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.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Lectionary 23 A - Matthew 18:15-20

Matthew 18:15-20
The Matthew 18 step by step process for promoting harmony in the church is often cited but rarely followed, at least not in the order Jesus intended. More often than not we stop speaking to the one who has offended us while “venting” to one or two others who then spread it around the church until it gets back to the source of the sin. Along the way some will side with the sinner and the church becomes embroiled in a conflict that was originally a private matter between two people. Meanwhile the pagans and tax collectors look on and laugh and wonder why in the world anyone would want to belong to such a dysfunctional family. But maybe that is where the trouble starts for us. We all say the church is made up of sinners but then seem surprised when members of the church sin against each other. Let’s just own our dysfunctional family status and agree that conflict in the church is the inevitable result of putting sinners in the same pew and expecting them to get along without telling the truth to each other. But Jesus hopes that his love for us will lead to our loving him and our loving him will inevitably lead to loving the other sinners in the room enough to do a difficult thing. The reason you go in private to the one who has sinned against you is because you love Jesus and Jesus loves the dysfunctional family that bears his name.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Lectionary 23 A - Romans 13:8-14

Romans 13:8-14
It is not a debt we care to own up to as loving neighbor as yourself is not as sweet as it sounds. First of all we hardly love ourselves, although we like ourselves well enough to fulfill desires as if they were needs. We almost always neglect the “neighbor” as defined by the parable of the Good Samaritan and avoid contact with them when we can. We don’t even fully love those who love us, withholding a certain amount of capital in reserve, fearful that full commitment may lead to personal bankruptcy. That’s the truth. Fear drives the process and love demands more than anyone is willing to pay. If it came easy we’d be better at it and the Bible wouldn’t have to talk about it so much. But as it is we are reluctant to love fully especially when it means we have to sacrifice time or energy or pay real dollars on the debt. There are some who recklessly disregard conventional wisdom and even if they had a rainy day fund would have spent it long ago on the needs of others. We call them saints and most of them are dead or in prison or live in ways the rest of us do not care to live by, thank you very much. They do inspire us, though, don’t they? Maybe enough to put ourselves on a payment plan to pay down the debt of love we can never repay for the Jesus who inspires saints to live with and love neighbors not like themselves died to save us all and has already paid the debt the law demanded.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Lectionary 23 A - Psalm 119:33-40

Psalm 119:33-40
The way of the Lord is life in all its fullness but it doesn’t come naturally. Our hearts are more inclined to unjust gain and the falsehood of fooling ourselves with excuses. That is why the psalmist prays to be taught the ways of the Lord and led in the paths of righteousness and so be turned from falsehoods that promise much but deliver nothing. The Lord’s reproach is the truth about us, which is a good enough reason to dread it, but there is life on the other side of a just judgment which is why in our inmost being we long for the law of the Lord that is life.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Lectionary 23 A - Ezekiel 33:7-11

Ezekiel 33:7-11
God gives Ezekiel an incentive to warn the wicked, “you will surely die” by tying the prophet’s fate to speaking the difficult word of warning. The “prophetic” voices of our time need no such encouragement to preach against wicked behavior. Many of them make a lucrative career out of warning others although they spend most of their time preaching to the choir. There are some who risk ridicule by standing on street corners warning wicked movie goers and diners of the error of their ways, although personally I think they are misrepresenting the Jesus who ate and drank with prostitutes and tax collectors. The trouble is warnings fall on deaf ears without the benefit of a meaningful relationship and party poopers on street corners have little chance of saving anyone, save those who already considered themselves to be saved. But the Lord’s lament, “as surely as I live I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked” is not the same as “turn or burn” even as the warning “why will you die?” is not as much a threat as it is an invitation to live. That is because the Jesus who spent a good bit of time cavorting with sinners decided dying for them was the only way the wicked and the ones who warn them would have a chance to live.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Lectionary 22 A - Matthew 16:21-28

Peter thinks “the rock” upon which the church will be built should have a say so about its foundation and undergoing great suffering and death is not a part of Peter’s plan for the Messiah. You would think “and on the third day be raised” might make a difference, but it doesn’t. He’s a Galilean fisherman sailing in uncharted waters. He has witnessed miraculous healing and feedings and the transfiguration and even though the wind and waves freaked him out and made him sink he walked on water. When he gets the promotion from “one of the twelve” to CEO he’s already cashed in the keys of the kingdom and is looking forward to living large. The rebuke must have come as a surprise with the “blessed are you” ringing in his ears and while the Gospels do not record his immediate response his later denial in the courtyard would indicate that the “and on the third day be raised” still hadn’t sunk in.  It is true for us as well. We do not wish sorrow away by the power of positive thinking. We cannot revise reality by saying the half empty glass is half full. Half full is the same as half empty in that there is 50 % less to drink. And of course we cannot avoid the inevitability of death. No. The suffering is great. The death is real. Which is why only “and on the third day be raised” can address the very things to which Peter, and we ourselves, say, “God forbid it, Lord!” The power of the resurrection is that it is the only thing that can deny death the last word about us which is why we dare to lose our lives before death can speak. 

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Lectionary 22 A - Romans 12:9-21

This is Paul’s flesh and blood bullet list for the life of spiritual worship that is a holy and acceptable living sacrifice. (Romans 12:1) It is a renewed mind conformed to the way of Christ and not the pattern of this world. But the living sacrifice life is a delicate balancing act. If we hold too fast to what is good haughtiness follows on its heels. If we do not hold fast enough we cling to what is evil and neglect what is good. My former LA Fitness Yoga instructor, Aubree, says that balance is an illusion that the body is always making adjustments to maintain. I say when you’ve worked at it as long as Aubree the illusion is reality and when she stands on one foot with the other behind her head (Natarajasana) one cannot tell the difference between a thousand tiny adjustments and standing perfectly still. So it is with the practiced life of faith that depends on Christ to make adjustments to our natural tendency toward pride, envy, arrogance and greed so we might be conformed to the pattern of Jesus who did not consider equality with God something to grasp. (Philippians 2:6) The life of faith balances an otherwise unstable world by rejoicing with those who rejoice, weeping with those who weep, greeting strangers as friends, and treating the lowly like the mighty and the mighty like the lowly, though truth is all are loved equally by the Lord. So even if you waver in your life of faith dancers pose God is none-the-less pleased with the effort.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Lectionary 22 A - Psalm 26:1-6

Psalm 26:1-6 
David may have penned the psalm but Jesus is the one who embodied it. His blameless life was cut short by wicked evil doers whose deceit did not triumph for the glory of the Lord, high and lifted up on the cross, was vindicated by the empty tomb. But what of David singing this psalm having raped Bathsheba and murdered Uriah? (There is no choice when the king commands you come to his bed or tells you go to the front lines of the battle) Maybe the testing and the trying and the proving of David’s heart and mind is in the nature of his life which might have remained “blameless” as a simple shepherd but was destined for tragedy as a king. When by the prophet’s ploy “you are the man” (2 Samuel 12:7) God confronts David’s deceit and hypocrisy David does not defend himself but rather relies fully on the unfailing love of God who is just in judging and right in pronouncing guilt. Maybe in showing undeserved mercy to David God also repents of plucking a ruddy young lad out of a pastoral existence and sending him to slay a giant in the armor of his best friend’s father whose throne he will one day steal. I should quit before I entertain any more heresy but the good news is this; if God forgives David, who showed evil doers a thing or two about being wicked, then there is hope for the rest of us who rely on the one who led a blameless life on our behalf, Jesus Christ out Lord

Monday, August 28, 2017

Pentecost 22 A - Jeremiah 15:15-21

The merrymakers do not want to hear what Jeremiah has to say and even he is getting tired of being a party pooper. The word that was the joy and delight of his heart has gone missing like a brook whose waters dry up in the summer heat. Mocked and discounted as a crazy old coot he lashes out at the Lord who has laid on him the weight of righteous indignation. But the Lord slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love has reached the limit of patience with the protesting prophet and reminds Jeremiah of his place, albeit with a promise. They will turn to you if you turn back to me. No one wants to be a Jeremiah but sometimes we have to tell a difficult truth and not count the cost even if in truth telling we are accused of being false. How then do we know the difference between a precious word and one that is worthless? The worthless word lets us be even if that means we are left to be less than we were meant to be. The precious word leads to life even if it is preceded by a word of a necessary death which no one welcomes but for which one will be eternally grateful.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Lectionary 21 A - Matthew 16:13-20

Matthew 16:13-20
The church has been working diligently to accomplish what Jesus promises will forever frustrate the gates of Hades. It is at once a sign of our brokenness and God’s graciousness that we survive despite all our efforts over the ages to demolish the rock upon which we stand, namely the confession of faith that the way of Jesus is the way of God. The truth is you and I, who make up the institution of the church, liberal and conservative and everything in-between, thrive in the shadow of Hade’s gates.  We have overcome the command to be set apart by the overwhelming desire to fit in, replacing the message of peace with rationalizations for war, the plight of the poor with the gospel of prosperity, unity with division, godliness with greed and love with law. But God is not contained in the cathedrals of stone or doctrine or personal piety we have constructed to diminish a grace that defies our desire to disregard it. No. When God confers the keys of the kingdom on the church and declares it to be as solid as a rock it is only because God cannot be overcome by the gates of Hades or the hell on earth we seek to establish.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Lectionary 21 A - Romans 12:1-8

The pattern of this world is etched into our DNA which is why conformity with it comes so naturally. Even self-sacrifice and the renewing of the mind can mimic the world’s pattern when pride in personal piety leads us to think more highly of ourselves than we ought and less of others than sober judgment allows. But when motivated by the mercies of God the sacrifice of a contrite heart is holy and acceptable and capable of being transformed into something similar to Christ. To be like Christ is to recognize and celebrate the gifts of others without immediately judging them or on the flip side coveting them. Not all members of the body have the same function but all are necessary and of infinite value to the whole because all are loved equally by God. 

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Lectionary 20 A - Matthew 15:10-28

Matthew 15:10-28
I wonder if the Canaanite woman was present when Jesus called the Pharisees blind guides and then chided the disciples for being slow to understand. If so it may be that Jesus is the object of his own lesson. In the past I’ve preached desperation as the woman’s motivation. She is a mother whose daughter is possessed by a demon and she will not be denied even if it means being called a dog. That may still be true but it seems ironic then that the lesson Jesus wants the disciples to understand is the one she leads Jesus to learn. After all, “it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles” are the words that come out of Jesus’ mouth. So unless you believe it is not slander to call a desperate mother a dog based on her ethnicity Jesus is as slow as his disciples to fully comprehend the implications of his own words. But before I delve any deeper into blasphemy, what if God in trying to move us beyond ethnic divisions and inbred racism is willing to become a living parable? The Jesus who knew no sin becomes sin in the way this teacher of Israel embodies the prejudice of God’s chosen people destined to be a light to the Gentiles but instead is hell bent on their extermination. And so Jesus in welcoming the woman is the vision of Isaiah 56 in flesh and blood. The foreigner and the outcast and yes, even the eunuchs, all have a seat at the table where previously they begged for crumbs.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Lectionary 20 A - Psalm 67

Psalm 67
The blessings of God are not always measured by the earth bringing forth increase even though God surely knows our need. On the other hand God has given us the ability to feed everyone on the planet even though at present a good portion of the planet’s human population is often at risk of food shortage if not outright starvation. This is exacerbated by the inhumanity bred by hatred and violence that seems to be hard wired into the human DNA. God must surely lament the nations that beat their plowshares into swords and their pruning hooks into spears. Those who love peace and desire the ways of a merciful God of saving health to be known on the earth are faced with the difficult decision to wage war to establish peace. There are no easy answers in the here and now but in light of absolute evil it would seem that the only way God can guide the nations on earth is if the ones who commit heinous atrocities against the innocent are defeated. But even if whatever the current crisis is averted or resolved and the innocent find a momentary respite the only way Psalm 67 will be fully realized is when the ancient prayer of the church, “Come, Lord Jesus” is answered.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Lectionary 20 A - Isaiah 56:1-8

Isaiah 56:1-8
The lectionary cut out the verses of Isaiah 56 that instruct eunuchs not to say “I am just a dry tree” (v.3) but rather rejoice that they shall not be “cut off” from the Lord. (v.5) Instead they will be given a place within the house of the Lord that will be better than having sons and daughters. The Mosaic law makes no such exception as males emasculated by crushing or cutting "may not enter the assembly of the Lord.” (Deuteronomy 23:1) Isaiah died long before the provider of the promise was born into human flesh and even if Isaiah had been around he would have been surprised. The One who carried the promise wasn’t castrated but he was cut off by his own people. He wasn’t a foreigner but he was considered an outcast. His death at the hands of the chosen and his resurrection orchestrated by God made possible the promise that restores those castrated by the Law of Moses to the new reality where foreigners have a home and divisions are erased and outcasts are included so that the house of God might be a place of prayer for all people.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Lectionary 19 A - Romans 11:1-2, 29-32

Romans 11:1-229-32
The irrevocable gifts and calling of God is Paul’s conclusion to the “great sorrow and unceasing anguish” for “his kindred according to the flesh” (Romans 9:2) Even though the Christ Paul professes was rejected by those who are imprisoned in disobedience, God will in the end be merciful to all of them. It is a daring statement that we diminish when we qualify it based on our limited knowledge. The point is the cross confirms the covenant and unlike people who God laments “honor me with their lips” but whose “hearts are far from me” (Isaiah 29:13) the promise from God’s lips and the love of God’s heart is one in the same.  If Paul believes God’s mercy extends to descendants of Abraham who do not confess Christ we might even dare to hope God’s mercy extends to those for whom we have great sorrow and unceasing anguish trusting that in the end mercy trumps judgment. 

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Lectionary 19 A - Psalm 138

Psalm 138
The psalmist gives thanks for deliverance in the days of trouble and though it might sound like a prayer “Do not forsake the work of your hands” the psalmist already anticipates the purpose of the Lord being fulfilled. That is because the Lord on high bends down to whisper peace to the lowly but laughs out loud at the antics of the arrogant. For in days of trouble, when surrounded by enemies and weakened by strife the cry of the needy will not fall on deaf ears for the love of the Lord is steadfast and endures forever. Therefore the little g gods will have to listen while the lowly praise the Big G God on high and the kings of the earth hearing the song will come down from their thrones and join the choir.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Lectionary 19 A - Isaiah 51:1-6

Isaiah 51:1-6
The ransomed of the Lord returned unto Zion with singing (Isaiah 35) but their songs were soon silenced by the harsh reality of cities laid waste by war and neglect and the hostility of homesteaders reluctant to make room for the recently released. The ransomed of the Lord, wearied by the frustrations presented by freedom, were tempted to change their tune like their ancestors wandering in the wilderness and longed to return to the relative comfort of captivity. In the midst of this crisis of identity God reminds them of the past and makes promises for the future to restore in them hope for the present. With eyes lifted to the same stars Abraham could not count they are reminded of their humble beginnings and comforted with songs of deliverance that promise a forever future of joy and gladness. Remembering God’s past faithfulness while anticipating God’s future providence is the song of forever freedom and the way we overcome whatever troubles, whatever frightens, whatever might lead us to become comfortable with captivity.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Lectionary 18 A - Matthew 14:13-21

Matthew 14:13-21
“When Jesus heard this he withdrew to a lonely place…” What Jesus heard was that his cousin John had been beheaded by Herod. Overcome by grief Jesus needs to get away. And maybe the Messiah also realized John’s violent death meant his days were numbered as well and the powers that be would not be satisfied stilling the voice of the Baptist but would come for the One who John claimed was “greater than me.” But Jesus can’t get away for long as the crowds clamor for more miracles, more entertaining parables, more in your face confrontations with Pharisees and temple big wigs. Compassion for the crowd calls him out of his own need for healing. The disciples short on vision and compassion would send the crowds away to fend for themselves in villages already closed for the night but Jesus has one more trick up his sleeve and multiplying a meager meal makes a feast of five loaves and two fish. If Jesus is the self expression of God’s personality then this is not a God who demands payment upfront but whose own need for solitude and quiet and healing can be interrupted by crowds well fed who not long from now will forsake “hosanna” for “crucify”.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Lectionary 18 A - Romans 9: 1-5

Romans 9:1-5Despite Paul’s difficulties with his own people at whose hands he was stoned, beaten, whipped, imprisoned etc. he would still be willing to trade heaven for hell for their sake. Evangelism motivated by great sorrow and unceasing anguish with a willingness to be completely cut off from Christ for the sake of someone else embodies the mind and heart of Christ. He was cut off from the land of living, despised and rejected, a man of sorrow and familiar with grief for the sake of those who betrayed, denied, mocked and crucified him. Too often we act out of spiritual superiority, protecting sacred cows, human institutions and traditions, or our own personal piety etched in stone which even when practiced with all good intentions still obscures the simple truth that the faith is mostly about mercy and a relationship with Christ is worth sharing simply for the sake of the relationship itself.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Lectionary 18 A - Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21

Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21
Desires can be tricky, especially when having them fulfilled turns out to not be desirable at all. But the desires the Lord fulfills are not like the desires that promise much and deliver little, that satisfy self at the expense of others, that cost more than they are worth. The desire the Lord fulfills satisfies fully, for the deepest desire is to have the kind and compassionate, slow to anger, rich in love Lord near to us. In times of plenty and in times of want, when having fallen we need to be upheld or bowed down we need lifting up, the Lord opens wide the nail scarred hands that could not be destroyed by the wicked to satisfy the deepest longings of the human heart. And as with most things good and noble and praiseworthy our desires and the Lord’s are the same for the deepest desire of the Lord is simply to be near us.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Lectionary 18 A - Isaiah 55:1-5



Isaiah 55:1-5
Isaiah encourages recently released captives, who doubt the promises that motivated them to leave Babylon, to hope in an offer they should remember. Rebuilding the ancient ruins will not be an easy task but the same promise that delivered them through the wilderness the first time around will deliver them now. Those who had nothing then were given everything so those who have nothing now should expect the same. But you don’t have to be poor to be thirsty as even those who have money to spare often find themselves lacking the peace and comfort riches promise to afford. So we find in this word a promise to which we who have never known captivity in Babylon come running to the Holy One of Israel who offers water, bread, wine and milk that is not restricted to a single nation but is a witness to all people. 

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Lectionary 17 A - Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

Matthew 13:31-3344-52
Despite the disciple’s “Yes”, what we understand about “all these things” is that we don’t really understand the kingdom. That is not to say we don’t know how to package new treasures in old packages and keep the kingdom safely within the boundaries of what we know, which usually means we make the kingdom of heaven conform to the kingdoms we create in our own image, That is true for Christians on both sides of the aisle, those who make social justice the defining characteristic as well as those who see the kingdom through the prism of personal piety. Truth is the kingdom cannot be contained by human constructs and like a mustard seed produces more than one could image or like yeast works unseen or like a hidden pearl waits to be found.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Lectionary 17 A - Romans 8:26-39

 Romans 8:26-39
“All things work together for good” is a bold statement in light of the laundry list of laments that follows. Hardship, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, sword, and being killed all day like sheep led to slaughter sounds like bearing the cross on steroids. I don’t think “all things work together for good” means we should attach some deeper meaning to the suffering that is part and parcel with the human condition. Troublesome times come to the faithful and unfaithful alike but for those who love God all things work together for good because of the “no separation clause” of the covenant. The good for which all things work together is that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. That means God cannot be separated from our suffering and endures hardship, distress, persecution, famine, etc, right along with us. We don’t desire difficult days or rejoice in our sufferings but we do find great courage and strength and enduring hope that even death cannot destroy the relationship we have with the One who sighs deeply for and with us.