Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Feast of the Holy Trinity Year B - John 3:1-17

John 3:1-17
The truth of “God so loved the world…” is diminished if we add conditional clauses that limit the ability of the wind of the Spirit to blow wherever it chooses. In the same way we demean the sacrifice of “he gave his only Son” by insisting that the Spirit wind of God’s love must blow everywhere for everyone. We do not know the magnitude or the limitations of God’s mercy although to insist on a verbal confession of a personal relationship and a particular way of being baptized would seem to usurp God’s prerogative to do whatever God pleases. And if the life of Jesus gives us any clue it would seem the only people who should be concerned are the very religious people – in Jesus’ day Pharisees and Sadducees and teachers of the law. The good news for those of us who are blessed to believe and those who do not is that the wind of the Spirit blows where it will and if the cross is any indication of God’s intent it will be a mighty merciful wind indeed.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Feast of the Holy Trinity Year B - Romans 8:12-17

Romans 8:12-17
I will admit I’m in hock to the flesh and cannot conceive a payment plan that will get me out of debt anytime soon. Based on Paul’s struggle in the previous chapter “I do not understand what I do…” (7:15ff) my guess is that Paul was paying down his debt his whole life as well. But putting to death the deeds of the body is not as much about freedom from the flesh as it is trusting while in the flesh that our cry “Abba! Father!” is heard no matter what. Like paying a mortgage on a house we get to live in even though the bank holds the note. But unlike human lenders the Lord doesn’t evict us if we miss a payment and truth to be told the permanent dwelling is already deeded to us because of the down payment Jesus made on our behalf. So we are debtors but in debt forever to Christ and gladly so.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Feast of the Holy Trinity Year B - Psalm 29

Psalm 29
Hills skipping and mountains bucking are not that pleasant when one is in close proximity. In the same way we prefer our forests leafy green as opposed to stripped bare. But the Lord enthroned above the flood is imagined by the psalmist in ways that strike terror into human hearts so that God’s glory is matched strength for strength with the little g gods who are compelled to ascribe to the Lord the glory due God’s name. For our part we count on God’s voice to be reduced to a whisper when our name is called so that the God who bursts forth in lightning blasts might bestow on us the blessing of peace.

Monday, May 28, 2012

The Feast of the Holy Trinity Year B - Isaiah 6:1-8

Isaiah 6:1-8
The call story of the prophet Isaiah is filled with fanciful details that defy explanation. The hem of the Lord “high and lifted up” fills the temple which must mean the rest of the Lord is seated on the patio? Why do the seraphim need wings to hide their faces and feet when they only need two to fly? And burning coals do serious damage to lips so that one might forgo forgiveness for lack of lip balm. All of that is to say the vision like a dream is full of bizarre imagery to elevate the high and lifted up Lord beyond this mortal coil and usher us into the mystery of God that is beyond knowing. “Woe is me!” is the proper thing to say in the sight of such power but “Here am I. Send me” might have waited for what follows. I’m sending you to people ever hearing but never understanding; ever seeing but never perceiving. Make their hearts dull, their ears heavy, their eyes shut until their cities are laid waste. To which the proper response might be, “Woe is me” if not for the faithfulness of the Lord and the one sent forth to serve.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Pentecost b - conclusion

This Sunday we will celebrate the rite of confirmation at Calvary. The Spirit poured out on our young women and men invites them into the vision of the future by their promising to live the dream of what in Christ can be so that the world will anticipate and live more fully what because of Christ will be. That’s asking a lot of eighth graders. We know that they, like all those who in the past made promises to be faithful, will do better or worse or the same as previous generations, although those who depend on the faithful for their livelihood fret that this generation will not be committed enough to pay our pensions. And maybe that is as it should be. For too long the structure of the church has been confused with the mission of the church. The disciples changed the world because they believed the promise and were willing to bet their lives on the life of Jesus. I hope and pray our young women and men who say yes to what was done to them at the baptismal font years ago will bet their lives on what they’ve learned so that they continue to live among God’s faithful people where the Word is heard and the meal is shared, to proclaim the good news of God in Christ by what they say and do and serve all people working for justice and peace in all the earth. If that also means support for church wide offices and missions and bishops and bishop assistants and pastors and lay professionals – great - but even if they don’t it won’t matter for the church began without budgets and changed the world –that is until the world took note and changed the church.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Pentecost b - John 16:1-15

John 16:1-15
The Spirit as Advocate contends for us to prove the world’s ways will not be the way for us. That is because the Spirit convicts the less than satisfactory definition of sin as the things we do proving what is made manifest in behavior always begins in belief. But then those who think right often do not act in right ways which means righteousness “being made right with God”  can only be directed from God towards us and not vice versa. And judgment is reserved for the one who is the parent of lies and deceives us at every turn even if “every single one of us (has) the devil inside” (INXS) Jesus may have many things left to say that none of us can bear but this much is true, the “God so loved the world” Jesus makes it possible for the world to welcome the truth telling Spirit who will reveal the love of God while exposing deceitful ways.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Pentecost b - Romans 8:22-27

Romans 8:22-27
When inward groaning anticipates the cry of new birth the joy anticipated is the hope that endures. Even in our weakness, when confused and conflicted our patience wears thin and we know not what to pray, God intercedes for us. Sighs too deep for words match our need breath for breath, so that fed by the first fruits of the Spirit our hearts are lifted from despair. In that way the future adoption that is the redemption of our mortal bodies can be known in the present even as a kick in the womb allows expectant parents to imagine the life of the new born they await. Here and not yet – that is the nature of this pregnant pause before we know fully the full fruit of the eternal tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Pentecost b - Psalm 104:24-35

Psalm 104:24-35
Psalm 104:20 is the basis of the “Come Holy Spirit” prayer of the Cursillo movement. “Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of the faithful and kindle in us the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and we shall be created and you shall renew the face of the earth…” The Spirit filled community (aka the church in all its various forms) is created to renew whatever portion of the face of the earth on which it is found. That means the heart kindled with love seeks to refresh the weary with refuge and replenish the hungry with good things, even as we care for “all creatures great and small” and the habitats that support them. So the song we sing to the Lord as long as we live is best expressed when the words of our mouth are confirmed by the work of our hands.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Pentecost b - Acts

Acts 2:1-21
It is a lay lector’s nightmare lesson and even those who wear the collar tread lightly in the linguistic territory of “Phrygia and Pamphylia.” But then the confusion of language has spawned more trouble than mispronunciations and the divisions that begin with the inability to understand what the other is saying are too often translated into the universal language of bigotry and violence. In whatever way we understand the historical Day of Pentecost the meaning could not be clearer. The lines of language that divide were erased by the “Spirit poured out on all flesh.” Of course the language that was understood on that day was discounted as tongue tied drunkenness but there was a moment when the confusion of the Tower of Babel was reversed and suddenly every tongue was translated into the powerful deed of God that is the cross of Jesus Christ. It didn’t take long for the universal language of mercy to be confused and confined and the ability to speak in tongues became more important than understanding what was said. But the Day of Pentecost was not about speaking in tongues. It was about declaring the powerful deeds of God in ways that people could understand no matter where they came from or what language they spoke.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Easter 7b - conclusion

Seraphina and I forded Big Fossil Creek yesterday which was a big deal for both of us. We’ve been riding along the Richland Hills side of the Corp of Engineers levee for a month or more but have never dared go down to the creek. But since the water level was low and I found an easy access I decided we should cross over to the Fort Worth side. Not that Seraphina doesn’t have a vote in these matters. She does and quite often votes in the negative. But once we got close to the water she was willing to give it a go with a little bit of heel to flank encouragement – if you know what I mean. Of course crossing anywhere else turns out to be a “phina” veto which is why we had to backtrack more than a mile to re-cross the creek at the exact same spot. We are a little like that in that God has to encourage us to cross over things that at first appear too difficult. But once we manage to overcome the initial fear we experience new territory of faith and peace and joy. The disciples trusted God would do the choosing and were willing to add to their number by drawing lots and God did not disappoint. The psalmist trusts the perfect law of the Lord will thwart the plans of the wicked and be like a living stream of water for the righteous. The life of God in the heart of the believer means the life that is eternal can be lived in the present. And like the partnership between horse and rider the relationship we have with the Lord is based on trust and occasionally a little heel to flank encouragement, if you know what I mean.    

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Easter 7b - John 17:6-19

John 17:6-19
If you’ve read the other Gospels you might agree that John’s Jesus is less than human, or if you won’t go that far at least will acknowledge that no one in real life makes speeches like the Jesus in John. That doesn’t mean it isn’t true just that John remembers a different Jesus than Matthew or Mark or the “orderly Gospel” historian Luke. But the purpose of John’s Gospel could not be more clearly stated. “These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:30) So all this “I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together” makes as much sense as “I am the walrus goo goo g’joob”. (The Beatles) unless you understand that believing what cannot be fully understood, that the “in the beginning” Word became flesh and dwelt among us, means the beginning and the ending can be fully known in the present in such a way that the joy of the future is fully realized in the here and now. I know it might sound like a less melodic version of goo goo g'joob, but truth is if we could live today as if the forever tomorrow was already here our present might actually begin to look like God’s future.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Easter 7b - 1 John 5:9-13

1 John 5:9-13
To have the Son of God means the Son of God has you. Human testimony would have the Son by tradition or dogma or piety without being possessed by the "lay down one’s life for one’s friends - no greater love than this” Son . (John 15:13) The testimony of God is this – “not that we loved God but that God loved us …” (1 John 4:10) If God gave up all to possess us then maybe the reverse is true as well. We lay down our life to open ourselves to the life of the Son not by self-discipline but by self-sacrifice that would give up even the Son and eternal life as well for the sake of someone else. But how can that testimony be true if the scripture doesn’t spell it out clearly in black and white, cross the t’s and dot the i’s, sign on the dotted line? That is a human testimony question. The love of God is pretty simple. God gave up life for love because two millennium of law didn’t produce the desired result – a people whose heart was God’s heart, who loved as God loves. Two millennium later God’s life and love is still in jeopardy as the cradle of Christ (the church) argues over the color of the comforter. The love of God is color blind and cares more about the child than the comfort of the crib which means eternal life is not the prize for having the Son – having the Son in the same way the Son has you is already life that is eternal.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Easter 7b - Psalm 1

Like a Tree Planted by the River by Donald Simpson
Psalm 1
We know the counsel of the wicked is nothing but trouble and lingering in the way of sinners is a dead end street and the seat of the scornful is uncomfortable at best, but still we listen and linger and pull up a chair. Even those who delight in the perfect law of the Lord, the counsel of love, the way of righteousness, the mercy seat of peace, can find themselves listening and lingering and longing for that which in the end withers the soul and saps the spirit. But then the tree doesn’t plant itself by streams of water and so we, too, depend on the One who creates and cultivates a right spirit within us – sometimes with refreshment and sometimes with reprimand - always intending to bring new life to dead limbs as the prosperity of hope enriches impoverished faith to meditate on “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, whatever is excellent or praiseworthy…” (Philippians 4:8) Uproot us, Lord, from complacency and plant us by streams of living water that flow from the perfect law of love.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Easter 7b - Acts 1:15-26

Acts 1:15-26
If the church had continued the practice of casting lots for leaders you can bet it wouldn’t have taken long for someone to load the dice. After all choosing church leaders is too important to be left up to chance and after all doesn’t the Almighty help those who help themselves? So choosing a replacement for Judas would seem to require at least an endorsement and a position paper and a speech to the delegates. But then Joseph and Justus (aka Barsabbas and Matthias) were not random candidates. They were companions of Jesus from the baptism to the ascension and reliable witnesses to the resurrection. Given that they both met the standard set by the selection committee the choice by lots means they were equally acceptable and choosing by chance removes ego from the equation. Since the ego of candidates and constituents almost always leads to conflict it’s not such a bad idea. Could we do the same thing today? Of course we could, but I’m sure someone would object.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Easter 6b - conclusion

The lectionary might designate this Sunday Easter 6b but everyone else knows it is Mother’s Day, which, by the way, has the third highest church attendance behind Christmas and Easter. But few children, or mothers, for that matter, know Mother’s Day in the U.S. began because one Anna Jarvis was intent on honoring the work of her mother Ann Jarvis of Webster, West Virginia who organized Mother’s Day Work Clubs to address health conditions and the high rates of infant mortality in the surrounding counties. In 1861 Webster was embroiled in the War Between the States as both sides fought over a nearby railroad terminus. When an epidemic of typhoid broke out Ann opened her Work Clubs to treat the infected insisting on “no mistreatment of any of our members. We are composed of both the Blue and the Gray.” She saved thousands of lives and after the war continued to promote reconciliation through Mothers Friendship Days. So I guess the Easter 6b lectionary got it right for Mother’s Day “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Easter 6b - John 15:9-17

John 15:9-17
It is significant that this “status update” from servant to friend occurs in the Gospel of John. After all Jesus’ status was updated from mostly “Messiah” in the synoptic Gospels to “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” (John 1:1) So the God of Sinai (fire and smoke on the mountain don’t come near lest ye die) is now revealed as the Word made flesh. Since true friendship does not operate as a hierarchy, Jesus’ statement is as radical as anything uttered in the scriptures. We are on a first name basis with the God whose name could not be spoken. The flip side of this new arrangement is that our continuing in the ways of our first parent’s garden rebellion is that much more damaging to ourselves and the God come near who is our friend. Friendship can only endure so much before the one whose heart is open to the other is hurt in such a way that the real benefit of friendship, “my joy in you that your joy may be complete” is exhausted. Not that God abandons us but “I’ve got friends in low places” (Garth Brooks) is not nearly as friendly as it sounds and Jesus desires a relationship that blesses Jesus as much as it blesses us. Nothing blesses Jesus more than when you and I, and everyone else for that matter, friend each other in ways that go beyond “likes” on a page. Jesus' joy can only be as complete as our joy. Which means my joy can only be complete when your joy is complete and your joy can only be complete when my joy is complete and all our joy begins and ends with acting more friendly towards the One who chose us, aka the Word made Friend.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Easter 6b - 1 John 5:1-6

1 John 5:1-6
The way faith conquers the world is not made manifest in the way the world appears to conquer faith. Despite the apparent militancy of “Onward Christian Soldiers” the way of faith “is not by might nor by power but by my Spirit, says the Lord.” (Zechariah 4:6) That is why the victory of faith often appears first as defeat. “We preach Christ crucified.” (1 Corinthians 1:23) But it is a “magnificent defeat” (Friederich Buechner) that the world cannot see or understand and which the world cannot ultimately overcome. “Were they to take our house, goods, fame, child or spouse; though life be wrenched away; they cannot win the day; the kingdom ours forever.” (Martin Luther) That faith conquers the world is not a panacea for the pain and suffering experienced when one is on the losing end of Luther’s list of things to be taken away. No faith is often pushed to the limit and indeed beyond. But though the bloodlust of the wicked may hold the field today the final outcome has been predetermined and the faith that is tried in the here and now will triumph in the forever tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Easter 6b - Psalm 98:1-9

Psalm 98:1-9
A new song of marvelous things means before there was this song there were times less praiseworthy. Singing the rejoicing refrain is preceded by times of lament. Righteousness revealed means there was a time when it was hidden. “You turned my wailing into dancing” is how Psalm 30 describes the reversal of fortune. At the dawn of the new day the long night is forgotten so that even the sound of crashing sea and rushing rivers are in harmony with harps and trumpets and human voices. The good news for those still waiting for steadfast love and faithfulness to be revealed is that God gives us each other so that my new song can be heard in your time of silence and when life conspires to still the song in my heart perhaps you will be in a place to sing me into a marvelous new day. In that way the song never ends and at the same time is always new.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Easter 6b - Acts 10:44-48

Acts 10:44-48
Acts chapter ten begins with God telling Peter that shellfish is now in season and he is free to eat whatever he wants. To which Peter replies, “Heaven forbid!” which is the proper response when one is tempted by all manner of culinary delights denied to kosher Jews for almost two thousand years. But God insists that Peter sit down and dine and before you know it Peter is acting like Jesus and eating and drinking with tax collectors (aka Romans) and sinners (aka Gentiles). “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean” is true for all manner of animals as well as people so that Peter, who often appears dumb as rock, suddenly perceives that God shows no favoritism, which is shocking given the restricted relationship God demanded from the children of Israel. That is not to say the early church welcomed the new neighbors with open arms. Even Peter had to defend his Acts chapter 10 actions to James and John and the rest and if you believe Paul’s account in Galatians 2 Peter didn’t do so well and began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of the circumcision group”. The church has been declaring clean and unclean ever since making what is binding arbitrary (the law of love) and what is arbitrary binding (the love of law). I wonder what acts of God might astound us in this day and age so that we ask the question, “What is to prevent us from suspending the rules we have come to rely on and welcome the new thing God is doing?” Heaven knows.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Easter 5b - conclusion

I want to rewrite my rather convoluted concluding sentence of yesterday’s blog to read “If those connected to the true vine are hardly aware of the connection so as to do more grafting than pruning then abiding is not a verb but a noun.” That is to say when being connected to Jesus is not dictated by doctrine but determined by living out the command to love others as we love ourselves our abiding in Christ is not a conscious decision (verb) but a description of who we were by baptismal birth created to be. (noun) That means the answer to “what should prevent me from being baptized?” is “nothing, even the lack of water. (spit will do) And proclaiming praise to a generation unknown is a given because we live our lives as praise. And while the Beatles made “All you need is love” a number one hit Jesus lived and died it and calls us to do the same without looking for recognition or fame.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Easter 5b - John 15:1-8

John 15:1-8
I understand the point of the passage, “abide in me as I abide in you” but what choice does a branch really have? It doesn’t choose to grow and it can’t avoid being pruned. Which means the true vine and vine grower are in charge of whatever happens and branches just hang on like… branches. Maybe that is point of the passage. To abide means to let the vine define what the branch will be. The trouble is we do not want to be so defined and prefer to create the vine in our own image. Both right and left are driven by their own desires and definitions– not that the middle is without fault. None of us want to be branches cut off or pruned, even if it means to be fruitful, but there is way to be so connected to the vine as to transcend the analogy entirely. If the fruit borne by those connected to the true vine are hardly aware of the connection they do more grafting than pruning and abiding is not a verb but a noun.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Easter 5b - 1 John 4:7-21

1 John 4:7-21
“Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.” You would think the church could get this right since the command to love is the foundation of our faith. Some say the reason the church is in decline today is because those on the outside have finally figured out that the petty jealousies and judgmental attitudes that have come to characterize so many Christian communions are a direct contradiction to the teaching of Jesus. Individual Christians and whole communities elevate their particular doctrines or preferences to the denial of the one law that is in fact binding. Even Unitarians fight over doctrine for God’s sake!  But “the commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.” So what can we do that we have not done already? Maybe we should stop doing what we’ve been doing and learn the lesson of love so that “as he is, so we (will be) in this world. I know it is passé but for all the hype around WWJD bracelets and bumper stickers there is only one answer to the question "What Would Jesus Do?" and it is what Jesus did - Love.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Easter 5b - Psalm 22:25-31

Psalm 22:25-31
Psalm 22 begins not with praise, but lament. “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?” In the verses that follow human suffering is spelled out in detail. “My heart melts like wax within me… all my bones are out of joint… a band of dogs surround me… they pierce my hands and feet!“ Insults and mocking and spitting accompany the abuse heaped upon the one who cries out by day with no answer, at night with no rest. Yet this “man of constant sorrow” trusts that the God far off will come near and even if going down to the dust is his destiny praise will spring forth from the grave. Some might call that fool’s hope and be more inclined to go with Job’s wife’s advice, “Curse God and die.” But then the people yet unborn would not know the sacred story of the God who came so near to humanity as to wear our flesh and die our death so that we might live God’s life.  And so we proclaim and so you believe, “The Lord has acted.” Thanks be to God.