Monday, June 27, 2016

Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

Year C - Pentecost+7 or Community Practice+7
July 3, 2016

A next try for Jesus Messengers.

We have just heard of post-Transfigurational attempts to live out Jesus’ focus on engaging G*D closely enough that it will change the way we interact with one another. First a failed healing (9:40). This is followed with failed learning by failing to ask clarifying questions (9:45) and vying for institutional bragging rights of succession (9:46). There is an attempt to blame another so I’ll look better (9:49). Last week it was messengers sent ahead to reprise the blame game with harm being added to accusation and excuses aplenty (9:51-62).

After all this Jesus tries girding the disciples in nothing but one another. This seems to have had some effect as they report out of joy rather than status. Apparently healings are now possible and there is a brief respite from the internecine behavior previously evidenced (and still evident today).

End of the story here is, “Rejoice in nothing.” Read that again. Again.

Know that what follows (10:21-24) is Jesus’ closet prayer that the slow-of-head-and-heart had a moment of glimpsing something larger—the importance of nothing. We won’t get to this in the lectionary in a following week, so it will be important to acknowledge here that this gets turned from insight into a doctrine of exclusiveness, contrary to the parentheses of “nothing” that bracket this story. This is fair warning to warn that triumphalism lurks everywhere and is a dead-end—attractive but idolatrous.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Luke 9:51-62

Year C - Pentecost+6 or Community Practice+6
June 26, 2016

This pericope will be the text of my final Sunday time at a 9-month return to the pastoral ministry. 

"As the time approached when Wesley was to be re-retired, he determined to follow a vision of Peace Beyond Understanding too easily translated into religious idolatry of place. "Who knows whether I will be more preaching to myself or to the congregation.

The messengers developed from a 9-month run (some leaving, some joining in) will be entering known difficulties that will put them on edge and doubt their work of preparation. Their temptation will be that of every thwarted suitor or missionary: consign an ideal but reluctant beloved to whatever is meant by hell.

By our very ardor we are spoken to as sternly as we desired to strike others. It will be important to spend time here imaging what “stern words” Jesus used. As quiet as those words may have been (remember how proactive Jesus was with the Gerasene and how gently he left that land when rejected), they were remembered as very bracing indeed. What is more important than winning or revenge? Of such did Jesus speak?

The following interactions reinforce a difficulty with dealing with a weak Jesus not needing an American style of fantasized success: power, money, fame. These reprise the mistake of the messengers asked to prepare a community for a non-Messiah.

First we hear, “I’ll follow by preparing a way.” And Jesus says, “You prepared for the wrong thing. There is no expectation of results or you will be as disappointed as pigs in non-houses make of sticks.

Secondly, we hear Jesus repeating the request to be messengers, none-the-less. And the erstwhile messengers are revealed in their priority to meet social norms before their work of preparation beyond the limits of today. It is to this subtle idolatry of comfortability that Jesus reminds us that there is no returning to any past glory to arrive at new life. Burial is no way to get to resurrection. Resurrection is a state of being ready in this moment, not the painting of a pre-numbered outline. "Your preparation for me is to tell of your own healing and already resurrection in the midst of a dead culture."

In good story-telling fashion, we return to point one and bring in point two. This drives home the message that there is no going home again (Yes, browse your Thomas Wolfe again), there is no stopping of time, particularly with Jesus, for anything that smacks of settling for this reward, that contingency, or some other partiality.

Friends, we don’t stop to settle scores. We advance where we can, We take our lumps. We continue telling new stories until they arrive and build a framework for a next tale less full of sound and fury.

= = = = = = =

time creeps up
on silent paws
as we prepare
for what can’t be
prepared for

in final moments
we set our answer
to a misheard call
mistaking endings
for a begining

and in this mismatch
have ready excuses
why prepartions
need not engage
our life’s story

we miss an arc
and settle for storm
disappointed preparations
follow following and more
preparations anew

Friday, June 10, 2016

Galatians 2:15-21

Year C - Pentecost+4 or Community Practice+4
June 12, 2016

The faithfulness of Jesus here equates to the grace of G*D. Faithfulness is thus parallel to Grace. This is a worthy comparison to contemplate over time.

Play with the 60’s song I Fought the Law and the Law Won. Is this the same as Paul’s, “I died to the Law through the Law...” This loss could very well be a crucifixion similar to every other conversion experience that moves from what appears to be a losing proposition to an expected winning side.

A question for Paul is why the issue of righteousness remains so important if we are working by grace rather than law. Grace doesn’t line up as well with righteousness as does Law.

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Psalm 5:1-8

Year C - Pentecost+4 or Community Practice+4
June 12, 2016

A Psalm for the Flutes. Flutes are ancient instruments of hearing again a creative breath moving over the deep in tones too precious to be turned into everyday words. Here we move from groans to clarity by way of the lens of enemies.

Consider the gift of your enemies that refine your being. Can you hear that far-off song hailing yet another creation? Thank a flautist for momentarily embodying this ancient tune and do your very best to return these weary and wobbly words to a breath over a hole.

For the moment I will refrain from adding one more word about this portion of Psalm the Fifth. Listen behind the words.

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

1 Kings 21:1-21a

Year C - Pentecost+4 or Community Practice+4
June 12, 2016

When was the last time a king wanted someone’s vineyard to turn it into a vegetable garden? I don’t know of anyone who has suggested that Ahab was vegan. Ordinarily we would expect a king to commandeer any number of humble gardens to be torn up for the production of an award-winning wine.

This is a fine lead into yet another reversal wherein Ahab is undone and all his feasts will be consumed by others. It is important to hear this all the way to the end of verse 21 and not stop with a generalized judgment.

For all those in and out of pulpits—be sure to emphasize verses 20-21. This is the prelude to redemptive preaching—finally, nothing is hidden. May the confession shared on Sunday be recognizable in the real world of Monday through Saturday. Confessional code-language is not confessional.

Ahab sounds surprised, “So you’ve found me, my old enemy!” Yes, a sharp eye finds us where we thought we were safe. All the parsing and excusing we have done has come to naught. We have been found out and there is no escape; no grading on a curve; no do-overs.

No matter how well we think we have covered our tracks, we are the reason we were found. Our elan vital has been encumbered by our very attempts to guarantee our importance and success (idolatry) and we have no more energy to take another step. We are at the end of our rope and we know it. Whether we are caught with an evil evil, or karma has burst upon us, or we’ve lost our compassion and don’t know where to find it, we and our descendants are out of luck.

Ahab and those associated with him will not know what hit them.

And, yet, reversals are not done. When we read a bit further we find Ahab appearing as a traditional penitent. The very threat and judgment made against Ahab is delayed. Its a wonder that Elijah doesn’t pull a Jonah and become angry at G*D’s seeming mercy even after pronouncing doom.

- - - - - - -

How do you compare the woman in Luke and Ahab here? Do these stories lead to different or similar forgiveness? Just be careful here, for as you respond you will then have to enter a third comparison with yourself added in. Does this addition change your assessment of forgiveness?

Monday, June 06, 2016

Luke 7:36-8:3

Year C - Pentecost+4 or Community Practice+4
June 12, 2016

Luke 7:36-8:3

One of the organizations I participate in is Love Prevails, which has as its intention to disclose(t), divest, disrupt The United Methodist Church with the purpose of removing its sinful language (“homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching”) from the Book of Discipline.

In this 3-D behavior, Love Prevails is seen as sinful by this institution for it raises uncomfortable question through dis-orderly action. Who gets to label whom or what as sinful is a part of an on-going dispute that is generally won by an institution, only to have it repent of misrepresenting sin a century or more later.

To put any emphasis on the woman in the story as a sinner is to side with the institution. To use it in worship or a sermon fails to communicate the energy of the story. All too many will buy the hearing of “sinner” as her descriptor as a fact. Just because Jesus has the word “sinner” also put in his mouth is not warrant to continue the falsehood. Note simply in Chapter 8 that women were always a part of Jesus band and so had no trouble learning where Jesus was. The storyteller could have cast this quite differently as a planned disruptive event intended to divest the institution from its forgiveness monopoly by disclosing an open availability of community life together (where forgiveness, like mercy, must always be presumed).

Try substituting different ways of describing the woman: “audacious”, “purple-wearing”, “in cahoots with Jesus”, “purposefully disruptive”, “wise one”, “saint”, etc. See what this does to Jesus’ response if he doesn’t buy into the institutional sin language. Might we hear him first say, “Thank you” or “Well done” or “Fear not” or simply “Live in peace” without tacking faith on as faith was also lacking as a category in the story from Nain last week?

If you need justification for any alternative reading, return to the verse just before this pericope, 7:35, “Wisdom is available in all her children/friends”. We are now dealing with a wise woman.

Thursday, June 02, 2016

Galatians 1:11-24

Year C - Pentecost+3 or Community Practice+3
June 5, 2016

The more militant one is in a single tradition, the more one is set up to overthrow it as there is no end to militancy than revolution.

That to which one is militantly opposed becomes the next best opportunity to be hyper-militant. There is not much a convert won’t do to prove the importance of their conversion. This new arena is also where one can rise to the top most quickly without competing with layer upon layer of tradition.

The credentialing process in a new endeavor is relatively easy to navigate—just claim it. Even where you aren’t known, claims about you can be used. The current political indeterminacy is a good place where we can simply plug and play any name you would care to put in place of Paul.

All of this is to raise a question from earlier: how many layers deep is the origin of “gospel”?

Is it not like an onion-shaped Rorschach game? Whatever layer you come to is never a beginning word. As long as it is a layer, it isn’t a beginning. Beginnings do not exist but insist on being revealed. Blessings on your humble militancy or militant humility that must jump categories or mold where it is.

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Psalm 146

Year C - Pentecost+3 or Community Practice+3
June 5, 2016

Focus on verses 6–9.

G*D (if G*D is definable) is not capturable by any detail or action. Every attempt to say what G*D is or is not is idolatrous. Even to say “maker of heaven and earth” is to fall prey to a conditionality for G*D. If G*D does not make what we project as a duality of heaven and earth, is G*D no longer G*D?

This also holds for our categorial imperative of faithfulness. When things break our way is G*D a micromanager to receive praise and if events go astray from our desire is that a test? Measuring never-ending time is a fool’s errand.

Justice qua justice may come close to something that can’t be broken apart and yet examples of justice are always prone to interpretation and contextualization. An insistent justice cannot be reduced to one or another position of hunger or prisoner release or anything else. Anything other than a justice not tied to a detail is a twisting and turning to justify our current understanding of fairness that breaks our way.

As we focus on praise it is important to remember that this is our category from the perspective of our past enthrallment with patriarchy and kings. Imagine G*D desireless of praise. What would that do to your theology?