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.