Archive for February, 2010

Friday, February 26th Luke 13:31-35

February 26, 2010

At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’” Luke 13:31-35

Herod Antipas was the ruler of Galilee, the region where Jesus grew up. During his 40+ years in charge, Herod built two significant cities: Tiberias, his capital city on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, and Sepphoris, farther inland, just over the hill from Nazareth. It is inconceivable, being just two or three miles from Nazareth, that Jesus and his friends didn’t spend time watching the construction of Sepphoris.

Herod, being the officially Rome-authorized local Boss, could largely do whatever he wanted to do. Mostly he wanted to collect taxes, both to fuel his own appetites and to appease his Roman overlords. And, on the side, if he felt the urge to divorce his wife and marry his brother Phillip’s wife, Herodias, just because he could, who could stop him?

The gospels tell us that John the Baptist spoke out against Herod, particularly because Herod stole his brother’s wife. For that, John the Baptist was thrown into prison, and later, on a whim, beheaded. John the Baptist was Jesus’ cousin.

Jesus knew who Herod was for a long time. He knew exactly what Herod could do.

But he wasn’t afraid of him.

“Go and tell that fox for me…”

Jesus knows Herod, but more importantly, Jesus knows himself. He knows what he is about, what his life is about, and for all of their pomp, power and position, the Herod’s of life will not win anything.

Interesting, isn’t it, that it’s is a group of Pharisees who come to warn Jesus that Herod? What do you think – do you think these are friendly Pharisees who are thinking about the health and well being of Jesus…or are they merely savvy Pharisees who have so accommodated themselves to the places of power that Herod allows them to have that they don’t want Jesus raising a ruckus and spoiling a good thing?

Yeah, that’s what I think too.

So it makes us wonder – to what degree have we sold out to the safety and security to our place in the political/economic/class world that we fail to miss the revolutionary voice of Jesus on behalf of the broken, the hungry, the least and the lost?

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, even in the face of opposition and threat, Jesus never wavered from his mission in life. All the way to the humiliation and the torture of the cross. Never let us settle for the kind of faith that promises an easy life for us, but help us strive for the kind of faith that works for a better life for all. Now and in the life to come. In Jesus’ name. Amen.


Thursday, February 25th Luke 13:22-29

February 25, 2010

Jesus went through one town and village after another, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. Someone asked him, “Lord, will only a few be saved?” He said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able. When once the owner of the house has got up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then in reply he will say to you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’ But he will say, ‘I do not know where you come from; go away from me, all you evildoers!’ There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrown out. Then people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God. Indeed, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.” Luke 13:22-29

What do we do with these verses? How do we hear these scary words from Jesus?

Maybe you don’t hear them as scary.

“For many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able…”

“I do not know where you come from.”

“Go away from me, all you evildoers!”

“There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrown out.”

Personally, I find them scary.

Now I could get all “Lutheran” on you and explain how we listen to the Bible – listening for the Law which guides our lives and convicts us of sin, and the Gospel, which comforts us and gives us life. I really do read the Bible that way…but sometimes I get a bit suspicious about it. I wonder if the result is simply taming the experience of really hearing the text. Rather than letting the Word do its work on us, we just run for the hills of our theology.

Today, let’s hear the text. Jesus says here that we can miss the boat. We can be left behind. He is speaking with the voice of a prophet. The best way to listen to such a voice? LISTEN to it and act accordingly.

The Christian faith isn’t a word game. It is a transformed way of seeing and doing life. Today Jesus reminds us that there is a narrow way of life that is hard. Hard sometimes to find and hard always to follow. It means playing “Follow the Leader”…and we don’t get to be the leader. It means making choices in the best interests of someone else. It means sharing what we have. It means speaking up for those with no voice. It means living lives of courage, compassion, humility and patience – all of those aspects of our character which don’t feel like they come naturally.

When it comes to the Christian faith, we do well not to get caught up in heady games of intellectual conjecture, not to fixate on the splinter in our neighbor’s eye, not to hide behind walls of “us” versus “them”. The narrow way is a costly way.

The narrow way is love.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, it is frightening to imagine looking you in the eye and then hearing that we missed the boat. It is sad to think that anyone might have that experience. So we pray that you guide down the narrow path of discipleship, and that you fill our hearts with compassion for those who are lost, like sheep without a shepherd, those blindly stumbling down broad paths that promise life but lead to death. And when we are the lost ones, touch us with your love, forgive us, and bring us home. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Wednesday, February 24th Luke 13:18-21

February 24, 2010

He said therefore, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what should I compare it? It is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in the garden; it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.” And again he said, “To what should I compare the kingdom of God? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.” Luke 13:18-21

I can’t read these parables without seeing two images. One is walking through Denny Brewer’s cornfields, cutting off mustard plants close to the ground and carrying them to a big pile at the end of the field. Those mustard plants were big old useless weeds and he didn’t have any other way to get rid of them once the corn got to a certain height. I made a few dollars a day doing that but felt like a real farmer.

And the other is my dad telling me about how his mother baked bread every day. A farm wife, also a teacher in the local country school, she had a husband, a daughter, three strapping sons, and sometimes some extra hired hands to feed. Each and every day. And every day, she baked bread.

Mustard seeds and yeast are both small. Tiny. Obscure. That’s the surprise in the parables. For those tiny seeds produce big results. And so it is, the little movements, the whispers and twists, of the Kingdom of God often go unnoticed (always go unnoticed?) but something much bigger is at play. Like yesterday, we do well to see the bigger picture.

Take just a quiet moment now to think back across your life.

Notice the faces of the people who drift in and out, those people who made indelible marks upon your life. Consider the brief comments, the words here and there, that you can’t forget because they have become your purpose for being. So it is that the hand of God, the movement of the Kingdom, has come to you.

Still in that quiet moment, think about the day that stretches before you. How many moments will matter? Even carefully changing lanes with your blinker on in your daily commute does your part to ensure that those other drivers will also return home safely at the end of the day. The conversations you will have, the words you will hear and the wordless signs you can only see – the Spirit will attune your hearing so that you can be helpful to another. The quiet movements of the Kingdom.

And when you get discouraged and disconnected and wonder why you do what you do…remember those tiny seeds of God’s grace that have been planted deeply in you, and the firm reality of your ability and calling to plant such seeds in others.

So quiet. So tiny. So obscure. I’ll pick a date out of nowhere now – let’s say February 24th, 1951 – and I know right now that my grandma took out yeast the night before, she got up earlier than anyone else, to bake the bread for the day, raising the scent that woke up a household of hard working people on the North Dakota prairie – and here is her grandson, 59 years later, retelling her story, but recognizing in it God’s blessings of daily bread being poured out. God’s work. Her hands. The quiet movement of the Kingdom.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, we thank you for the tiny seeds of faith which have been and continue to be planted in our lives. We thank you for the people and the moments that have shaped us. May your Spirit flood us with encouragement to trust you and to do our part as we patiently live our lives. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Tuesday, February 23rd Luke 13:10-17

February 23, 2010

Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.” But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?” When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing. Luke 13:10-17

Someone called it “majoring in minors.” Focusing on picayune details of life while blind to the bigger picture. We in the church continue down that path, to our own destruction and the diminishment of the ministries to which we’ve been called. This is nothing new.

For 18 years a woman limped painfully into the presence of God. Lacking anything we would recognize as modern medical care, she only knew that she hurt and that her body was being wracked by a force more powerful than she was. Each year she bent over a little bit more, out of pain rather than piety. And when she wasn’t in worship, she was the lady in the village about whom others whispered as she passed by:

“I wonder what she did that God would punish her so severely?”

Then Jesus came to town.

Perhaps she had so blended into the background of life that people didn’t really notice her anymore. And if they noticed her at all, did they see the woman who was bent over or did they just see her disfigurement? But Jesus saw her.

“Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” He touched her. And she was set free.

But then the pastors spoke up. “What does he think he is doing? Not only is he interrupting the well crafted liturgy that we’ve prepared but he is doing WORK on the SABBATH day? Who does he think he is? WE are the only ones who get to work on the Sabbath day because WE’RE special. We’re the ones who stand in front of the room. We’re the ones who get all the attention. We’re the ones who get to decide what we are going to do and what we are not going to do when OUR (oh, excuse me, I meant…) when GOD’S people come to worship. We can’t stand for this!”

And so it is, that those who can’t stand the unbelievable, powerful and saving love of God poured out on the world end up hobbled over, bent at the waist, not in piety but in self righteousness, bowing to themselves, while the broken and redeemed sinners of the world dance with joy.

You go get ‘em girl! Dance the night away!

Let us pray: Dear Lord, heal the blindness of our spirits that bend us away from the power of your healing love. Guide us in putting people first, let not the broken ones disappear from our view. Lead us into the kind of repentance that opens our ministries to the wideness of your mercy. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Monday, February 22 Luke 13:1-9

February 22, 2010

At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”

Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’” Luke 13:1-9

I took some time away from beginning my day writing devotions. I’m still trying to adjust to the newness of life away from parish ministry. The rhythms are all different – what I do, what I find myself thinking about, what I worry about, who I see on a daily basis. None of this is a bad thing, just another search for a new kind of normal.


It is such a strange concept. Living in an infinitely complex world, who are we kidding when we create a word like “normal”? What is “normal” anyway? Is it some kind of statistical average worked out by carefully calculating the daily moments of a control group of millions? I don’t think so. At best “normal” is a wistful fantasy, an illusive goal, where life seems controllable, reduced to pleasant routines, largely under our own control.

But life isn’t normal. Life is chaotic. Galilean peasants murdered for political expediency just because Pilate could get away with it. Eighteen people living normal lives were suddenly buried under the crushing rocks of the tower of Siloam. Over 230,000 lives ending in Haiti because of the unseen shifting of the earth’s tectonic plates. It would be easy to argue that such apparent aberrations are in fact, in this broken world, quite normal. Tragedies happen daily. Many times a day. Everywhere.

So maybe the question isn’t really one about normalcy. Maybe the question comes down to meaningfulness or meaninglessness. Is life purposeful or random? Does anything mean anything at all or is it just a dog-eat-dog jumbled mess of random chance?

The answer – to people of faith – is clear but not easy. God doesn’t take vacations. God’s will is always for the good because God’s will defines goodness. But there is a deep, profoundly deep, mystery to God’s good and gracious will as it continues to be worked out in each nanosecond of life.

So the fig tree will not be cut down, at least not yet. We get some more time to live these gardener lives of ours. What will we do with that time? We’ll prune the tree, fertilize the tree, water the tree, care for the tree. We will work each day, trusting that the fruit will come. Trusting that the answers will come. Trusting the goodness of the owner of the vineyard.

We still have time. Get to work.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, thank you for bringing us to this new day. Thank you for giving us words and stories that enrich our lives and help us make some kind of sense in the midst of that which seems so senseless. We pray that you continue to empower those seeking to bring help in times of tragedy, and that you draw near to those who have lost sight of you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.