Category Archives: Lectionary

Ash Wednesday & Lent 2011

Ash Wednesday – March 9, 2011

Our Shepherd Lutheran Church – Severna Park, MD

For the next 40 days, you are invited to live your life as if your life matters.  You didn’t expect me to say that did you?  Let me say it again.  For the next 40 days, you are invited to live your life as if your life matters.

You received a reminder of your mortality on your forehead just minutes ago.  You heard the words, “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”  As I see it, you have a couple of choices.  Live your life as if your mortality is a far off into the future slight possibility.  Or, live your life as if your life matters, precisely because you are mortal.

What people want me to do today is to be a cheerleader.  You are giving up chocolate for Lent?  Great!  You can do it for 40 days.  It will be hard.  Hang in there.  You can do it.  It is only 40 days.  Think of the reward at the end!  It will be worth it.

I can’t do that.  I’d rather turn in my pastor card.

Let me tell you something else you might not expect me to say.  What we do during Lent is never meant to be temporary.  That’s right.  If you are living this season as it is intended and you are giving up, oh let’s say chocolate for Lent, then when Easter arrives, there will be no chocolate Easter bunnies for you.  Why play like Lent means nothing?  Why decide to ignore the call Jesus issues to obedience?

Live your life as if your life matters.  Lent is a time for renewal.  Lent is a time to take on some spiritual disciplines that make sense 24/7/52/lifetime.  Lent is a time for making sure the “whenevers” of Matthew’s Gospel are part of who we are.

Whenever you give alms.  Whenever you pray.  Whenever you fast.

Jesus doesn’t say, if you give alms, if you pray, if you fast.  He doesn’t say when you take the time to give alms, pray, or fast.  The expectation is that these three are all done, all the time, unnoticed by others, because this is what people of faith do when they are living their lives as if their life matters.

Whenever you care for the needs of others … just do it without fanfare or recognition.  It’s what people of God do.

Whenever you pray to align yourself with God … just do it without any need for recognition.  It’s what people of God do.

Whenever you deny the temptations that draw you away from God … just do it without needing to draw attention to yourself.  It’s what people of God do.

If you give alms, pray, and fast only during Lent, isn’t that really drawing attention to these practices and that you are something special during Lent?

Sorry if what I’m saying is messing up your plans for Lent.  I simply want you to live your life as if your life matters.  Why trivialize it?  Why make this 40 day time mean so little?

The church I served in Johnstown invites people to use self-denial envelopes during Lent.  I think they are asking either 25 cents or $1 per day as a means of self-denial.  Horse feathers!  You want to give alms, or to use this as self-denial … what about giving a full tithe during Lent if you’ve never done this before?  More than a tithe if you already tithe.  Maybe an even amount … say $80-100 a week.  A quarter a week?  Nonsense.  Live as if your life matters.

Pull out a 1 minute devotion and pray daily during Lent?  Ok, I suppose that’s a start.  Phfff.  Write a devotion daily, pray each hour on the hour for 5 minutes, memorize scripture … maybe a couple of chapters, read 20 pages of scripture a day, read a Gospel book a week and cycle through them twice during Lent.  All of this is prayer.  All of this addresses a whenever.  Live as if your life matters.

Don’t eat meat on Fridays, but instead go to some fish fry or seafood place?  When did that ever get to be equated with fasting?  Stop pretending!  Do you really need more than 1500-2000 calories a day, ever?  Have you ever considered eating a restricted calorie diet because it is the right thing to do, because over-consumption of everything is an American anti-Christian attitude?  Does our gluttony say something about how we see ourselves as entitled?  Is entitlement a Christian virtue?  Live your life as if it matters.

There are a lot more examples.  You can use Lent as a trivial venture into pretending that we are mortal.  Or you can use Lent as if you really get your mortality and live as if your life matters.  What you do has an impact on the world, on the people around you, on you, and on your relationship with God.

For the next 40 days, you are invited to live your life as if your life matters … and then …

Amen

“They have no wine.”

As I stepped deeply into John 2:1-11 this week preparing to preach, I was drawn to the words of the mother of Jesus.

“They have no wine.”

“Do whatever he tells you.”

What a great model for prayer!

Too, often, when we pray we dictate the terms of the prayer.  I want you to do this, this way, in this time.  Micro-managing God?  Demonstrating lack of trust in God?  Limiting how God works?  Yes. Yes. Yes.

Mary’s words, if understood as prayer, models laying the need at the feet of Jesus and trusting enough to do whatever he tells us to do.

Wow!

Pondering Pastor

Anxiety and Fear (Reflections on Advent 1C)

The Gospel lessons for the first Sunday in Advent have apocalyptic themes and in preparation for preaching I wandered around the internet to experience some of what people are writing about the chaos that is and is to come.  I couldn’t disconnect fast enough … and was strangely drawn to more.

The movie 2012 was as good a place to start as any, which soon led me to www.december212012.com.  Talk about dusting off all sorts of familiar themes.  In the mid-late 1980’s, I had an employer who started to talk about polar shifts and coming disasters.  He and another staff member quit their jobs, bought a farm in Iowa, equipped it for the coming catastrophe, and taught seminars about surviving the coming apocalypse.  He died never seeing the events he anticipated.  This website collects disparate “predictions” and pulls them all together. I’m a reasonable person, and I found myself starting to think about steps to survive the coming disaster.  (Prudent preparation makes sense and I have some emergency response items already stockpiled … more for our frequent power outages than anything else.)

I read about graffiti on the bathroom wall in a High School.  “It sucks to be in the class of 2013 … what’s the point?” (Referring to the “end of the world” in 2012.)

I encountered the Psalm 109:8 “prayer for President Obama” movement.  In case you haven’t heard about this one,  people are encouraged to pray “for” President Obama using Psalm 109:8 “May his days be few; may another seize his position.”  Plenty has been written in outrage about this prayer, especially in light of the verses which follow: “May his children be orphans, and his wife a widow.  May his children wander about and beg; may they be driven out of the ruins they inhabit.  May the creditor seize all that he has; may strangers plunder the fruits of his toil.  May there be no one to do him a kindness, nor anyone to pity his orphaned children.  May his posterity be cut off; may his name be blotted out in the second generation.”  I don’t believe that’s what Jesus meant when he instructed us to “pray for your enemies”.

From there my wandering spun completely out of control, and I felt like I was in a dark alley, late at night, ready to be mugged.  I got out of there as fast as I could.

Don’t people get that apocalyptic literature is a word of hope?  Oh, that’s right, if we are Biblical literalists then these are predictions of actual events rather than poetic imagry to describe a world that seems stacked against us!  The way I read Luke 21:25-36 gives me encouragement.  By listening to and following Christ, I don’t have to wring my hands at the sexually-charged singing/dancing of Adam Lambert, or drag myself into a survivalist camp armed to the teeth against the world.  God’s purposes will be fulfilled even in the face of those things which seem opposed to God.  In Christ’s power, we will live an alternative reality that flows alongside chaos.  The good news is that even though it seems as though evil wins … it cannot.  That theme is persistent in Luke/Acts.  Why, I think that it makes a lot of sense to invite people I care about into that same alternative reality.

Take a breath folks.  Christ is alive.  Now, let’s get busy living the alternative reality feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the imprisoned, and giving drink to the thirsty.

Pondering Pastor

Gifted floral designers

We are gifted to have as part of the congregation I serve, people who look at the lessons and attempt to make the flowers aid in communicating the Gospel.  Last Sunday was Pentecost.  The liturgical color of the day is red, and so one would expect red carnations as part of the floral arrangements in worship.  Our floral designers go one better.

Pentecost Floral Arrangement

Pondering Pastor

When tradition makes it hard to hear scripture

The Gospel lesson for Epiphany Sunday is one that has more extra-scriptural tradition than usual. The story is actually pretty sparse.

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” 3When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: 6’And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.'” 7Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” 9When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

So, looking at the text itself, answer the following questions.

1. How many “wise men” visited Herod and the Christ child?
2. What were their names?
3. What country did they come from?
4. What did they find in Bethlehem?
5. Who did they find in the stable?
6. How old was the Christ child?

Yes, trick questions all.

1. There is no indication of how many “magi” there were. There were three gifts, so many assume three “wise men”, but the text does not tell us.
2. Tradition holds that their names were Melchior, Gaspar (or Caspar), and Balthasar, but again the text does not say.
3. We don’t know where they were from, except from the East.
4. We don’t really know if they made it to Bethlehem. They were sent there, but the star led them to the place where the child was.
5. They entered a house. According to the text, the Holy Family was no longer in a stable!
6. Again, no clue from the text. Herod later orders the death of all the children in Bethlehem under the age of 2 (or those who are young enough to still be nursing).

It makes you want to rethink the manger scene, doesn’t it?

Pondering Pastor

Blogging the Lectionary: November 11, 2007

Lectionary 32: Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Luke 20:27-38

27Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to him 28and asked him a question, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. 29Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; 30then the second 31and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. 32Finally the woman also died. 33In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her.”34Jesus said to them, “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; 35but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. 36Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. 37And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. 38Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.”

Initial Review

Jesus is in Jerusalem (Palm Sunday events happen in Chapter 19).  So we have an event happening during the week leading up to the crucifixion.

I often get the kinds of questions the Sadducees ask Jesus.  They are questions that can’t be answered directly because the question assumes a perspective that I might not share.  Those who are answered often complain that I didn’t really answer the question, when I really can’t.  The Sadducees ask a question that can either be understood as “entrapment” or “a polemic” against resurrection.  It might be considered rhetorical because it can be heard as saying, “Look, the whole resurrection question is ridiculous because why would God let this kind of conflict or problem arise?”

There is the additional problem that the understanding of “everlasting life” in the days of Moses was that we live eternally through our children (specifically sons).  As the “name” is carried on into the future, the “father” lives on.  So at one level we have conflicting understandings of what resurrection/eternal life means.

I fully expect questions arising out of this lectionary reading about heaven and resurrection and what we might expect.

The second part of the answer of Jesus takes some unpacking.   If, as the Sadducees believe, there is no resurrection and once people are dead … they are dead (nothing), then the active statement of God to Moses at the burning bush about being the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would mean that God was the God of nothing.  If God is to be God of something, then those people must be alive to God.  (Not the way I think … but then I’m not Jesus.)

So, as usual on Monday, I’m not sure where to take this on Sunday.  I could talk about resurrection, heaven, or eternal life.  I suspect people have a lot of questions about that … but will there be enough answers to preach?

Pondering Pastor

Blogging the Lectionary II (10/21/07)

After my initial work earlier in the week, I’ve got some ideas forming as I begin to move into sermon writing mode.

Once again, the Gospel text: Luke 18:1-8

Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’” And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

The Old Testament Lesson is the story of Jacob wrestling with the “angel” in Genesis 32:22-31.

The Psalm is 121 “I lift my eyes to the hills …”

The focus of all three is clearly about prayer. Prayer is one of those topics that is a challenge to people. If you believe that God controls everything … why pray? If God doesn’t control everything … why pray? What good is praying, many people will ask … even very faithful people.

O. Hallesby’s book, Prayer contains two chapters on “Wrestling in Prayer”.

I really think that the parable of the widow and the unjust judge can be a distraction to the purpose of the parable. The Gospel writer says that Jesus told the parable about their need to pray always and not lose heart. People are more likely to be persistent when they feel they’ve been treated unjustly (by companies, or in relationships) than in prayer. How much more is God the loving father willing to bring justice than even an unjust judge who is worn down by persistence.

A lingering question that may form the basis of a sermon is “How can you pray when …?”

Mother Theresa struggled with the very same question. The book of her private letters reveals that her private prayer life was non-existent for long stretches, and that the only prayer she was engaged in was the corporate prayer of worship and her order.

As usual, I’ll be interested to see where I’m led this week as I prepare the sermon.

Pondering Pastor

This link takes you to the sermon