women by name. On the other hand I wonder if the things that divide us would be as important to us if we knew our names would be forever enshrined in the scriptures. Just saying.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Lectionary 28 A - Psalm 23



Psalm 23
The table prepared is in the presence of enemies which makes one wonder about the relative calm of green pastures and quiet waters. But maybe that is why this psalm is so often recited at funerals. While the dearly departed have passed through “the valley of the shadow” and experience heads anointed with oil and cup overflowing we who mourn do so in the presence of death, the last enemy to be defeated. The table prepared is the promise that the shadow cast by death is not long enough to block out the light for the evil death would do has been undone by the cross – the rod and the staff of the Shepherd. The green pastures and still waters happen whenever souls are refreshed, despite real loss and longing, by the sure and certain promise of a forever dwelling in the house of the Lord.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Isaiah 25:19 - Lectionary 28 A

Isaiah 25:1-9
When the city is reduced to rubble and the fortified town turned into a ruin then the strong will honor God and the ruthless will revere the Lord. The only power the mighty respect is a more mighty power. In the end death silences the scepters sway and it doesn’t matter how ornate your tomb is when “remember you are dust and to dust you shall return” is the only honest epitaph. Every knee shall bow because in the end God is the only one left standing and the forever feast on the holy mountain is a celebration of God and not the “all peoples” who are invited. I know there are plenty of scriptures that would confirm that God is just ruthless as we are but if that is the case then the wicked win or it means everyone loses, maybe even God?

Friday, October 6, 2017

Lectionary 27 A - Matthew 21:33-46

Matthew 21:33-46
Since the text says Jesus is talking about “them” we can safely assume he is not talking about “us.” But then the living word, sharper and more active than a two edged sword, doesn’t let anyone off that easily. In many ways we are like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day. They were well versed in scripture and loved the law that revealed the way of the Lord. They were familiar with the pattern of religious ritual that gave shape to their every day and marked the passing of the seasons. They trained up their children in the way they should go so that when it came to the time of their passing God would not abandon them to Sheol. Jesus, the self proclaimed rock rejected, threatened the very fabric of their religious life and no matter how Matthew remembered it the pious people of Jesus’ day were serving God by wanting to arrest Jesus and make him conform to the faith of his forebears. So what might that say about the “us” that objects to being identified with “them”? We have ways set in stone that elevate human traditions to divine status. We judge others by their ability to conform to the pattern of our faith. We might be well meaning but that doesn’t mean we aren’t misguided. The good news is that the stone over which we stumble and the rock that crushes our personal preferences is the precious cornerstone that for the sake of those outside the vineyard would have us give it away in obedience to the heir who owns it.  

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Lectionary 27 A - Philippians 3:4-14

Philippians 3:4-14
Like the apostle Paul I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh. Born to Lutheran educators, baptized in my first month, memorized the liturgy before I could read, confirmed by my thirteenth year, graduate of a Lutheran grade school, high school, college, and seminary and served as a Lutheran grade school teacher, youth director and pastor. I know we’re saved by grace but surely a Lutheran pedigree like that counts for something? Of course it does and in many ways it is the reason I am able to press on to take hold of the Christ who took hold of me through the water of baptism and the faith of parents and teachers. Paul considers confidence in the flesh as loss but clearly values the heritage it represents and his brothers and sisters according to the flesh for whom he would sacrifice his salvation. (Romans 9:3) So while we place no confidence in our religious pedigree we are grateful for the formation that does not happen without the family of faith.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Lectionary 27 A - Psalm 80:7-15

Psalm 80:7-15
The psalmist must not have read Isaiah who lays the blame for broken walls on the “pleasant planting” that produced sour grapes. There are times when we can identity clearly the cause and effect of choices made or delayed but there are just as many times when “why, O Lord?” has no obvious answer. Concert goers are not supposed to get mowed down by gunfire in Las Vegas especially by a shooter who appears "normal" whatever that means. We cannot endure for long with the "why, O Lord" and so when the walls of our security have been broken down and the pleasant planting of our lives are ravaged by calamity we cry aloud with the psalmist. “Restore us, God Almighty!” “Return to us, God Almighty!” “Look down from heaven and see!” Which is to say even when there are no satisfactory answers to “why?” we trust the Lord still tends the vine of our lives. So our hearts break for lives lost in such a violent and meaningless fashion while we still cling to faith that where justice and mercy meet God is present.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Lectionary 27 A - Isaiah 5:1-7

Isaiah 5:1-7
God’s lament sounds familiar because God’s sad song is so often ours as well. We invest time and energy and emotion into relationships that fail to produce hoped for results. Of course when human relationships go sour we say “it takes two to tango” while Isaiah envisions all the blame is on the vineyard God planted. It is true that sowing wild oats (grapes?) is common enough to be cliché but Israel, a small country situated between hostile empires, can hardly be blamed for trying to survive the place of its planting. Maybe that was the point all along. Trusting God was not supposed to be like all the other nations who sacrifice everything, including their first born, to appease the blood lust of their gods. The people of God were to reflect the same sort of care to the widow and the orphan and the sojourner as God showed to them. The fruit of righteousness was never meant to be about the sacrifice required by law but rather the law of living by love. In that respect God the gardener was dancing all alone so I guess it does take two to tango after all.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Pentecost 26 A - Matthew 21:23-32

Matthew 21:23-32 
The chief priests and elders of the people are stuck between a rock and a hard place by Jesus’ question but will come up with a third option by the Friday we call “Good”. But then Jesus knew along that “crucify” would be the only possible answer for the powers that be once they were pushed into a corner from which there was no escape. Stuck between the way of God we are unwilling to follow and the way of the world we are reluctant to resist the third way is the only option for us as well. Crucify God and maybe this time the persistent question will stay dead and we’ll be done with it. But like Jesus on the third day crucifixion is the beginning not the end. What needs to die is the part of us that is like the son in the parable who says “yes” but lives “no” so that the part of us that rises is like the son who said “no” but is finally free to live “yes”.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Pentecost 26 A - Philippians 2:1-13

Philippians 2:1-13
The whole of the scriptures is expressed in Philippians 2:5-11 and if all we had was this ancient hymn it would be enough to reveal the mind of the Divine. In Jesus it is God who is emptied into all of humanity and in servant form suffers a dreadful death designed by the children created in God’s own image. How is it possible that the church has such a sordid history of not finding any consolation in this expression of ultimate love, no compassion, no sympathy, demanding that like minds be bound by hard cover catechisms where right belief matters more than loving fellow believers let alone the world Jesus died to save? The promise is that every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that the Jesus emptied, serving, suffering and dying for creatures who could care less was what God was about all along. Being of like mind means we are to be like Jesus who never met a sinner he didn’t love to death.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Lectionary 26 A - Psalm 25:1-9

Psalm 25:1-9
David trusts that the rebellious sins of his youth will not be remembered by the Lord and I have no doubt that the same applies to the sins of one’s middle age as well. That is because the Lord, who is our all day long hope, does not need to be prompted to remember great mercy and love for that is the character of the One who erases the record of everything about us that makes mercy necessary. Now if only we could do the same for others, and God help us, for ourselves. But the truth about us is that shame is our constant companion and we live with the memory of rebellious ways and youthful sins, revisiting ancient history as if it happened yesterday. So maybe the instructions sinners need most is a lesson on forgiveness where charity begins at home.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Lectionary 26 A - Ezekiel 18:1-4; 25-32



Ezekiel 18:1-4; 25-32
Apparently the prophet is not familiar with family systems theory. The sins of the parents are always visited upon the children and sour grapes do not grow sweeter with more time on the vine. We are all shaped by our past and not in control of our future which makes our present an unpredictable place. So what if we were to say we are not responsible? I didn’t choose my family of origin and even though they did the best they could they carried with them the same sort of things that have made me less than I desire to be. And I say that from the perspective of having loving parents; kind, decent people who none-the-less lived their brokenness in ways they did not like. Heaven help the children that welcome death because they live in hell. So are the ways of the Lord unfair? Of course they are. That is why the Lord bound by our past with no pleasure possible died naked and alone nailed to a piece of wood in order to secure a future for us where the life of the parent and the child would not be subject to the corruption inherent in our DNA.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Lectionary 25 A - Matthew 20:1-16

Matthew 20:1-16
The kingdom of heaven is a contradiction of the more common kingdom where fair play is measured by survival of the fittest and the winner is the one who dies with the most toys. The all-day workers sweating in the sun obviously deserve more wages than the slackers who sat around all day. You can bet that the next time the master went looking for workers the marketplace had become a right to wait state and expecting a full day’s pay for the last hour was the new normal. That is why the kingdom of heaven is like something no one ever does. And if we are not outright envious of God’s generosity we are at least stingier than Jesus when it comes to the “kingdom come” where last and first are reversed.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Lectionary 25 A - Philippians 1:20-30



Philippians 1:20-30
To live is Christ. To die is gain. We tend to believe these two statements in reverse. To live is gain. To die is Christ. Life is held onto as long as humanly possible and death is only welcome when life itself has become intolerable. Or when living a life worthy of the calling is a means to an end. In other words one believes in order to receive a reward (heaven) and avoid punishment (hell). But if the life that is worthy of the calling is the end itself then the gain is the privilege of believing in Christ and sharing his sufferings which means death is just joining more fully with the Christ that is already fully joined to us. The point is that the two are so closely related as to be the same. To live is Christ. To die is Christ. The gain is the same.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Lectionary 25 A - Psalm 145:1-8

Psalm 145:1-8
“One generation commends your works to another” is the way the faith has been passed down through the ages so that the ancient story of mighty acts and awesome works is not lost. More than a myth the ancient story is retold in the living language of the generation entrusted to bear it into the infinite future. Granted, the “passing on” generation always hopes that their way of telling the story will be as enduring as the story itself and that the generation “receiving” the gift will not throw away the wrapping it came in. But the truth is our way of understanding “the Lord gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love” is the same for every generation, even if it’s shared on a Kindle instead of a scroll.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Lectionary 25 A - Jonah 4:1-11

Jonah 4:1-11  
Debate about the Book of Jonah is often focused on the detail of the “whale” and whether someone could be swallowed up and survive. Those who read the story as literal truth do so out of reverence for the scriptures as the source and norm of all doctrine and faith and believe if you doubt the literal truth of one story all the other stories are called into question. Those who read Jonah as a parable or allegory also reverence the scriptures as the source and norm of all faith and doctrine but believe a story does not need to be literally true to be true. The point of this story, which I am quite willing to swallow as literally true, is in chapter four. Jonah did not want to go to Nineveh because he knew God would be merciful and forgive the enemies of Israel and that was “very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry.” (4:1) God provided shade to cool Jonah’s jets but then struck it down to make a point and Jonah sitting in the hot sun and lamenting the burned up bush was “angry enough to die.” (4:9) With or without the big fish story this is the part of the text that is literally true about us especially when like Jonah we care more about the bush of our own understanding than the “great city” of fellow believers whose fish story may be bigger, or smaller, than ours.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Lectionary 24 A - Romans 14:1-12

Romans 14:1-12
I think vegetarians might have a quarrel or two with the apostle Paul over who is the weaker brother or sister, after all it's not easy to be vegetarian at a Texas BBQ joint. Thank God for pickles! Of course vegetarians take a little bit of ribbing in Texas but maybe not the same as in the early church where “you are what you eat” were fighting words. Centuries of animosity between Jew and Gentile did not disappear overnight. If anything the differences that could largely be avoided through segregation were now inescapable. So Paul reminds them that they are no longer defined by their personal piety for they all belong to the Lord who welcomes Jew and Gentile alike. That is the part we miss when we elevate one form of piety above another without recognizing that the only question that matters is does it please the Lord. Of course what really pleases the Lord is when we live in harmony with one another which in the end is the highest form of praise. 

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Lectionary 24 A - Psalm 103:1-13

Psalm 103:1-13
This is a “bless the Lord, O my soul” psalm for all who are weighed down by the debt of their sin and held captive by the bill come due that cannot be repaid. That is not to say we do not need to hear God’s accusing voice or consider the anger of the Lord. No, our rebellious ways grieve God in the same way that a child’s willful act of disobedience troubles a parent. But God has determined to put aside righteous wrath in favor of mercy and compassion for God’s own sake because God’s soul is blessed when ours are set free. That is not to say IT does not mean we are set free to continue grieving God and add to our deficit.  As the apostle Paul says it is for freedom that we have been set free (Galatians 5:1). The gift of beginning each day with “bless the Lord, O my soul” is to be embraced by the steadfast love that knows no limits remembering anew the benefits that bless us and heal us from the dis-ease of our sin. Bless the Lord, O my soul!

Monday, September 11, 2017

Lectionary 24 A - Genesis 50:15-21

This is the happy ending to a story of sibling rivalry that led to violence and treachery and a father’s broken heart. It is as much our story as it is theirs. Like Jacob favoring Joseph because he grieves the death of Joseph’s mother Rachael we often do not anticipate the chain of events that follow in the wake of our grief. While Joseph can’t be blamed for being thrown down the well it was his boasting that pushed his brothers over the edge. We often speak in ways unbecoming without considering others. The violence and deceit that broke Jacob’s heart is the tragic consequence of jealously unchecked. This is our story as from Cain and Abel to the present human beings would seem to be predisposed to violence. But the happy ending is our story as well. Jacob blesses Joseph’s sons before he dies and maybe repents of that colored coat and the misery it brought. Joseph humbled by his journey from favored son to slave to master of Egypt’s grain surprises his fearful brothers and the family torn apart by deceit is restored in shared tears. It might read like a fairy tale but the truly happy ending to this story flows from a Father’s broken heart over his children’s warring madness who showing no favorites takes on the form of a servant to suffer the harm of the cross in order to preserve more than just “a numerous people.” It is God’s hope that knowing what we know we would be more inclined to live the end of story than the part of the story that comes more naturally to us.