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. 

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Easter 7 A - Psalm 68

Psalm 68:1-10

I wonder if the apostle Paul thought about Psalm 68 when he wrote to the Romans, “...while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled through the death of the Son…” It’s a little different than, “may you blow your enemies away like smoke.” That’s not to say God grants pardon without purpose or that the rebellious don’t experience some measure of life as sun scorched land. David suffered loss of relationships and peace for his many sins despite his “man after God’s own heart” status but God never drove him away or melted him like wax before a fire. Perhaps it is because God’s deepest desire beyond being parent to the orphan, defender of the widow, family for the lonely, pardon for the prisoner, provider for the poor is to be reconciled to enemies.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Easter 7 A - Acts 1:6-14

Acts 1:6-14
I am comforted by the thought of an eternal future where finally free of all that diminishes life we will live fully into the hopes and dreams and desires of God. But when the faith we preach is more about eternal reward than temporal reality the question might be asked of us, “Why do you stand looking up towards heaven?” Like most things Lutheran we do better when we balance what will be with what is. So we count on a day of redemption, but it is not why we love the Lord. It is for the here and now that we believe despite the gold standard of the Protestant work ethic, namely delayed gratification. Rather we, like the first disciples, are told to leave the mountain and go home because there is much to be done. Living the future in the present is to be devoted to the kind of constant prayer that spends more time on its feet than on its knees. And while hands clasped together might be more pious, hands open wide for service are more helpful.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Easter 6 A - John 14:15-21

John 14:15-21
I’m hoping “if you love me, you will keep my commandments” is based on a sliding scale otherwise most of us are toast. And of course the Father sending the Advocate to be with us forever is out of the question if the Spirit’s coming is based on merit. Without revealing any details, and as long as hating and lust violate commandments five and six, I believe I’ve broken all ten. Maybe you have as well which means we can’t treat this text literally because we who do not keep commandments really do love Jesus and believe he lives in us, at least as a frequent guest if not a permanent resident. So if being “loved by my Father” is more than a reciprocal arrangement based on how well we keep the commandments, especially the most difficult one to love our enemies, then “I will not leave you orphans” really is good news.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Easter 6 A - 1 Peter 3:13-22

1 Peter 3:13-22
Baptism, which Peter calls an appeal to God for a good conscience, has been the source of division in the church even though both those sprinkled as infants or dunked as adults claim to be baptized into one body. But since there are no step by step instructions in the scriptures as to when, where or how much water to use it’s been left to the church to fill in the blanks, which always means the body of Christ takes a beating. The adult dunkers dismiss the infant sprinklers baptism as invalid because of not enough water and besides babies can’t believe. The infant sprinklers defend themselves saying the adult dunkers are all wet and miss the anecdotal evidence in the scripture of whole households baptized or the meaning of Jesus’ command, “Let the little children come unto me.” I believe all of our rules and regulations surrounding this ritual miss the point that Peter is making.  Baptism is an appeal to God for a good conscience which is, of course, the opposite of a guilty one. A conscience free from guilt, and the only thing that brings one to God, is Christ dying once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous. Baptism is a sign not the source of salvation. And if there was any doubt as to the extent of God’s mercy even the spirits in prison who were baptized in the flood – a little too much water if you ask me – get paroled.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Easter 6 A - Psalm 66:8-20

Psalm 66:8-20
This is a “Praise the Lord” psalm that remembers times of trouble. But not just any trouble, like waking up to a hot water heater leaking trouble that complicates life and blows budgets. It’s not like trouble you see coming but can’t stop from stepping in and making a mess of things. No. This is “God tested us” trouble. You put us in prison. You loaded burdens on our backs. You let people ride over our heads (presumably on horseback). Refined like silver, passed through fire and water, the God tested psalmist declares, “Let me tell you what God has done for me!” I think we heard it and it didn’t sound very praiseworthy. But then the people who penned and first sang the psalms gave God glory for everything, good, bad or otherwise. If we apply this psalm to our times a tornado is a test. You flattened our homes. You smashed our cars. You killed our loved ones. You refined us like silver? I have trouble with that. Not because God can’t do whatever God wants. God is God and we are not. But if the cross is how God chooses to be known then “God tested us” does not come as twisters or tsunamis for in the cross of Christ the love of God is tested and is more true than all the things that trouble us. What then of God testing? It is the cross for us as well. Or as the apostle Paul puts it, “Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2) And so we pray for the people of Joplin and provide for them out of our abundance for in service to others the sound of praise is heard.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Easter 6 A - Acts 17:22-31

Acts 17:22-31
A statue to an unknown god presented Paul with an opportunity to proclaim to the “extremely religious” Athenians the God “in whom we live and have our being.” It seems such an obvious mission strategy surely someone else had tried to slap a name tag on the god “yet to be named” pedestal but then maybe the Athenians were just as happy to allow this god to remain anonymous. Paul managed to persuade at least two people, Dionysius and Damaris, but the absence of a New Testament letter to the Athenians might be a measure of his success. A good number of people in our time prefer God remain unnamed even if they might go to God in times of crisis or for cultural rituals that still crop up even in decidedly secular societies. The God not served by human hands still desires humans to search and perhaps groping find the One who “is not far from each one of us.” It looks to me as if God leaves a lot up to chance so it hardly seems fair that a day would be fixed where ignorance is no longer bliss. On the other hand if the world is judged in righteousness by the man God appointed, and Jesus asked God to forgive even those who nailed him naked to wood, maybe the rest of God’s offspring have more than just a chance in hell to bump into the God who died to be found.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

“Do not let your hearts be troubled” does not deny things that hurt the heart. That is why it is followed immediately by “believe in God, believe also in me.” An untroubled heart is not an act of strength or stone faced stoicism. It is as the apostle Paul writes to the Romans, a transformation brought about by the renewing of the mind. Even so “How can we know the way” and “Show us the Father” are legitimate questions and if disciples who saw “face to face” asked them then how much more should we “who see as through a mirror dimly” be allowed times of questioning. Jesus didn’t say it explicitly but I’m certain it was part of the plan that when he went off to design dwelling places he meant the disciples to wait together so that hearts might help each other beat as one. “Do not let” does not lead to troubles magically disappearing and long days and sleepless nights still wear down the body and the mind but believing the God of the cross has prepared a place of peace and comfort that comes with the Christ to hearts gathered as one is a sure and certain comfort for the afflicted and real rest for the weary.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Easter 5 A - 1 Peter 2:2-10

Longing for spiritual milk is a good thing if those well fed on faith do not withhold mercy from those who are less than conscientious about their spiritual diet. If mercy made us God’s people then the spiritual sacrifice acceptable to God is not a piety that isolates but a radical inclusion in the same way that Jesus ate and drank with undesirables. That being said Jesus ate and drank with purpose so that those who are starving for lack of real relationship with the God calling them out of darkness might be bathed in marvelous light. The spiritual house is only as sturdy as its weakest stone, therefore “encourage one another and build each other up. (1 Thessalonians 5:11)

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Easter 5 A - Psalm 31

Psalm 31
“My times are in your hands” is true whether one acknowledges it or not. We were born without being consulted and no matter the manner of our end there is only one way out. Living in-between birth and death we are continually pursued by all manner of enemies that mean to do us harm and sooner or later catch up with even those who live as they say, a charmed life. Resistance is futile and denial of death leads one to act in ways that may in fact hasten one’s demise. But to say “into your hands I commit my spirit” in the midst of life means the in-between time that we are given belongs to the One whose unfailing love is a refuge, a rock, a fortress. I can live fully into the limitations of my life because the God I trust is limitless. I can be honest about my fear of traps set for me and confess my love of traps I set for myself. The freedom found in the faithful God who dying our death denied death the last word is that we can let go of holding tightly onto our times and in doing so live them more fully, more honestly, more faithfully. Or as the apostle Paul put it, “whether we live or whether we die, we belong to the Lord.” (Romans 14:8)

Monday, May 8, 2017

Easter 5 A - Acts 7:55-60

Acts 7:55-60
The end of Stephen’s story is but the beginning for a young man named Saul. The first great persecution broke out as soon as Stephen “fell asleep” and Saul, who may have been a little too zealous even for the religious leaders who killed Jesus, is sent to fight the good fight in Damascus. Of course it is on the road that Saul, full of hatred, has his own experience of God’s glory and soon afterwards Paul, “full of the Holy Spirit” is unleashed on an unsuspecting world. The truth is if Stephen had not been so vocal in the Synagogue of the Freedmen (Acts 6:9) he could have gone on serving tables while the apostles taught (Acts 6:2-5) and the yet unnamed body of believers might have been happy to stay in Jerusalem waiting for the Lord’s return. In a strange twist of fate, which is often how the Holy Spirit works, the stoning of Stephen is the spark that fans the flames of Pentecost and the church scattered throughout Judea and Samaria will soon reach “the ends of the earth” just as Jesus told them they would. That’s the way it is with us when, content to sit and wait, something happens to get us moving and motivated, even when running away from something is really running towards something else.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Easter 4 A - John 10:1-10

John 10:1-10“With you, O Lord” is one of my favorite songs from the Taize community in France. “With you, O Lord, is life in all its fullness and in your light we shall see true light.” There comes a moment in the repeated singing of this simple phrase when the song is more true for me than all the things that tend to diminish the abundant sufficiency of  “with you, O Lord.” By that I mean the seeking after vain illusions where life is measured by one’s possessions or accomplishments or status and on the flip side the devaluation of life that inevitably follows such seeking. Or life in that lonely place where putting on a happy face and keeping busy hides the deep pain or shame or sorrow that despite the practiced skill in hiding it from others is somehow always present with you. The thief that comes only to steal and kill and destroy does so by deception. The reason it works so well is because we are so good at it ourselves. All this less than sufficient life comes at the expense of significant relationships, most notably the one where “with you O Lord is life in all its fullness”. The good news is that the One who came that “they might have life and have it abundantly” continues to open the gate and call out our names.  Sometimes in ways we can recognize and respond to and sometimes when reaching the bottom the only way out is up we determine to do that which we’ve always known was in our best interest. No matter how it happens this abundant life is measured not by possessions but by peace. That peace within when even all around is not anticipates the day when life in all its fullness won’t only be experienced in moments of Spirit gifted clarity or conscience but in the fullness of forever. In the meantime there are places we can go to enter the place of peace in the present. A warm embrace, an act of kindness, forgiveness asked for and received or the sound of laughter or a song in the sanctuary sung again and again and again until it is as true as your heart always knew it was meant to  be.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

1 Peter 2:19-25
We might bemoan the decline of the church but look on the bright side; no one is beating us up for professing Christ. It could be that the early Christians attracted more attention by the way they lived and the message they proclaimed even though the letters of Peter encourage them to fly under the radar while always being ready to give a reason for the hope they have albeit with gentleness and respect. We’ve become increasing irrelevant to our society, unless you happen to plaster your prediction of the rapture on billboards or decide to burn a Koran on the church lawn. Then even NPR gives Christians air time. In stage and screen religious folks are generally portrayed as bigots or idiots or well meaning but misguided do-gooders. Some of the criticism is well deserved and if we have become irrelevant it is no one’s fault but our own. This age is no more or less corrupting than any other as human nature has remained unchanged from the beginning.  So rather than blame others or beat up on ourselves or bury our heads in the hymnal perhaps we should rejoice and endure, suffering for doing right which is to follow in the steps of Jesus. To follow Jesus is to leave the safety of the sanctuary and seek out the woman at the well and eat at the home of the tax collector and critique even the most sacred symbols of our faith in order to heal on the Sabbath and overturn tables in the temple even if it gets us crucified. We do not engage the world to warn it of impending doom or because we need more people in the pews to pay the bills or to impose our morality or piety on others. It is because we are convinced that the God come down in Jesus Christ God has destroyed death once and for all and by his wounds we have been healed which means love wins.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Easter 4 A - Psalm 23

Psalm 23
The promises of Psalm 23; green pastures, still waters, soul restored, right paths followed, comfort and confidence in death’s dark valley, a feast in front of foes, head anointed with oil, cup overflowing, goodness and mercy and a home in the house of the Lord all happen in the statement of surrender, "the Lord is my shepherd." The second statement “I shall not want” happens because of the first. Of course surrendering and not wanting does not come naturally to us. The story of “the fall” is all about humans not being satisfied with paradise and because the fruit was pleasing to the eye and useful for knowledge attempting an upgrade from creature to creator introduced the virus that infects us all today. We infect this psalm with that virus when we turn the shepherd into a service provider of green pastures and still waters or even the forever home in the Lord’s house. But to surrender to the shepherd is to be satisfied with creature status and trust that the one who comforts us through the valley of the shadow of whatever threatens us knows the way. That means green pastures can exist where there is no grass and still waters can be in the middle of a rushing river and the right path is the one we’re on even as the feast is as much for the foe as it is for us. And when we submit to the Shepherd "with us" in every and all circumstances we slow down so goodness and mercy can catch up with us and the forever house of the Lord can be our home today.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Easter 4 A - Acts 2:42

In the first days of the church everyone got along so well they spent “much time together” at temple and table and shared all their possessions without complaining or comparing contributions to the common pot. The people of Jerusalem looked upon them kindly and with glad and generous hearts the church grew by leaps and bounds and everyone lived happily ever after. It would be nice if that were so but then this would be just another fairy tale with a make believe happy ending. Instead this is a story of ordinary people thrust into extraordinary times who overcame incredible odds. Persecution from without and divisions from within quickly followed the windy day of Pentecost and the letters of Paul detail the cultural and religious difficulties of grafting Gentiles onto the Jewish vine. But the faith we profess survived because of their devotion, despite overwhelming difficulty, to the story of Jesus. The faith we profess survived because they modeled the message by loving each other deeply from the heart. The faith we profess still gathers around the meal that was the center of their worship. The faith we profess is still the one that called them to daily prayer for all people. When these four marks of the faith are forgotten or neglected the church inevitably loses its way. We find ourselves in an extraordinary time where the church is called to embody the story of Jesus in the same way the early church did. To be devoted to the simple truth of the Gospel, “God so loved the world…”; to be devoted to the fellowship where when one suffers all suffer and when one rejoices all rejoice; to be devoted to the communal gathering that celebrates the feast of the future in the present; to be devoted to a life of prayer expressed by hearts that love and hands that serve. I don’t know if that means we’ll increase in numbers day by day but I am confident we will make a difference in the world and maybe that’s more important than filling pews with people.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Easter 3 A - Luke 24:13-49



Luke 24:13-49
“We had hoped…” is how Cleopas and friend express the deep disappointment at what could have been but wasn’t. To have come so close to realizing the dream, all Jerusalem shouting as Zion’s King entered the city just as Zechariah prophesied, made it all the more difficult. Jesus of Nazareth, the mighty prophet, clearing the temple of corruption, shutting up Pharisees and Sadducees and self righteous big wigs with clever answers to tricky questions, in deed and word set the city on edge with expectation.  But people in power don’t give up that easily and while Jesus may speak mightily it turns out he’s a pushover and his followers are no match for a coup accomplished in the middle of the night. They woke to find the one who would redeem Israel already condemned and nailed to a Roman cross along with all their hopes for Zion. Heads hung in sorrow, Cleopas and friend head home to Emmaus only to meet a clueless stranger who turns out to know more about the story than they do. Hearts burning within them they don’t want the conversation to end and pressing him to stay sit down to dinner. But then the stranger does something oddly familiar and before they can say a word Jesus vanishes into the breaking and blessing and passing of bread. Take and eat suddenly means more than it did on Thursday night and without waiting for morning they rush back to join the chorus, “The Lord has risen!” This is a story for all who live in that place of deep regret, of hopes and dreams dashed, of disappointments that weigh heavily on the heart and cause heads to hang in sorrow. For in the oddly familiar Jesus appears to us at table when bread broken is a sign of the promise fulfilled and anticipated.  Jesus appears to us when walking together on the long journey home “Lo I am with you always” makes our hearts burn within us because it is truer than we can ask or imagine or believe.  And in the “necessary suffering” the God far off has come near so that all suffering and sorrow and yes, even death itself, might one day disappear.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

“I love the Lord, because he has heard my voice” is comforting because of the verse that follows. “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of the faithful.” Truth is if God healed all who cried out “save my life!” the planet would be crowded beyond capacity. The Lord, gracious and merciful, protects the unwary and lifts up those who are brought down so that even when the pangs of death surround our loved ones we are the ones who are lifted up by the promise the apostle Paul declares; “whether we live or whether we die we belong to the Lord.” Which means in every and all circumstances we lift up the cup of salvation trusting that one day we will walk with those we love in the land of the forever living. Praise the Lord.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Easter 3 A - Acts 2:36-46

“What should we do?” It is a legitimate question even if Peter gives what may be the wrong answer. "Repent and be baptized." Now I have nothing against repenting. God knows I do it all the time. And I have nothing against being baptized even if I was too young to agree to mine. But if the "what should we do" question is really just more of the same for the people who ask it ( and us for that matter) then the preaching of Peter on that Pentecost morning misses the point of the Friday we call Good. By that I mean if "what shall we do" is done to get God to do something in return then we might as well go back to being kosher. The people who asked "what should we do" were the keepers of the covenant and the people of the plan and yet it was their piety that drove them to kill the promise because Jesus did not fit the pattern of what the law demanded. And so the rule breaker was done away with and the only wrinkle in the plot was that he came back to life and his foolish followers wouldn’t stop talking about him. So saving oneself from a corrupt generation cannot be about adherence to the law, obeying the rules, toeing the line, following the straight and narrow. It must be about whatever Jesus was about. Like forgiving those who put hammer to nail and fastened his hands and feet to wood? What shall we do with that? It may be that despite Peter’s concrete answer we all need to work out our salvation “with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12) trusting that in Jesus “what should we do” is a moot question because Jesus did it all.


Saturday, April 22, 2017

Easter 2 A - John 20:19-31

John 20:19-31There are those who say faith dare not doubt while others claim faith without doubt is no faith at all. I’m not sure I care to enter the debate. Thomas had good reason to wonder at this word, “We have seen the Lord!” and as the ten weren’t blessed until they had seen I’m willing to give Thomas the benefit of the doubt. Truth is there are times when I wonder at this word and question whether everything written is the Gospel truth. I don’t think that is as much a function of doubting as it is the product of the God given ability to think critically. God is not threatened by our questions and does not punish us for asking them.  Touch and see was what Thomas needed to do and touch and see is what Jesus offered him. And what seems like Jesus rebuking Thomas, “have you believed because you have seen me?”  is really an encouragement to those of us who given the opportunity would do anything to “trade places with Thomas and touch those ruined hands.” (Friederich Buechner – Peculiar Treasures) So we who live by faith and not by sight are free to question and in whatever way doubt and faith intersect find the place where the life of believing lives comfortably with questions.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Easter 2 A - 1 Peter 1:3-9

1 Peter 1:3-9
There is a stoic tendency in the Christian tradition, as in the proverbial British “stiff upper lip” or the Norwegian mantra “det kan bli verre”. (It could be worse) Or better yet the Black Knight in Monty Python's the Holy Grail. "It's just a flesh wound." So while I agree that various trials can be seen as tests of faith there are times when one is so worn down by trouble one could care less if faith proved less precious than gold. “It is what it is” only works for so long and eventually “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me” is a more appropriate response to trouble that multiplies with every passing day. But it is precisely during those times when human hope fades that we rejoice, albeit through tears, in the living hope that is kept for us and not by us. Kept for us and not by us this inheritance of hope, if you will, is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. That means in practical terms we can live through a difficult day or week or month or even, dear God, a year, and not add to the weight of our troubles by blaming our dismal circumstances on the failure of faith. I think stoics live lonely lives even if they show great courage and fortitude. We were created for community, to be like the One we have never seen and yet still love, so that the genuineness of faith is measured in the way we respond to the needs of each other. There are times when various trials could not possibly be any worse which is why we do not suffer them alone.

Thursday, April 20, 2017



 Trinity Lutheran Church, Pottsville, TX

Here's a re-post from 2011. Pauline Hopper was a longtime member of Calvary who I visited in the hospital everyday over the course of a number of weeks. I'd pray with her every visit. She didn't seem to be getting any better so one time when I'd finished praying she looked at me and said, "you're not very good are you." So since Pauline was a country girl I said, "Let me give it another go. Oh Lord, we'd like you to piss or get off the pot. Amen." Wouldn't you know she got better within the week.

Psalm 16
Pauline Hopper went home to heaven this week and the body she inhabited for ninety-one years was laid to rest this afternoon in Pottsville, Texas. The boundary lines have fallen for her in a pleasant place which was cause for our hearts to be glad and our spirits rejoice. That is not to say we gloss over grief or deny the reality of loss and pain. No. What we do is deny death the last word for our loved ones and in celebrating their passing we deny death power over ourselves as well. We do not grieve as those without hope. We will not be abandoned to the shadow existence of Sheol. We will know pleasures forevermore and the fullness of joy in God’s presence. In the meantime funerals remind us that we have been gifted with another day in the land of the living to make the present look a little bit more like the future as we wait for our boundary lines to fall in the most pleasant of places.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Easter 2 A - Acts 10:22-33

Peter’s Pentecost sermon, addressed to those familiar with the story of salvation, is a fitting text for the first Sunday after Easter. Known by those “in the know” as low Sunday, it is the day when the pews and parking spaces of the faithful are not occupied by the twice a year crowd.  Maybe if the story was more dramatic people would stick around for another round sans trumpets, choirs, lilies and eggs hidden by bunnies, but the truth is the story could not be more out of the box. It was impossible for death to hold him in its power is how Peter puts it and I can’t imagine it gets more dramatic than that. The message has had over two thousand years to mature and so while preachers and every week pew people might be tempted to lament a Sunday with space we might be better served by going back to the beginning when even those who knew the story had to hear it again.

Friday, April 14, 2017

The Resurrection of Our Lord Year A - Colossians 3:1-11

Colossians 3:1-11
Paul’s resurrection perspective “if you have been raised with Christ” might be better understood as “since” you have been raised…” Of course the laundry list of behaviors and attitudes to be put to death reads like the “Thou shall not” the law demanded but could not accomplish, even with the threat of God’s wrath raining down on the disobedient, but I think that misses the point of these passages. Being raised with Christ is a done deal. “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in (Jesus), and through him to be reconciled to all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” (Colossians 1:19, 20) In the new reality of the resurrection all the old ways of being have no place. Even the divisions of race and creed and culture have been erased. That’s because the earthly ways all hearken back to the disobedience in the garden where wanting to be “like” God meant we became less than human.  Dwelling on earthly things that have been put to death is to prefer life in the grave which makes no sense. Since we have been raised with Christ our humanity has been restored and getting rid of earthly things is not to escape wrath but to embrace grace and therefore not a measure of self discipline but the exercise of true freedom.