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.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Lectionary 17 A - P{salm 119:129-136

Psalm 119:129-136
I think the psalmist weeps because the nature of God’s statues is not understood. They are not meant to be burdensome or arbitrary or restrictive of liberty. They are wonderful because they enrich relationships within the human community which is the way that both God and the community is blessed. The law of the Lord is about living with each other in peace and harmony, celebrating the good gifts of life, while together enduring difficulties with dignity and patience and enduring hope. A community living in the light of the Lord, who is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, is redeemed from human oppression which is self centered and judgmental, quick to anger and consumed by hatred. But even the secret sins we keep politely hidden diminish relationship and rob us of the joy of living the freedom the law offers. So the psalmist praying for mercy and panting for the commands of the Lord weeps streams of tears for those who do recognize the gift that God offers in the law.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Lectionary 17 A - 1 Kings 3:5-12

1 Kings 3:5-12
It is a smart prayer for a boy who doesn’t know how to come or go and one wonders how he thought to pray it. You would expect him to pray for the death of his enemies since the boy had so many. And a long life generally follows praying a shorter life for one’s enemies. Riches almost always makes it to the top of the wish list and despite his estimation of God’s people as great a little extra cash is always appreciated. God is surprised and certainly quite pleased that this second son of Bathsheba and David’s badly begun union turns out to be a king worthy of the title. God grants Solomon understanding and a discerning mind and all the rest as well and for a time there really is no king like him. Unfortunately for Israel and I suppose for God as well, Solomon gives up on the gift of discernment in favor of the counsel of foreign wives and the golden age of Israel ends with a kingdom divided between warring sons. It is the stuff of Shakespeare and the great Greek tragedies and more times than we care to admit our own tales of fortune and folly. It will take a long time but there will be a king who eclipses Solomon and all his splendor. He will never know riches and his life will be cut short by his enemies but in the end his poverty is our wealth and his death and resurrection the only hope for friend and enemy alike.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Lectionary 16 A - Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43



Matthew 13:24-3036-43
The first hearers of this word were no doubt encouraged by them. Justice will be done and love wins as good will triumph over evil. It is a good word for all who weary of a world infested by evil and the misery it causes even if one hopes God’s judgment is tempered by mercy for weeds as well as wheat. In the end the job of judging between wheat and weeds is none of our business and naming good and evil us and them might just mean we have some weeds in our wheat as well. Maybe that is the point of the parable on a more personal level. We are weed and wheat, saint and sinner, and only God can pull out one without uprooting the other.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Lectionary 16 A - Romans 8:12-25

The sufferings of the present may not be worth comparing with the glory of the future but when subjected to futility we groan as in labor and waiting patiently is not as easy as Paul would make it seem. Which is why we are in debt to hope, charging to the future what we cannot afford in the present so that these bodies, decaying day by day, might anticipate the forever future banquet long before the party has started. The nature of faith is to look past the present difficulties without denying that they cause us to groan by keeping our eyes on the prize which is the day when sorrow and sighing will flee and groaning will cease. In the meantime we wait with eager expectation, albeit patiently, by going deeper in debt to hope.  

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Lectionary 16 A - Psalm 86:11-17

The psalmist looks to the Lord, gracious and full of compassion, in the face of violent people intent on doing bodily harm. Maybe it’s not such a good thing that God is slow to anger and full of kindness when the arrogant rise up against you. One might be better served by a great God of might to smite the evil doers. But then all that is needed is a sign of God’s favor that those who hate will be put to shame, which truth to be told, is where redemption begins for us as well. Not the kind of shame that leads to destructive behavior or self loathing. No, it is the sign of God’s favor that exposes the self that is less true than the self on the other side of shame. Arrogance is shamed by humility, violence by peace, hatred by love so that the wicked forsake their ways and set their eyes on the Lord. There is only one sign that can accomplish such things, the sign upon which the child of the Lord’s handmaid was crucified.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Lectionary 16 A - Isaiah 44:6-8


The God of Israel is throwing it down in the deity ring. The first, the last, there is no other like me, is laying claim to big G god status. Even though the golden age of Solomon was not solid 14 K and compared to the great civilizations of history hardly merits mention, the Word of the Lord declares otherwise. The One who says “there is no other” is telling the truth. Maybe the proof is that today we praise the God of Israel and not the gods of Assyria or Babylon or Rome. The word for the small and of no account is “do not be afraid” which is the way that this God is like no other. Small g gods are magnified by great civilizations. The big G god magnifies a nation and people of no account.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Lectionary 15 A - Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

Matthew 13:1-918-23
Good soil does not happen by itself and even without the effort of cultivation is the result of flood or glacier or volcanic eruption. Something happens to make good soil. Hard path and rocky ground and thorn infested field take heart. It’s not your fault. Of course we all hope we are good soil, hearing and understanding and producing bumper crops. But if you are like me you have good soil days and bad, times of rejoicing in the word and times of spiritual drought, times of inner peace and contentment and times when choked by cares and concerns you’re doing well to just get out of bed. The good news is that the seed is sown despite the state of our soil. That’s because the consistent sower sows seed as if seeds were grown on trees and doesn’t seem to understand or care about the economics of agriculture. You don’t waste seed where it doesn’t have a prayer to produce. Some would rename this parable the parable of the soils but I think it’s still all about the sower who recklessly scatters the seeds of hope and peace and love and life everywhere, no matter what, and hopes that on good days or bad, we’ll do the same.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Lectionary 14 A - Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

Even John who “came neither eating nor drinking” wondered about his cousin Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come or should we expect someone else?” (Matthew 11:3) but then Messiahs are held to higher standards than mere mortals. The people who institutionalized the Exodus, ritually recounting God’s intervention through plagues and parted sea, expected the great I AM to show up in the same way the second time round, but the mold of the Passover was broken by the perfect Lamb who turns out to be a drinking man, friend of tax collectors and sinners. Oh vey! What was God thinking? It is clear that in Jesus God is operating outside the religious box of his day, which should give the wise and intelligent of our time reason enough to rethink the ways we try to make the one accused of being a glutton and drunkard more respectable. Not that wisdom is vindicated by excess in food or drink but rather in extravagant hospitality that befriends even those who burdened their own people for a profit or whose lifestyle made them ritually clean. There is no where God will not go to invite the weary and heavy burdened to come and find rest and in doing so hopes Pharisees of every generation will do the same.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Lectionary 14 A - Romans 7:13-25

Romans 7:13-25
Ignorance is bliss and if not for the law we would be blissfully ignorant of sin. As it is the law makes us painfully aware of sin’s death grip around our lives as we with Paul lament “I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” But this confession is not the conclusion of the matter as if we were given a spiritual loophole for bad behavior. That is because Paul is not primarily concerned with the actions of the body but rather the inclination of the heart. “These people honor me with their lips but their hearts are far from me” (Isaiah 29:13) is how God describes those who hide evil intent behind the mask of outward piety. Since the locus of the rebellious nature of the human being is a refusal to be fully human (and by that I mean to be satisfied being a creature without lusting after Creator status) then Paul’s cry, “wretched man that I am” is far more serious than simple behavior modification can resolve.  So where does that leave us? Some would say it leaves us in the lurch and we’ll live our whole lives struggling with temptations beyond our ability to control which in the end leads one to despise God or despair altogether. No. The conclusion of the matter comes in the verses that follow, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.” (Romans 8:1-2) We do not have to pay our way by penance or accept the way we are is the way we always will be or reject the system as a set up. The resolution of “wretched man that I am” is “there is now no condemnation” which is blissfully, a change of heart.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Lectionary 14 A - Psalm 145:8-14

Psalm 145:8-14
If all of the Lord’s works praised and the faithful ones blessed and those who fell down looked to be lifted up the Lord wouldn’t need to be nearly as gracious and compassionate and slow to anger. As it is even the Lord’s own people push the Lord to the limit as if "slow to anger" did not have a tipping point. That doesn’t mean the Lord is stuffing until one day even the Almighty can’t help but vent all over creation. No, it means the Lord’s nature as gracious and compassionate is infinitely more patient with us than we are with each other or ourselves for that matter. The gracious and compassionate nature of the Lord overflows in steadfast love that will not abandon us despite our fickle nature and willful ways. So does the Lord have a tipping point? Not in the way that we do but there comes a time when the Lord leaves us to the destructive works of our hands and minds, a spiritual timeout if you will, until lost and alone, bowed down by the burden of our pride or malice or greed or envy or apathy or lust we turn back to the Lord and experience again the steadfast love that upholds and lifts us up.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Lectionary 14 A - Zechariah 9:9-12

Zechariah 9:9-12
On the day that Jesus rode Zechariah’s vision into Jerusalem the daughters of Zion shouted “Hosanna!” and for a moment the prisoners of Roman rule and Pharisaical piety were released and returned to the stronghold of hope. A week later the triumphant and victorious king was humbled by the cross and the only blood of the covenant to be seen was his. But then kings riding on donkeys are consistently cut down by chariots drawn by war horses and humility is not the chief characteristic of one who commands nations to “study war no more”. What the dominions and the daughters could not imagine was that war horses and battle bows and the bars of the waterless pit could not contain this king who, breaking free from the grip of death, became for us the stronghold of hope to which we return again and again. If you trust in power you will be disappointed. If you trust in wealth you will be corrupted. If you trust in self you will be deceived. To be a prisoner of hope is to held captive to a vision of a king who is more humble than we are.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Lectionary 13 A - Psalm 89

Psalm 89:1-4, 15-18Psalm 89 is a love song to the Lord written by Ethan the Ezrahite, a cymbal player in Solomon’s temple band. His hymn of rejoicing was penned during Israel’s golden age even though it anticipates Solomon’s kingdom split between the lines his sons established, neither of which would last forever. The Northern Kingdom fell first never to rise again and while the Southern Kingdom survived captivity it would never again know the glorious days of Solomon’s reign. The portions of the psalm that we don’t read promise punishment when the children of Israel forsake the law and violate the covenant. Even so God promises never to remove steadfast love from Israel or be false to God’s faithfulness to Judah. When “I could sing of your love forever” is based on human kingdoms and thrones established by the strength of sword and shield, even if the glory is given to God, the song is less than praiseworthy. To trust in God’s faithfulness forever is to sing, “I love you, Lord” when the enemy is at the gate and the city is overthrown and the temple is burned to the ground. That is true for us as well who love the Lord in good times and bad, in sickness and in health, for richer and for poorer. If we claim God’s love for us is unconditional then it follows that our love for God must be as well. 

Monday, June 26, 2017

Lectionary 13 A - Jeremiah 28:5-9

Jeremiah 28:5-9
Jeremiah’s “Amen!” should be read as an “Oh really?” because the weeping prophet knows none of the exiles are coming home and the things that were taken are gone for good. Hananiah may have had his reasons to hope or he may have just been blowing smoke but it doesn’t matter because in a year he’ll be dead and peace will be a pipe dream for the people weighed down by the iron yoke of Babylon. Even so it’s not necessarily a doom and gloom vision like so much commentary on the state of the economy or the health of the planet or prospects for peace in the Middle East. Jeremiah prophesies political events but he is really speaking to the hearts and minds of individuals, calling them to turn back to the Lord, to forsake false hopes and not to trust in temporal power to save. Jeremiah is a truth teller and sometimes the most difficult thing to be told is the truth. But with the truth comes the opportunity to be reformed and renewed and restored. “For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. Plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11 God promises to be found by the exiles who seek the Lord even while living under the iron yoke of Babylon. And so it is with us when we live beyond our limited vision and into the plans God has for us.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Lectionary 12 A - Matthew 10:24-39

Matthew 10:24-39
The less than gentle words of Jesus – whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me… are tempered by the hairs on our head numbered promise that we are of more value than any number of sparrows. That is not to say we should take Jesus’ challenge lightly. It is a fair criticism that in reading the Gospels through the lens of Paul we make Jesus more Gentile than Jew and lose the understanding of law as life and as gift. But in the same way that Paul’s admonition to holy living is grounded in dependency on unconditional grace Jesus demand for radical obedience depends fully upon the disciple being like the teacher. In the end the life we find in Jesus is better than whatever life we may lose. So we trust that we find our life when with hairs on our head numbered valued more than a two sparrow per penny we take up the cross and follow.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Lectionary 12 A - Romans 6:12-23

Romans 6:12-23
The “therefore” of Romans 6:12 is made possible by the new relationship with God that begins with death. Not the kind of death that in the end everyone dies. Not a “wages of sin” death either, the kind of death that withers the soul when as slaves to self we receive no advantage from things of which we should rightly be ashamed. No, the death that makes “therefore” possible is a death for life, if you will. Jesus dies first, as Paul writes in Romans chapter five, while we were weak, while we were still sinners, while were God-haters, so that reconciled with God we might also dare to die. Dying with Christ we die to self and are born into a life of righteousness which is not nearly as narrow as some make it out to be. It is not a life bound by law, limited by piety, constrained by rigid rules. It is a life bound by justice, limited by kindness, constrained by humility. (Micah 6:8) Therefore, live as those who have died and have already been set free to live today the new life that is eternal.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Lectionary 12 A - Psalm 89

Psalm 89
Psalm 89 is a love song to the Lord written by Ethan the Ezrahite, a cymbal player in Solomon’s temple band. But his hymn of rejoicing was penned during Israel’s golden age and one wonders if anyone was still singing such a song when Solomon’s kingdom split along the lines his sons established, neither of which would last forever. The Northern Kingdom fell first never to rise again and while the Southern Kingdom survived captivity it would never again know the glorious days of Solomon’s reign. That’s the trouble with “I could sing of your love forever” because of kingdoms and thrones established by the strength of sword and shield even if the glory is given to God. To trust in God’s faithfulness forever is to sing, “I love you, Lord” when the enemy is at the gate and the city is overthrown and the temple is burned to the ground. That is true for us as well who are called to love the Lord in good times and bad, in sickness and in health, for richer and for poorer. If we claim God’s love for us is unconditional then it follows that our love for God must be as well. 

Monday, June 19, 2017

Lectionary 12 A - Jeremiah 28:5-9

                                      The Prophet Jeremiah by Marc Chagall - 1968
Jeremiah’s “Amen!” should be read as an “Oh really?” because the weeping prophet knows none of the exiles are coming home and the things that were taken are gone for good. Hananiah may have had his reasons to hope or he may have just been blowing smoke but it doesn’t matter because in a year he’ll be dead and peace will still be a pipe dream for the people weighed down by the iron yoke of Babylon. Not a very bright beginning for a Monday blog but it’s not necessarily a doom and gloom vision like so much commentary on the state of the economy or the health of the planet or prospects for peace in the Middle East. Jeremiah prophesies political events but he is really speaking to the hearts and minds of individuals, calling them to turn back to the Lord, to forsake false hopes and not to trust in temporal powers to save. Jeremiah is a truth teller and sometimes the most difficult thing to be told is the truth. But with the truth comes the opportunity to be renewed and reformed and restored. “For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11 God promises to be found by the exiles who seek the Lord even while living under the iron yoke of Babylon. And so it is with us when we live beyond our limited vision and trust the plans God has for us.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Lectionary 11 A - Romans 5:5-8

Peace with God did not happen because we did something even if Paul says we are justified by faith. (5:7) That is because peace with God came through Jesus Christ who died for us (everyone) while we (all) were weak, while we were sinners or even “God’s enemies” (5:10) Not that we are passive in the process. The faith that justifies means we believe that the peace we have with God had nothing to do with our being the sort of “good person” for whom someone “might actually dare to die.” If we were to fully realize the magnitude of what has been done “for us” we might stop putting so much energy and effort into maintaining “the dividing walls of hostility” (Ephesians 2:14) between one expression of the faith and another let alone those who live outside the walls of our Christian enclaves. God chooses the terms for peace. If we are to be the same sort of peace-makers as the One we follow then perhaps we need to be the sort of “good person” that would make peace with the weak, the sinner, or even God’s enemies. 

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Lectionary 11 A - Psalm 100



Psalm 100 is the source for the short doxological hymn “Praise God from whom all blessings flow” that is one of Calvary member David Larsen’s most treasured traditions. You might have experienced it at one or more church gatherings where even the musically challenged manage to turn the final Ah-ah-ah-ah-men into respectable harmony. That’s not bad considering the psalm harmonizes God’s presence with our existence despite the transitory nature of our lives. We are God’s people, the sheep of God’s pasture, destined to come into eternal courts with songs of thanksgiving. The singing of the “Old 100th” at church potlucks anticipates the feast that lasts forever which is a good reason to make a joyful noise today.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Lectionary 11 A - Exodus 19:2-8


“Everything that the Lord has spoken we will do.” Promises. Promises. The Israelites are quick to speak with certainty but then what are you going to say when you saw what God did to the Egyptians and you have been whisked away to the wilderness and find yourself before a smoking mountain. On the other hand, the Lord might be the one who should have thought twice before sealing the deal. This “treasured possession” will be nothing but trouble for the Lord. Of course, there will be moments when the people will live into their “treasured possession” identity but more often than not they will be a stiff-necked and rebellious people whose “love is like the morning mist.” (Hosea 6:4) It’s not proof of the truth of the text but the Bible doesn’t sugar coat the failings of those God claims as treasured – Jew and Gentile alike. If anything, the scriptures paint the opposite picture. God is faithful and just. God’s people are fickle and corrupt. But “God’s gifts and call are irrevocable.” (Romans 11:29) So it is for us who more often than not fail to live fully into our “treasured possession” status. The good news is that despite our failings God is always faithful. So maybe we could give this long-suffering God a break now and then and be what God hoped God’s people would be – a priestly kingdom and a holy nation.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

The Feast of the Holy Trinity Year A - Matthew 28:16-20

Matthew 28:16-20
I wonder how many disciples who “worshiped him” were included in the “some doubted” list. Since “some” is more than a couple and generally considered equal to if not slightly more than a few (which is five) almost half of the eleven, if not slightly more, are doubting worshipers. It’s not a very promising start for baptizing and teaching all nations to obey everything Jesus has commanded, which I’m guessing might include believe in me. Since I’m in such good company I’ll confess that I am no stranger to doubt and if I have to believe everything in the Bible as gospel truth I’m willing to acknowledge outright disbelief. But if the “some who doubted” disciples were willing to bet their lives on something they hadn’t quite figured out it must have been because they trusted the “I am with you always” without working out the details or understanding the how or the why which in the end is what worshiping faith is all about anyway. And that I do not doubt.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The Feast of the Holy Trinity Year A - 2 Corinthians 13:11-13

2 Corinthians 13:11-13
These are the last recorded words of Paul to the contentious Corinthians. The beginning of this short chapter anticipates a third visit to Corinth and warns of harsh words for those who refuse to reform their willful ways. Paul doesn’t pull any punches and promises not to spare “those who sinned earlier or any of the others.” He asserts this authority from God for the building up of this gifted congregation and not for its tearing down and so makes one last appeal for them to put aside differences and live at peace with one another. Paul’s last words to the Corinthians are the first words we speak in the liturgy to remind us that we gather in the name of the God of love and peace. There are some things that are not optional for those who claim the name of Christ. The holy kiss may have fallen out of use (except between couples sharing the same pew) but if we are going to be the church the sharing of peace is never optional.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The Feast of the Holy Trinity Year A - Psalm 8

Psalm 8
The God of majesty and might, who flung the stars and moon into the sky and with imagination gone wild created all creatures great and small, is mindful of mortals. It’s a good thing because the crown of creation has chaffed at being a “little lower than the angels” and desiring the glory and honor due the Almighty for itself has generally made a mess of things. Being mindful does not mean keeping an eye on us as if the majestic name needed to worry. Being mindful means God cares for us despite our carelessness. The works of God’s hands could use a little relief from human domination and I imagine a good bit of creation “under our feet” wishes we would walk a little more softly. Maybe we should be more mindful of things created a little lower than us in the same way God is mindful of humanity.

Monday, June 5, 2017

The Feast of the Holy Trinity Year A - Genesis 1:1-24



“In the beginning God created…” seems to divide the Trinity by function, the Father calling forth Creation while the Son and Spirit wait in the wings for the Cross and Pentecost. The two creeds we confess liturgically, the Apostle’s and Nicene, don’t help in that “I believe in God the Father” appears to give sole credit for creation to the first person of the Trinity. There was a time when we trotted out the Athanasian Creed on Trinity Sunday but it’s fallen out of favor due most likely to its length and perhaps the damning to hell all things Arian. Arius argued that a son by definition must come from a father and so there is a time when a son (even the Son of God) is not.  Athanasius disagreed in no uncertain terms. God is and always was Father, Son, Spirit all at the same time in every way from before the beginning. We don’t have a lot of scripture to lean on as the doctrine of the Trinity was not as important in the beginning of the church as it came to be a century or so later. But you might have noticed that in the creation account God creates humankind in the image of “us” and while that is not proof for the doctrine of the Trinity you could read it that way, in which case Athanasius would applaud and Arius might understandably roll over in his grave. 

Friday, June 2, 2017

The Feast of Pentecost Year A - John 20:19-23

John 20:19-23
John’s Pentecost arrives with less fanfare than Luke’s but perhaps with greater weight. No rushing wind, no tongues of fire, no speaking in languages not learned, just Jesus breathing the Holy Spirit on disciples. If Luke imagines the reversal of the tower of Babel (where language was confused) John wants us to go back to the very beginning where the breath of God animated the dust formed in God’s image. The disciples, formed in the image of Jesus, animated by the Spirit, are to forgive (or not) and their granting of forgiveness (or withholding) has the final say. That raises a few questions and we wish Jesus would have said a little more. On what basis is forgiveness offered or denied? What if I forgive someone who you don’t or vice versa? Is this earthly or eternal? Does forgiveness extend beyond the boundaries of the church or is this only pew to pew coverage? If you’re looking for me to answer my own questions you’re out of luck. All I will say is that when Peter asked Jesus a question to quantify the extent of forgiveness Jesus answered with mathematics. Forgiveness errs on the side of mercy at least 70 x 7 of time.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

The Feast of Pentecost Year A - 1 Corinthians 12:3-13

1 Corinthians 12:3-13
Spiritual gifts are given for the common good even if the Corinthians, puffed up with pride, can’t see the common good for the gifts. Focused on the cult of self they elevate the tongues of angels above the language of love and miss the point completely. The whole body is weakened when one member claims to be more important than the rest. Variety is the spice of life and is the strength of the church when we recognize it is the Spirit who allots to each the gifts that serve the common good. In the same way that grace is freely given so God gives gifts not based on merit but on need, which means the proper response to being gifted is to say “thank you” not “look at me!” That being said and at the risk of contradicting the apostle Paul, the spiritual gift that best serves the Lutheran common good is whoever makes the coffee on Sunday morning.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

The Feast of Pentecost Year A - Psalm 104

Psalm 104:24-34
What might it mean that the Leviathan, formed to folic, is terrified despite its size when “you hide your face?” The psalmist imagines that all creatures great and small recognize the ground of all being and, forever connected to the source of life, depend on the Almighty just as much as we do. Of course they praise God as they are able and so the Humpback Leviathan gives praise by breaking free of the sea for a moment. The psalm doesn’t say so but I imagine God laughs out loud at the sight of it. And so it is with much smaller mammals created in the image of God who breaking free of all that binds us renew the face of the earth by mimicking the God who formed us out of the dust of the earth. The praise that is pleasing to the Lord is to open our hands and satisfy the hungry with good things and to sing the song of salvation with our whole life, laughing out loud at the wonder of God’s many works.

Monday, May 29, 2017

The Feast of Pentecost Year A - Acts 2:1-21

Acts 2:1-21
Peter denies being drunk based on the hour of the day but when it comes to the Holy Spirit it’s always noon somewhere. Lutherans, as a rule, prefer to drink in private and tend to be suspicious of outward signs of spiritual intoxication. That’s the way the crowd responded when the rush of a violent wind blew down the doors of the language barrier and the men of Galilee started speaking like a Rosetta Stone® commercial. Amazed and perplexed the crowd none-the-less listened and by the end of Peter’s sermon a whole bunch were baptized into the new faith that was really a movement of the Holy Spirit to bring God’s vision into focus so the dream of God might come true in the here and now. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female for all are one in Christ Jesus. This present unity anticipates the future where one vast multitude of every tribe and race, creed and color, language and tongue sings the same language of praise. Even if you remain suspicious of some of the story, (tongues of fire and not a hair out of place) the point Peter made to the crowd is what we are to take away as well. The Spirit has been let loose and from now on sons and daughters and old men and women will be getting drunk on the Holy Spirit morning, noon and night.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

John 17:1-11
It is a shame we haven’t lived the prayer of Jesus, “so that they may be one” in a way the world can see. Instead the church that Jesus prayed to be protected from the world might need to be protected from itself as denominations and non-denominations (which have become denominations unto themselves) divide and disagree to protect thought and word despite the fact that their deeds are often less than pure. And truth to be told even those who elevate unity above all else live less of it than they like to believe.  But then the people who were present as Jesus prayed didn’t do much better. Certain men from James, the brother of the Lord, criticized Peter (the Rock no less) for eating with non-Jews and he withdrew from doing what he knew was right. Paul didn’t hold back from expressing his displeasure with the Jerusalem triad, those “reputed to be pillars” and his letters detail the difficulty believers had in making “every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” So I suppose we should not be surprised when the ways of the world creep into the culture of the church. That doesn’t mean we can’t live more fully into Jesus’ prayer even while remaining loyal to the denominational lines we love. If we understood being one as singing together in harmony then every note in the Christian chorus has a place in the choir and as long as we don’t insist on our note being the best perhaps the world would hear a different tune coming out of the church and want to listen or maybe even sing along.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Easter 7 A - 1 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11

1 Peter 4:12-14 5:6-11
In the middle of these passages about fiery ordeals and insults and roaring lions on the prowl is the passage that makes standing firm possible. “Cast all your anxieties on God who cares for you.” The ability to “cast” depends on trusting God cares for us despite all that tends to increase anxiety. For Peter’s people it was organized persecution intent on stamping out the followers of the crucified and now reportedly resurrected Jewish rebel. Our anxieties are not produced by persecution but that doesn’t mean we do not experience them as fiery ordeals or roaring lions. Relationships gone sour, jobs lost or threatened, more bills than income at the end of the month, cells that rebel and multiply, fears without and within, all of it produces anxiety that steals our sleep and colors our world in shades of gray until we despair of life itself. To lay the blame on lack of faith merely adds to the anxious list which is why Peter reminds his people “the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.” To humble oneself is to admit you can't go it alone which is why we’re in this thing together. Anxiety is diminished when shared as God intended casting cares on Christ to be a communal exercise.