Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Lord is My...

Pentecost 18, Year a
12 October 2014

Isaiah 25:1-9; Psalm 23; Matthew 22:1-14

            The violent nature of the parable of the wedding feast of the king’s son almost obscures any ability to appreciate what the gospel writer is saying. The feasting imagery is familiar, but then the first group rejects the invitation and kills the slaves. The second group is scraped up, redressed, and set to party. The last man is standing there, thinking, “Do I stay or do I go?” and then it is decided for him.

            What was Matthew thinking? When Luke tells this parable, it’s not so violent and the ending is certainly far preferable. Why is this version so intense? Matthew is writing to a group of believers in Christ, Jews and Gentiles, who find themselves in tension with Jews who do not believe that Jesus was the Messiah. Frustrated with each other, they have begun to lose sense of the bigger picture- the nature of God and how God chooses to reveal that nature.

            The parable is about the nature of the king, God, but it is an exaggeration such that those who hear it are able to recognize the absurdity of their own behavior and to realize the extent of God’s perpetual invitation to grace and joy.

            The first group rejects the invitation of the king, the invitation to party and celebrate, because they 1) may think it is beneath them, 2) think that they can provide something better for themselves, or 3) don’t understand the real value of having a relationship with the king. The second group accepts the invitation because they 1) are not able to do better for themselves and they know it, 2) may not have had anything else going on, or 3) realize the value of the nature of the king.

            The king brings in the invitees, they are prepared for the party, they are welcomed and food and drink are pressed upon them. They did nothing to deserve this, but they were willing to engage with the king. Suddenly they are in a situation beyond their wildest dreams.

            The man standing at the edges can’t decide. Is it worth it? Will I look silly in clothes that aren’t my own? Is the food actually good? Is there any point to this party? In remaining speechless, he doesn’t even engage with the king. A failure to pursue any kind of relationship, even a combative one, leaves him outside the adventure, outside the party, outside the celebration.

            God’s persistent grace, God’s insistent mercy, does everything for us, except force us to accept it. That’s the reality of being in relationship with God, with Christ, with the Spirit… we just have to be willing to engage, to party, to be present. And we’re in… just like that.

            What does that accepting that relationship look like? In part, it means really pondering what God’s actions look like in your life. Where you’ve seen them? How you’ve heard the Word? When you’ve felt the Spirit? Many of us can recite Psalm 23, but most of us don’t have a lot of direct experience of shepherds. Psalm 23 is very moving and is deeply connected with Israel’s history in David and then in Jesus, as the Good Shepherd.

            If we don’t live in an agrarian society, if we are not usually around shepherds, ranchers, farmers, we should think of additional metaphors. Expanding our images of God helps us to recognize the many ways God meets us and invites us in, over and over, into a celebration of grace and renewal.
            If you were going to write Psalm 23 for yourself, what would you say? “The Lord is my…”

The Lord is my mechanic, I’m satisfied by his work.
    She keeps me tuned and running smoothly.
He leads me to open roads,
She grants me peace in congestion.
God’s mercy and grace toward me reflect well on her reputation.
Even when I need serious maintenance, I know the cost has been covered;
for you are with me;
    your torque wrench and your lift platform— they comfort me.
You bang out my dents and mend my scratches,
In front of those who treat me with disdain.
You keep my fluids filled,
    My belts are tightened.
Certainly safety and stability will pursue me on all of my expeditions,
And I shall ride in the chariot of the Lord forever.

            We are invited, again and again, into a banquet of rejoicing, reunion, and re-formation. We are clothed in Christ’s faithfulness. We are dancing in the Spirit. In the next week, I encourage to think out your metaphor of who the Lord is to you, where you see God’s work, and to say, “Yes. Amen. Yes.” to the invitation of relationship with your Creator in loving yourself, your neighbor, and your God.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Pirate's Guide to Lutheran Bible Interpretation

A Pirate’s Guide to Lutheran Bible Interpretation

1. The LAW makes ye feel keelhauled. The GOSPEL makes ye feel like LAND-HO!

          - Lutheran pirates read the Bible with awareness of law and gospel.

- The law is the part of Scripture that makes us aware of our need for grace. The law makes us aware of our tendency to MUTINY (our brokenness).

- Grace is the part of Scripture that shows us how God heals and forgives our mutinous tendencies and works to heal us from them.

- The law is not “bad” and grace is not “good”. They go together.

- The wise Lutheran pirate knows that law can be found in calm waters (in the gospels and in other places) and gospel can be found in stormy seas (in hard passages to read and understand).

2.      Image result for cross image  marks the spot.

- The pirate’s Bible is a Jesus book. It’s not for recipes or instructions for swabbing the deck. It doesn’t show how to use the stars for navigation or which kind of fish are okay to eat.

- The Lutheran pirate looks at the whole Bible with a Jesus lens. The parts of the Bible that precede the Gospels reveal God’s character and what pirates (people) are like. These writings help the faithful pirate understand God’s history and navigation plan for God’s crew. Jesus is the eternal First Mate who was sent to set the crew and any would-be pirates back on the right course.

3. Use yer Bible to understand yer Bible.  

- Non-pirates refer to this as “Scripture interprets Scripture.”

- This means that when a pirate is confused, she uses the whole Bible to figure out what to do, not just one verse all by itself.
- For example, the Bible says, “Slaves, obey your human masters with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ.” Eph. 6:5
If the Bible says this, be it lawful for the pirate ship to keep some swabbies around with no pay, even with pretty good hardtack? Can the cap’n own them?

- Other parts of the Bible discuss loving mercy (Micah 6:8), doing unto others as you would have them do to you (Matthew 7:12), and following the law of love (Romans 13:8-9). The Lutheran pirate sees that the larger view of the Bible does not favor holding captives and enslaving them.

4. Thar be NO secret treasures in them thar stories.

- The Lutheran pirate looks for the plain meaning of the text.

- He might need some context for a story or a cultural frame of reference to help.

- However, there are not secret treasure maps hidden in Jesus’ parables. The story of the prodigal son is about a landlubber with 2 ungrateful crew members and their actions. You don’t have to be a Lutheran pirate to understand the story at its plainest meaning. You don’t even have to be a pirate.

- The pirate uses common sense when reading her Bible. A miracle is a miracle. A parable is a story. An event is a memory or a retelling from people who knew people who were there.  Pirates might disagree, but that’s no reason to divide the crew. There are metaphors AND literal actions.

5. Avast! Ye need a crew!

- Lutheran pirates don’t keep their Bibles in their bunks and never talk about them.

- A good captain encourages pirates to read their Bibles at home AND during crew meetings. No pirates should read the Bible alone and expect to come to an (a)vastly personal revelation of the Big Captain (God) speaking only to them through a Scripture.

- A personal reading of Scripture can move a pirate! However, yer Bible is the same words that have been given to all pirates. There’s no special messages for just ye!

- That’s why a crew (a group or congregation) matters for public interpretation. Pirates weigh their experience and learning of Scripture within and against the community experience where Jesus, First Mate and Pirate Pioneer, has promised to join them!

Now yer ready to read that Bible! Swab the poop deck first, pirate! 

Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Crazy Vineyard Owner

Isaiah 5:1-7; Matthew 21: 33-46

            Let’s assume that the plain metaphor of this parable is as follows: God is the householder, the landowner of the vineyard. The first messengers are the prophets. The son is the Son, Jesus. The wicked tenets are the temple leaders who have forgotten their responsibility to the householder/landowner. The people who be given the vineyard are those who follow Jesus, regardless of the their ethnicity or tribal heritage.

            Is God naïve? Why would God send Jesus, knowing the treatment the prophets had received? Why did God send more than, let’s say, three prophets. If the people refused to hear or follow them, with disastrous consequences for the prophets, why didn’t God quit? And why send the Son?

            Pausing to reflect that the author of the gospel was not a reporter on the spot, but someone making sense of oral and written traditions some forty to fifty years old, this story is written to reflect what has happened in the community of those who followed Jesus. Some were rejected from temple fellowship. Some have been killed. Rome has destroyed Jerusalem by razing it- temple and all- to the ground.

            If God was already able to perceive by the time of Isaiah that people do not want to bear the cost of discipleship, the work of tending the vineyard of creation, then why did God keep trying?

            Perhaps the pursuit of reconciliation is fundamentally God’s nature. Not wrath, not grace without cost, not mere redemption, but reconciliation- the repair of the relationship and the restoration of its promises. The culture of the time of Jesus focuses on shame and honor. When we read a story from this period and this location, we look to see who would have expected honor and who would have received shame. A householder, the owner of the vineyard, would not have been remiss in sending his son because the tenets would have been expected to honor the son. It’s not naïveté, but the cultural reality that underscores this story. The tenets don’t inherit and they should honor the son, as a stand-in for the father, as the flesh of the father, as the father standing before them.

            The fact that they don’t is not a reflection on God’s character, but on the character of people, on our own character.  The truth is that we, as people, are fundamentally naïve in our perception of the world, our lives, our communities as belonging to us. We think of the hours, sweat, energy that we have put into work, home life, families, relationships… they are ours. When we are supposed to give all glory to God, to the Spirit, to Christ… we feel a little irritated.

            Where’s my credit? Why isn’t there acknowledgement of my work? Why can’t I just bask in the glory for one minute? Because it’s not your vineyard. It’s not my vineyard. It’s not false modesty or self-deprecation to say, “God helped me” or “I couldn’t have done it without Christ”. It’s the truth. The hard truth. The costly truth of grace.

            God is not naïve. God is wily. God has pursued the world at high cost, the death of Jesus on the cross, being the highest price. God still pursues, still seeks relationship. God is still about grace that allows us the gift of caring for, of stewarding, creation- plants, animals, people, the Way of Christ (all in our care). We cannot be naïve enough to claim sole credit for this work and believe ourselves to be in right relationship with God.

            The hardest task we face, day by day, in remembering our baptisms, in living into communion and community, is accepting the reality that this is not our vineyard, that we are workers in God’s creation, that the kingdom and the power and the glory are his- now and forever. (And they always have been.) This is the cost of grace, of acknowledging the relationship, of accepting the truth about God’s power and person.

            What will it look like to acknowledge God’s hand in all the areas of your life- especially the areas that you don’t normally associate with faith? What will it be like to realize that God’s pursuit of reconciliation with you, with all creation, happens mainly beyond these walls? What will it be like, this week, and in all that follow- to step out in faith, to be embraced by grace, and to serve others while saying, “This is God’s vineyard.”


Friday, October 3, 2014

I Feel Petty


When you grew exasperated with Peter or James and John,

If Johanna and Susanna were a bit too loud,

Or the Magdalene and Thomas wondering about things totally out of reach…

What did you do?

Did you look heavenward, in whichever direction that is,

And say, “What were You thinking?”

Did you disappear to the necessary,

Only to be found later- a few miles out of town?

When I go to the dark of the supply closet, a prayer space,

When I am fleeing gossip, petty grievances, and your beloveds, but not mine right

I wonder what you did.

Here we are, together, in the quiet.

Even with no sounds, I hear you telling me that

The candles, the carpet, the coffee,

They’re not actually part of the yoke.

Don’t let them become more than they are.

Do the necessary. Take the walk.

And remember that you’re with me.

And I am not you.





Reblogged from RevGalBlogPals.  

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

No Christian Autopilot

Matthew 21:23-32; Psalm 25:1-9; Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32

            What does that proverb means at the beginning of the Ezekiel text, “That the parents have eaten sour grapes and the children’s teeth are set on edge”? The Israelite people saying it in the reading are asserting that they have been brought into exile in Babylon because of their parents’ sins. The truth that the prophet is making clear to those who will hear him is that both parents and children suffer from their own mistakes.

            God makes clear that there is no rejoicing in heaven over the death of anyone, particularly not those who have turned away from the embrace of grace. The openness of grace, God’s grace, is such that no generation can separate another from it. The embrace of God’s love is not earned, but it must be experienced. The acceptance of what God has done for anyone of us is reflected in living a holy life. This is what Ezekiel is urging the Israelites toward in this passage.

            Turning to Matthew, the temple leaders have begun to take for granted that their titles reflect God’s view of them- rather than understanding that they are the stewards, the caretakers of God’s people. It is very important to remember that all kinds of people, throughout history, (up to and including a wide variety of religious leaders) have been very protective of what they deem their God-given rights and duties.

            Frankly, it doesn’t matter what Jesus says to them at this point. They are afraid of how he will disrupt the system that feeds them and gives them power. They have forgotten what it means to be chosen representatives of the power of God in the world, what it means to be called to witness to the power of the Creator’s wisdom, might, and mercy.

            Jesus knows this and they realize it, but most of them are not willing to go back, to repent, to refocus on what it means to be humble, acting justly, and pursuing mercy. They say the words, but they do not do the deeds. The embrace of God’s love is not earned through the right formula of words or deeds, but it must be experienced through trust and faithful living. The acceptance of what God has done for any one of us is reflected in working out a holy life in love and service.

            What does this mean for us? There is no such thing as Christian autopilot. We cannot come here, say the right words, eat the right things, sing the right tunes, and go out assured of God’s presence in our lives. That presence comes not from what we do or don’t do, but through God’s promise.

            We must examine ourselves, our lives, our priorities. Are we just saying the words about loving our neighbor without doing the work of forgiving, not gossiping, offering help, comfort, or prayer? Do we blame previous generations for the messes around us without acknowledging our own sins? Do we enjoy our comforts, our places, our familiarities so much that what is new is automatically suspicious and irritating?

            It is never too late to refocus, to repent, to reform… There is time to be the one who does go and do the work, regardless of the words that may have been said in the past. The embrace of God’s love is not earned. It experienced through trust and faithful living. The acceptance of what God has done for any one of us is reflected in working out a holy life in love and service and knowing that we do not go out alone.