Wednesday, October 17, 2018

PENTECOST 22 – October 21, 2018

PENTECOST 22 – October 21, 2018

As usual, I have more questions then answers regarding this week's readings. I have found that questions are the best place to begin my preperation for any given Sunday. Hope this is helpful.

Isaiah 53:4-12

One of Isaiah’s Servant Songs describing a “Suffering Servant” character. An individual of the prophet’s time? The prophet himself? The promised Messiah? The returning exiles? All of Israel, God’s chosen light to the nations?

Opinions are varied but of course we who read the description from this side of the cross and immediately think of Jesus. Did Jesus understand himself as this promised “suffering servant” figure?
It is a very daunting job description. Struck down, wounded, crushed, taken away, cut off, stricken and oppressed all because of “the will of God” v.10? Who would sign up for such a role? A parent for a child, a spouse for a suffering loved one, a God for her human creation?

The end result of all this pain and suffering? “through him the will of God shall prosper”, “Out of his anguish he shall see light” and “shall make many righteous”.

Hebrews 5:1-10

Chapter 5 begins with a job description for priests, pastors, congregational leaders, etc. Responsibility, sacrifice, and gentleness are the attributes of one responding to God’s call. Also humility and recognition of one’s own “weakness” and “sin”.

The author then turns to Jesus as a high priest offering up prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears. This image of Jesus praying a lamenting prayer is a powerful and much needed one. In times of suffering and despair and brokenness it is acceptable to lament; cry out and rage to God the Father.

Mark 10:35-45

Who writes a history of a movement in this way? Isn’t the expectation of such an account that the early leaders would be painted as courageous, compassionate, and selfless as they lay the early foundations of a worldwide movement?

Mark’s telling of the beginnings of Christianity is brutally honest. The first twelve followers and eventual leaders are portrayed as dense, cowardly, and self-centered. Jesus has been hammering home his  commitment to sacrificial living and servant leadership and yet, here are two members of His inner circle demanding reward and position.

The result is dissension and anger amongst the twelve. The first example of congregational conflict! Jesus in their midst, the master teaching them himself, and still their humanness makes it difficult and seemingly impossible for them to hear Jesus’ invitation to practice servant-leadership. Jesus’ call to the disciples of his time and our time is not to position but to service.

In our Lutheran tribe we begin our worship with prayers of confession and experience Christ’s forgiveness. I believe this reminder of our brokenness and the impossibility of “doing it right” is a necessary prelude to worship, prayer, scripture reading, and songs of praise. The “servant hood” that Jesus calls us to can never be achieved by our will but only through a reliance on God’s Grace.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 30, 2018
Gospel Reading: Mark 9:38-50

Dragged and drowned in the bottom of the sea? Amputate your hands and feet? Gouge out your eye? Maybe we’ve just caught Jesus on a bad day. Is Jesus losing patience and snapping at his disciples? Has the Teacher tired of the students missing the point over and over again?

I am reminded of the old adage in real estate that there are three things which determine the value of a property, “location, location, location”. The same thing is true when attempting to understand Jesus’ words to his followers at any given time. Where are we located in the story of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection? What is the context in which Jesus is saying these particular words? A quick review is in order, I think.

In Mark, chapter 8, Jesus and the disciples are in a boat making one of their many crossings across the Sea of Galilee. This is following a second feeding of a large crowd with a small amount of bread. Jesus overhears the disciples worrying about having enough to eat and Jesus responds. “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? 18 Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear?” (Mk 8:17-18a) Mark’s account goes on to demonstrate that the answer to these questions is indeed yes.

Shortly after that boat ride Jesus enters into a dialogue with the disciples regarding his identity. Peter confesses that Jesus is the Messiah and Jesus explains for the first time to the disciples what that means for his future. He predicts his arrest, crucifixion, and resurrection. Peter, of course, attempts to dissuade Jesus from this plan and Jesus rebukes him in the strongest terms.

Jesus uses this as a teaching moment.  “34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save their life[b] will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.” (Mark 8:34-35)

Then just a chapter later, Mark 9:30, Jesus predicts his death a second time and this time the disciples respond by arguing with one another about who is the greatest. Jesus demonstrates infinite patience by continuing to teach about his commitment to the last, the lost, the least, and the littlest. “35 Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”
36 He took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.” (Mk 9:35-37) Note that Jesus is embracing, a child, one without status or power or authority in that culture.
Which brings us to the reading before us and John’s attempt to change the subject once again to, “Who’s on first? Who has authority? Who has Power?”  As John complains about others (not of our tribe, our group, our denomination) doing “good” in Jesus’ name.
According to Mark’s telling, Jesus would appear to still be in the house in Capernaum with the child still on his lap! “If any of you(the disciples) put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea.” (Mk 9:42)
And yet, Jesus continues to walk with his 12 chosen ones, his hand picked team, the ones to whom he will entrust his message and ministry. May the Lord continue to have such patience with me.

Friday, September 07, 2018

16th Sunday after Pentecost September 9, 2018

     Mary, my life partner for over 51 years, had to undergo knee replacement surgery this week. Her recovery is coming along fine and has been my focus this week. As a result, I am a bit behind in sermon preparation. This experience has served as a reminder that the preacher never develops the message in a vacuum. We read the scripture and prepare the sermon in the context of both our personal and ministry lives. 

We Hear a particular passage differently each time we approach it. The same is true for those experiencing the sermon as they HEAR the passage and our message through the filter of their present and past experiences. This is why we are able to preach many different sermons on the same scripture passage again and again throughout our ministry. How am I Hearing this particular text at this particular time under these particular circumstances. Preacher, what do you Hear?

Mark 7:32-35 They brought to Jesus a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha”, that is, “Be opened.” And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.

My assumption is that Jesus spoke the word “Ephphatha” in a loud voice, a commanding voice, a confident voice, a voice that cannot be ignored but can certainly be rejected. What does it mean to “be opened”? What do I refuse to HEAR? The temptation, of course, is to close up, shut out, refuse to hear those things which make us uncomfortable and threaten our sense of security. What are those things that I and the folks listening to the sermon don’t want to be opened to?  Maybe the things that most threaten me (us) are exactly the ones that I (we) need to be opened to.
The life of the recipient of this miracle was changed forever by Jesus’ command and compassionate action. If I were to take this command “to be opened” seriously, how would my life be changed?

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

13th Sunday after Pentecost

      I will be preaching quite often at a number of different congregations during the remainder of this calender year. My process of preparation for these opportunities raises many questions, ideas, and images that can be helpful in shaping the final message. I wondered if others facing the same daunting task each Sunday might find my musings a useful resource in their own preparations. Therefore I have decided to risk sharing these reflections on my blog with the hope they might inspire, inform, and invite others to be creatively open to the Spirit's stirrings within and amongst us. I will not post every week but those in which I have a preaching assignment. Following this coming Sunday the next up will be September 9th. Please let me know if you find this effort of an old preacher helpful.

13th Sunday after Pentecost
Ephesians 5:15-20
            - “Be careful then how you live” In the Greek it is a present active indicative and if I remember my Greek correctly this means it is NOT a command but a description of life as a Christ follower.  This is what life looks like.
- Literally, “Be careful then how you walk”. I understand “walk” in the NT to be a metaphor for life or life style.  Do I walk with awareness? Paying attention to where my feet are taking me? Do I have a destination in mind? What do I see, hear, and smell as I walk?
-   “not as unwise people but as wise” So…… wisdom connected to awareness? Paying attention to where we are walking (living) and the destination. And those we encounter? To wander with a purpose.
            - “making melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ”
- Is this the purpose of life (the walk) in a nutshell? Melody in our hearts and gratitude on our lips?
- “My heart sang”. We use that expression when we make an intimate connection with an experience, a person, a piece of music or art. 
- I think of the Haugen hymn “Sing to the Lord a New Song”. “The Lord has done marvelous things, I too sing praises in a new song.”
- What melody is playing in my heart? Often it is a melody of resentment or fear or impatience or anger or……….?
-          What does a melody to the Lord sound like?

John 6:51-58
-          “came down from heaven” “the bread that I will give” Here, once again, we have the emphasis on God taking the initiative. The Heavenly Father reaching out through the Son to God’s children. This, I believe, is Grace. Not God responding to our efforts, prayers, behavior, etc. but Divine Love seeking us out.
-          “have eternal life” “abide in me, and I in them” “will live because of me” What we have here is an invitation to a relationship with God the Father through Jesus. A relationship initiated by God and sustained by God.

-          This meditation on Luther and the sacraments is a good refresher.

-          The personal pronouns; I, me, and my, appear 17 times in these eight verses. This passage and the sacrament it points to is not about us. It is about Christ and his desire to stay connected to us. His desire to keep his promise of everlasting life. Jesus’ sacrifice for us. For me. For you. For all.

-          “eat my flesh, drink my blood” “whoever eats me” Let’s be honest. This can sound creepy, offensive, cannibalistic, unrealistic and foolish. Imagine someone new to the Christian message stumbling into church this Sunday and hearing these words for the first time. Then seeing parishioners obediently parading to the front to receive the Sacrament of Holy Communion. What would they think? How would they feel? What questions would they have?

-          MYSTERY! In a culture where we attempt to explain everything. Where we look for cause and effect. We are called this Sunday to speak of “mystery”. The mystery of God’s graceful love as revealed in the life, words, acts, and death of Jesus Christ our Lord. The mystery of Christ’s presence in wafer/bread and wine/juice of Holy Communion. The mystery behind the powerful words “the body of Christ given for YOU, the blood of Christ shed for YOU”.

-          I was doing field work at a rural church in South Carolina. The regular communion assistant would distribute the wine to those kneeling at the communion rail. In a deep southern accent he would say to each one; “the blood of Christ shed for you”. I would always try to be at the end of communion rail where he would always say, “and for you, too”. Yes, for me, too and for you, too. Even us. That is the grace-filled mystery that sustains us and gives us life.

Monday, October 09, 2017

Experiencing Beauty

Each day seems to bring news of so much ugliness; violence, conflict, devastation, death, etc., etc. The only antidote that I have found to the sadness and helplessness is to both carry and seek beauty to the best of my ability. This was indeed a weekend of experiencing beauty.
My wife, Mary, recently made contact with a group called “Street Soldiers” that gathers every Friday evening in Albany to share food, clothing, and other necessities with folks who are homeless. Mary created and put together seven beautiful quilts that she wanted to give away. She also baked cookies and encouraged me to make a large pot of chili to share. It was a summer like October Friday evening as we gathered in Washington Park with this wonderfully caring group of folks. The beauty was in the joy expressed by both those giving and receiving. See photos by clicking here

Our family gathered on Sunday morning to prepare “Brendan’s Breakfast”, a pancake fundraiser to honor and remember our grandson, Brendan, who was killed in a motorcycle accident last summer. We work together to serve pancakes (all you can eat), bacon, juice, and coffee. All donations received are used for camp scholarships. Last fall/winter we raised almost $3,000. All of those funds were distributed this summer. It is a beautiful experience to watch my family work together and it always feels as if Brendan is there with us.
In between these two events, on Saturday afternoon, we traveled up to Cambridge, NY to visit Bedlam Farm. The farm is home to author, Jon Katz, and Maria, a very fine artist. We attended the spring open house and were inspired by Jon and Maria’s hospitality and compassion. Just beautiful.

John making a new friend, Donna Wynbrandt. They sang, "I've been working on the Railroad" together.
 John and The Tin Man

John and Red

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Autumn at Last

Late September days of temperatures in the 80's and 90's have finally given away to Autumn chill today. Reminded me of this from Harry Potter except it's happening on almost the last of September.

 “Autumn seemed to arrive suddenly that year. The morning of the first September was crisp and golden as an apple.” 
― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Navajo Prayer

Anne Hillerman, writing in her novel, Song of the Lion, shares this Navajoh prayer used in the early morning to greet a new day.

With beauty before me, may I walk
With beauty behind me, may I walk
With beauty below me, may I walk
With beauty above me, may I walk
With beauty all around me, may I walk