Monday, May 30, 2005

Pentecost 3, RCL lessons for Sunday, June 5, 2005

First Reading: Hosea 5:15-6:6:
verse 5:15 - "return to the Lord" - Going away and coming back seems to be a persistent pattern in life, at least in my life. Unlike many people, including my own children, I grew up in one place, a farm in NC where my mother still lives, and where my father was born and where he was still living when he died at the age of 80. That house and farm have been a symbol to me of my going and returning to many things over the years. I left the somewhat hard-nosed fundamentalism of my youth to wander around in all sorts of 70's liberalism and so-called spiritualities. And I have returned to a form of Christian Orthodoxy that is very like what I left, and also very unlike it. And, the fundamentalism of my youth is not there to be returned to; it too has changed, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worst. What was it another North Carolina Mountain boy said, "You can't go home again."
This is because even if you do, home will have changed enough that the "home" you remember will not be there.

Our Spiritual problem is that we keep trying to go "home" to some symbol of God, some remembrance of home, some way of being Christian that made sense to us once. and we can't, because "home" is not there anymore. We're different and the world is different. We can't go "home", we can't go back to the church of our youth, but we can return to the Lord, for the Lord is the same "yesterday, today and tommorrow". Verse 6:6 reminds us that God desires steadfast love, not the same old rituals and sacrifices. That word steadfast is one of my favorite Bible words. Steadfast, unmoved, always there, constant through it all. That is the Lord to whom we can return at any time.

Second Reading: Romans 4:13-25
verse 22: "his faith was reckoned to him as righteousness"
It was only when I got to college that I discovered that "reckon" was considered an unusual word for normal conversation. I thought everybody used it. I said it and heard it several dozen times a day. "Daddy, you reckon you'll be going to town today?", "I reckon so", "You reckon I could go with you?" "I reckon so."

So, the whole business of having faith "reckoned as righteousness" made pretty good sense to me. I could see God looking at me, considering my case, taking off his hat, scratching his head, looking up at the sky, adding up all the plusses and minuses, thinking of my good points and bad points, then glancing over to his Son Jesus, who sort of grins and raises an appropriate eyebrow, signaling that I'm one of his, then God looks back at me, and slowly smiles and says, "I reckon you can go (into the Kingdom)."

Well, it makes sense to me.

Gospel: Matthew 9:9-13, 18-26
Two stories, both true.
TAX COLLECTORS. Gov. Sundquist of TN was a Lutheran. He occasionally attended Christ Lutheran in Nashville. One Sunday Christ Lutheran was having an ecumenical service with the Baptist Church down the street. The Service was at Christ, the Baptist minister did the preaching. This was the text. The Preacher asked the Rhetorical Question, "Anybody here like Tax Collectors?" One man, the governor, raised his hand. The preacher didn't recognize him. He said, "Man, you must work for the government."
The congregation didn't stop laughing for five minutes. The Preacher only started laughing after the service, when he was introduced to the governor.

HEALING: A few years ago I was invited to preach at Christus Victor Lutheran Church in Ocean Springs, MS. This was the text. I requested that we do a healing service that day to go with the text. In the Lutheran Church, a healing service involves anointing with oil and laying on of hands at the altar while hymns are sung. Though they had held healing services on weekdays before, the church had never had one at the main service. But we went ahead and it went smoothly at all three services, one Saturday night and two Sunday morning. A few weeks later the pastor called to tell me a story. He had just talked to a visitor whose first Suday had been the Sunday I was there for the healing services. The man told him, "I just recently got out of a drug and alcohol rehab program. I'm in a halfway house here within walking distance of your church. I had never been to a Lutheran church before, but like I said, you were close enough to walk. I went to early service, and when people came down for healing, I did too, because I thought that's what Lutherans did, and I didn't want to stick out. You asked me what I needed healed and I say PRAY TO REMOVE MY ADDICTIONS. After Service, somebody invited me to Sunday School and after Sunday School, somebody invited me to the Congregational Dinner, so I read in the church Library during Second Service, then I went to the Lunch, so I didn't get back to my room until 3:00 PM or so.

I walked in my room and saw my overflowing ashtray and realized I hadn't had a cigarette since before early service. I lit one up. Pastor, it tasted awful and I spit it out. Then I remembered. You prayed to heal me of my addictions. I was pretty mad. I yelled at God, I DIdN'T MEAN SMOKING. I LIKE SMOKING.

At last report, he was still mad, still not smoking, and still Lutheran.

To post a comment, click on the word comments below, thank you.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Pentecost 2

First Reading: Deuteronomy 11:18-21, 26-28;

1) A blessing and a curse: Way too often we Christians read the Hebrew Scriptures with what I call pseudo-Pauline eyes. we read the words of verse 26 and we think
legalism, works righteousness, etc. What if we looked at these verses not as prophetic but as predictive, in an if this, then that manner. For example, when I told one of my sons if you touch the stove, you will get burned, that's not legalism, that's just truth telling. In the same way, to say if you follow God's commandments, you will be blessed, and if you don't you will suffer is basically a statement of fact. The problem comes when we consider the blessing and the curse as reward or punishment for obedience or rebellion rather than as the natural outgrowth of our actions. The Law was given to the people as a gift, as a way to live, not as a burden.
It is our bent-ness, our tendency to twist and turn things while seeking an advantage, which has turned the law away from its intended purpose and made it into an onerous duty.

2)"other gods" - Martin Luther, in his Large Catechism, on the First Commandment, says, "A "god" is the term for that to which we are to look for all good and in which we are to find refuge in all need. Therefore, to have a god is nothing else than to trust and believe in that one with your whole heart . . .Anything on which your heart relies and depends, I say, that is really your god." Hmm. Who or what are our gods today? Upon whom or what do we rely and depend?

Second Reading: Romans 1:16-17; 3:22b-28

1) "not ashamed of the gospel" but I think some times, often times, I am. Not ashamed really, but protective; like for a somewhat eccentric but loveable old Aunt or an iracible old Uncle. When I'm alone with my faith, I draw comfort from its ancient and tattered truths, its quaint way of putting things, its refusal to stay modern and up-to-date. I enjoy it's diatribes against modernity and hipness, it's eccentric obliviousness to the latest things, or how it is percieved by others.

But then, I go out in public with my faith, in public with cool, hip, with it, intelligent, secular, reasonable people and I get a little protective/ashamed of Uncle Faith, of Aunt Gospel. I explain them to others, I make excuses for them, I back away from them and even distance myself from them. How to get comfortable with my faith at all times, what a struggle.

2) Verse 24 - "justified by his grace as a gift" One of the coolest things I ever learned about the word justified is that it is the term printers use for making the right side of a printed page line up just like the left side. It's called justifying the type. And here is the homiletical point. we sometimes act as though justification were a theological fiction. God just looks at us and sees that we are sinners, but because God loves us, God forgives our sins and declares us righteous. But the idea of justifying the type helps us think about another side to this. Just like the printer actually makes the right side of the page even, God actually makes us righteous as a part of our justification; God makes us into the thing he declres us to be.

Gospel Reading: Matthew 7:21-29

1) "only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven." Okay, fine. But what is God's will? For me? Today? How do I find this out? Is it encoded in the Bible and if I go to enough Bible studies finally somebody, sometime, will let me in on the secret?
Is it to be found through the right prayer technique? Centering Prayer? Journaling?
Labyrinths? Listening to Praise Band CDs while sitting crosslegged on the floor under a pyramid of crosses? What? How?

Admittedly, there are times when a special word would be helpful. Buy this house?Marry this man? Take this job? Turn left here? But for the most part we don't need personalized messages to know God's will. That's what we went to Sunday School for. That's why they made us learn the Ten Commandments and the Lord's Prayer and the Apostles' Creed. Most of what we need to know is right there. Most of the time most of us know what we should do, how we should act. That's the easy part.
The hard part is having the moral courage to do it in a world and as part of a culture which more and more pulls us in other directions. Which is why we need the church, the Rock, the place to stand with others who will remind us of our commitments and
will support us in our struggle to live by the will of the Father.