Saturday, September 24, 2016

violence without cause

hours 'til the dawn

You know, it’s more true than we like to admit, “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”

The old and faithful Abraham finally had the child he was promised back in Genesis 21. And Isaac, meaning laughter, has two children, twins of his own. Esau the eldest, and Jacob the huckster. Jacob who has a con going from the start, born holding his elder brother’s heel - trying to steal the birthright. Finally, in Genesis 27 he does steal the birthright from his older brother, Esau. 
And it is from there that Jacob drags the reputation of God’s family through the mud…

Jacob has twelve children himself. And in the scripture passage we just heard, you have to admit; the apple has not fallen far from the tree, has it?

Every single one of the characters in this story has a con going! Why they make “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” look like “Little House on the Prairie” by comparison! 
So much for good, biblical family values!

It all started with Jacob, and we see that being a father hasn’t changed him one whit. He’s still playing fast and loose. Doting on Joseph, his youngest. Not even trying to hide his favoritism from his other boys!

Not that Joseph is any saint, either… 
Just imagine the scene. His brother’s already don’t care for the preferential treatment he receives. Then, one day he comes up, wearing -by the way, the expensive robe his father gave him- and says; “hey, get a load of this dream.”
… And there’s no need to interpret what the dream means, they all get it…

The brothers figure his dream is a forecast of more of the same. More of Joseph being favored. His privilege even forcing them to bow to this bratty, baby of the family…

So one day, while they’re out shepherding, his brothers get their chance. Jacob in a brilliant move, has sent Joseph out to his brothers who can’t even share a peaceable word with him.

While Joseph’s still far off, the 11 brothers hatch their plan. “Here comes the dreamer,” they hiss. “Let’s kill him, then we’ll see just what shall become of his dream.” To make the whole thing look like a freak accident, they fabricate evidence, dipping his robe in the blood of a goat. 
No differently than when their dad slaughtered a goat to cheat his brother, Esau, out of the family inheritance back in Genesis 27. 
No, the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree, has it…

Before they can act on their plan, though, there’s a twist. Reuben the eldest intervenes. “Let’s not kill him,” he reasons. “Just toss him in this pit. After all, he is our brother,” he intones; like the arrogant eldest he is.
Now, don’t be fooled. 
Reuben’s doesn’t have anyone’s intentions in mind, but his own. He’s planning to be the hero! He’s fixing to double-cross his brothers. When they’re gone, he’ll rescue Joseph, take him back to the old man and finally get the respect he’s deserved all along.

In this sleazy affirm, Reuben’s working his own angle! No different than daddy dearest, always plotting to advance his own narrow self-interest. 
No, the apple has not fallen far from the tree…

Well, his brother’s never suspect Reuben. So, instead of killing their brother, they just toss him in the pit. 
Once that’s done, they spread out to have a picnic. Reuben sneaks off, waiting for his chance to play the hero… 

But then, there’s another twist! Judah looks up and sees some merchants, and he gets an idea. They could make a little money out of this. 
“Boys, you’ve got to have that entrepreneurial spirit,” he insists. “Look here, we could sell Joseph. No reason not to make a little money.”
And presumably the brothers only kick themselves for not coming up with that one on their own. Not a one of them protests to this idea…
In no time, they make a deal. Joseph and his dreams are gone, and they’ve turned a profit! 
I don’t need to say it, do it? They’re all a bunch of cons! There isn’t a single honest one in the lot!
No, the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree. They’re all Jacob’s kin…

But then there’s a twist none of the brothers counted on…
Bringing the tainted evidence to their father, they give the prized robe back to their dad. “Joseph won’t be needing this anymore, don’t you think,” they ask. Jacob sees the robe covered in blood, and connects all the dots; Joseph, his son is dead.
Instead of choosing a new favorite, though, Jacob refuses to be consoled. Even in death, Joseph will still be Jacob’s favorite…
Their plan has failed to displace Joseph as the apple of their father’s eye…
Now that’s where our lesson takes a big jump. Skipping over Joseph’s unlikely rise and fall and rise again, from slave to second in command of the world’s most powerful nation, Egypt. 

It’s Genesis 41 when Joseph gets his chance, interpreting Pharaoh’s dream of impending famine.
Joseph tells Pharaoh to stock up during the seven years of plenty, because there will seven years of famine afterward. He’s right on. When the famine does hit, Pharaoh’s storehouses are stocked. Everyone has to come to him to buy grain. Sold at a profit of course. Joseph makes Pharaoh very rich… 

Apparently, although not an Egyptian, in Joseph’s narcissism Pharaoh saw an ally. 
After everything, Joseph is still no different. If he can gain an edge, you can bet he’s going to take it.
No, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. He’s still Jacob’s son at heart…

Then there’s yet another twist. One even a guy like Joseph couldn't have seen coming.
In Genesis 42, Joseph’s brother go to Egypt to buy grain. Even after all these years, Joseph still recognizes them. All decked out in his regalia, though, the brothers don’t recognize him
Seeing them, it all comes back
Growing up in those fields that make the palace look shabby, being the apple of his father’s eye, but not because his ability to turn a profit. 
He also remembers, though, his brother’s betrayal.

He can’t bring himself to just let bygones be bygones. He jerks his brothers around. Accusing them of espionage. Threatening the death sentence. The brothers are scared witless, of course. 
Eventually, though, it’s just too much. Joseph can’t keep it up. Weeping, he breaks down, revealing his identity to his brothers. 

It’s the moment from back in Genesis 33, all over again. When Jacob and Esau are reconciled. When, instead of bearing a grudge for all his trickery, Esau forgives his brother Jacob - their dad.

You see, the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree. 
But now they’re acting like family in a way none of them would ever have imagined. Now they’re acting like their uncle, Esau. Apparently that moment of forgiveness had a bigger impact than any of them knew…
In the end, it turns out the bond of family of God is stronger than any of their sins. Reconciliation is more powerful than their own intentions. 

And there’s the twist no one saw coming…
It is at this moment that Joseph’s dream is finally fulfilled, isn’t it?
The brothers do indeed brothers bow to Joseph. But not in service. Instead they bow in love love. 
In love that dares to beg for reconciliation. In a love that’s brokenhearted
The brothers had intended to displace Joseph from their father’s love and undo his dream. But all the while, behind the scenes and certainly in unexpected way, God has been at work. God has intended it for good in the long-con of surprising grace, unscrupulous goodness. 
No one has mentioned God, not even the Scripture we just heard. And that’s the point! What God is up to can’t be spoken of, not until you look back and see that God’s been working an angle all along!

And that’s the twist not even you saw coming.
The apple didn’t fall far from the tree. No.
But the tree isn’t Jacob. It isn’t Isaac, either. And it certainly isn’t Abraham. It’s God.
Everyone of them, they’re con artist. 

But the biggest hustle in this story, is God’s.
God who stoops down to a family feud. 
God, who would take fratricide, to wrest good. Who would take hubris, to do good. Who would take even greed, to further good. Who would take a family of hucksters, to be about goodness

God the conman who would take all their dubious intentions, and put them in service of God’s great long-con. The con of surprising grace. Unscrupulous goodness.

That’s what it means not to fall far from the tree, you know. It’s being a forgiven con, living by grace… 

What? You don’t believe me???
This isn’t how any self-respecting God would behave, you protest? And beside, you say, the world doesn’t work like that anyway?
Perhaps not. Or, perhaps you too are in a hustle. A twist not even you can see coming…

No? …Well, fine. 
I’m not going to try and convince someone like you, anyway. You have got your own intentions, I see. You’re not about to be conned, are you??? 

Have your own way then. That’s the kind of people you are. As they say, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree…

Sunday, September 18, 2016

do not dismiss the promise

 that you made me

You heard the scripture. The only thing you can say after hearing something like that is, what are we going to do with a God like this?

This God who won’t be practical. This God who seems to think promises are more important than power.
This God who won’t play by our rules. This God we’re, frankly, not sure what to do with…

In fact, before God is finished with Abram, the poor guy will have to change his name. So different does he become. Apparently, Abram wouldn’t recognize the man on the other side of it all. After God’s has had God’s way with him, Abram won’t do anymore. God’s work has changed him completely, from then on out he will be Abraham. 

This is a God we’re not so sure about. 
See, the problem for folks like us is, we have more in common with Abram, than we do with Abraham…

In the scripture for today Abram is going about the business of everyday life. Filling out his life-insurance policy, he looks at the next of kin blank. With a pang of sorrow he begins to write in the name, not of his child, but a slave that was born in his household.

This is the sort of business we occupy most of our time with. The little, practical things of life. We’re a salt of the earth people. We keep our nose close to the grindstone. 
Which is why God’s response to Abram is so, well, off-putting.

God doesn’t console Abram. God doesn’t tell the guy he understands. God doesn’t even ask him to sit down and tell him how he’s feeling. 

Instead, God yanks the guy outside and points up. “You see those.” God barks. “Look at all the stars. You know what, count them. If you are able.”
“If I can do all that, Abram, don’t you think I can stay good on my word?” God puts it to Abram. Then, while Abram is still looking up, God says something unbelievable, “numerous as those stars are, so will your offspring be.”

Abram’s just trying to be practical. And God has him wasting his time counting stars!
Folks, what are we to do with a God like this?

This God who won’t be practical. This God who seems to think counting stars is more important than having your insurance in order.
This God who won’t play by our rules. This God we’re not sure what to do with…

That isn’t all, either. Before the episodes is over, it will get even more audacious. Before Abram regains his balance, God doubles-down!
“This land that you’re camping in,” God gestures. “It’s all going to be your’s.”

That’s too much, of course. Abram can’t just nod-along. Rubbing his eyes as they adjust from looking into the night sky, he asks, “how am I going to know.

Abram’s a consummate practicalist. If he’s really going to inherit the land, his name ought to be on the deed. Instead of drawing up the paperwork, though, God tells Abram to get a sacrifice ready. 
Why, it’d be like your realtor telling you they’ve got a great scoop. But when you ask them to show it to you, they tell you to meet them at church! 

What on earth are we to do with a God like this?
This God who refuses to be practical. This God who seems to think something like a promise is more important than having the paperwork notarized.
This God who won’t play by our rules. This God we’re not sure what to do with…

There’s more, though. 
Before Abram can even get around to asking about the deed, God adds a rider. “This land will be your’s, Abram. But here’s the thing, you won’t live to occupy it…”

And of course Abram is at a loss for words.
And just as well, because God ends the whole thing with the most audacious act of all.
God. Goes. Through. The. Animals. Sacrificed!

Let me tell how these covenants worked. Person A in making a promise to person B, would make would walk between the animals. In effect, Person A invoked the same fate upon themselves if they didn’t keep up their end of the deal.

God shows Abram, “you will have offspring and you will have land. Impotent though you may be, long dead though you may you be before any of your kin settle it.” 
“It’s all as good as yours, right now. You have it in trust. And if I don’t keep this promise, well then, may I be suffer the same fate as these animals I pass between.”

What are we to do with a God like this?
Consider the solemnity of what God does. Consider the audaciousness of it. That God would risk death for the old man!

This is a God who won’t be reasonable. A God who would risk death instead of just prescribing fertility drugs or registering the deed.

This God won’t play by our rules. This God we’re not sure what to do with…

The truth is, we understand Abram. We get him. We share his concerns. The trouble, though, is God won’t deal with Abram the way we expect. Every time Abram asks God for some perfectly reasonable guarantee, God just raises intensifies that first promise!

We’re not sure what to do with a God like that. 
And of course, neither was Abram. 
That’s why, by the time everything is said and done, Abram name will change. So different has it all made him. 

And in the end, that’s all you can do with a God like this. A God who refuses to be practical. A God who decides to care for you by doing something like making you a promise. Risking death.

God makes a promise to Abram that’s too big to turn into a life insurance policy and too wide to put on a deed. All you can do with a promise like that, is believe it. Trust the one who makes it. 

Which is exactly the way God prefers it. When Abram’s counting the stars, over the moon at the one who made such a promise, God counts that as righteousness

This is what God wants. This is God’s will for you. To believe God’s promises. Trust the one who makes them. 
This is righteousness. This is what God’s looking for. 

First God promised a family and the farm, and then God makes a covenant with Abraham. And between those two things, faith happens. Between the promise and ritual, faith is created.
Which is what God reckons as righteous. 

Right now, you stand in the same place as Abram, don’t you?
Only it’s reversed, isn’t it? 
You’ve had the ritual. I already declared that in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, your sins were forgiveness. You need to hear the promise.

So listen up, here’s the promise - and it’s a whopper; you are the evidence of God’s fidelity to Abram. Let me say that again, you are the evidence of God’s fidelity to Abram.

God made an oath to Abram; property and progeny. God took it so seriously God risked death. 
And for you, God died
In Jesus Christ God died, so that the promise made to Abram would be fulfilled. That God would make a family for Abram. Not bound by biology, but rather what God has done. By faith, as St. Paul says. A family formed by God’s determination to gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. 
You are the consequence of all that, God’s fidelity to Abram. You are the consequence of what Jesus has done. 

What was promised to Abram, in Jesus Christ happens to you. In Jesus Christ, God delivers the promise of old through you, to you. In Jesus Christ, you are an offspring of Abraham. In Jesus Christ you are a part of the great history of God’s people. It’s full of twists and turns. Unexpected ups and downs.
But all the while it’s couched in this incredible, unexpected, unstoppable love of God.

For now, yes, we walk by faith. Just like like Abram. 
And, just like Abram you won’t see the promise fulfilled until after you’ve passed on. 

But God has made you this promise. God has even died to deliver this promise to you. To forge you into the family of God. To stay true to Abram.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

i want to start again

sunsets, new babbling man

It may have been the first time, but it certainly wasn't the last. And you know what I mean…
We start here, at “The Fall.” And where else? After all, this is as far back as we can go. Our eyes have been opened, we can’t see how things were before…

This account of God carefully creating everything, zooms onto this day. We watch as the first article of the creed, happens. God, the caring Father creates heaven, earth and all that’s in-between. 
The verdant creation. All the animals of the field and birds of the air. God’s search for a suitable companion for the Adam. Finally forming another human. The barely contained joy over all that God has done; “This at last is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh,” cried Adam. 

But of course we all know what happens. 
And not because we’re biblical scholars. No. We know this story because it’s our story. 
The fall is tragic. But not only in and of itself. It’s tragic in its all reoccurrences, its many manifestations… 
This is the story that proves the old saying, “It may have been the first time, but it certainly wasn’t the last.”

After all these years, we’re still no different than the first two humans. Surrounded by all God’s goodness, we too doubt God’s good intentions…
And that’s what’s happening in this story, you know.

This isn’t a story of rebellion or Sin’s coercion. Adam and Eve don’t storm heaven. The serpent has no real power. The only power the serpent has is that of suggestion, which is the merely the lack of faith’s power…

It all starts with the serpent coming up to Adam’s companion, Even…
And before we go any further, none of this “it’s was all Eve’s fault” nonsense, guys. First, Adam already tried to throw the poor woman under the bus once, and God wasn’t convinced then. Second, the Bible is clear. Adam is there the whole dang time. He never speaks up. When he’s handed the fruit, all he does is shrug and take a bite! And another thing, Eve is described as Adam’s “helper.” You know who else the Bible describes as a helper? God. Yeah…

Now that, that’s clear up, let’s go on.
The serpent comes up. “God didn’t say…,” the snake ventures.
“That’s right,” Eve replies. “God didn’t. There’s just the one tree we can’t eat of,” or, she adds, “touch it. If we do, we’ll die.”
The serpent sees his chance, and strikes. “You will not die. God’s only trying to scare you,” the serpent lies. “Take this and you will see good and evil for yourself, God knows. You too can be like God.”

Then, Eve looks at the tree in a different way. Not as God’s, but as something to take.
Notice her evaluation, though. That the fruit is good for food, a delight to the eyes, and desired to make one wise. 
Did you catch that??? Eve already knows good!
All there is to gain from eating the fruit, is to know evil too.
Surrounded by all the goodness of God, Eve imagines in her heart of hearts that God is still holding back! After all, there’s evil to know too…

Well, it may have been the first time one of us doubted God, but it certainly wasn’t the last. Was it?
We are no different. Surrounded by all God has given us, we still doubt. Maybe God is holding back something great. After all, we think, there’s evil to know.

And just as Adam and Eve couldn’t predict, let alone bear, the consequences of their action - neither can we
Now they know evil. And their vision is forever changed. Now everything looks different. Had God not expelled these two from Eden, they would have destroyed it themselves with their newly tinged sight. 
It may have been the first time, but it certainly wasn’t the last, was it? After all, we know what that’s like, don’t we? 
To take something we shouldn’t, only to have our vision forever mutilated. Like the first time we lied, and then lived doomed to always look at others and wonder if they weren’t lying right back to us…

There’s more to sin’s consequences than just that, though.
These two learn to take for themselves, but now their harmony is broken. Now the two look at each other, and there is shame. Taking fig leaves and try to hide from each other, in plain sight. 

Yes, it may have been the first time, but it certainly wasn’t the last, was it? After all, we know what that’s like too, don’t we?
We also look at one another with sight tinged by self-interest. We try and hide our true selves from one other. So many people living under the weight of constantly living under the scrutinizing gaze of other’s interest. 

But the final blow comes when they hear a rustle in the leaves behind them… 
Martin Luther, commenting on this story, said it was probably only the breeze. When you’re guilty, though, you constantly expect the other shoe to drop. Adam and Eve are no different. 
They hear the trees rustling, and they bolt. Trying to hide from the one who had made everything with their care in mind. It’s sad, isn’t it?

Well, it may have been the first time, but it certainly wasn’t the last, was it? After all, we know what that’s like, don’t we?
You don’t need me to climb up here in the pulpit and convict you with your sins. Your own consciousness is doing a fine job, I’ll bet. Those times you were driving down the highway and you spotted a cop car. You foot went instinctively to the break, even if you we’re going the speed limit. We cannot escape your consciouses. 

Sin is its own punishment, isn’t it?

This story, the fall, it’s tragic. But I submit to you, this is no mere tragedy. This is something else. Something more. Don’t forget, the story doesn’t end here. It doesn’t end with Adam and Eve pathetically running.
Something happens.
God shows up. God shows up, walking. In human form…
Right when Sin threatens to ruin everything, God shows up. God doesn’t sit back to wait and see what will happen. God doesn’t leave the two to their own consequences. God shows up. Shows up walking, embodied, in human form. 

This thing God does, reverses the whole story. And I mean all of it. From Adam and Eve, all the way to you. In fact, this thing God does even transforms the old saying from a cynical observation to a Gospel shout!
It may have been the first time, but it certainly wasn’t the last.

Folks, from the very beginning God has determined to be gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. 
God won’t let what we’ve unleashed, overtake us. God shows up. God shows up, walking around, in human form, calling out. Searching for terrified sinners. 
Sin may be its own punishment, but God refuses to leave you to its power

Even here, at the beginning. As far back as we can go. Our plight may be exposed. But so it our hope. Our salvation.
As soon as Sin and all its consequences rear their ugly head, God doesn’t lose a moment. God shows up. Shows up in human form, walking.
And that may have been the first time God showed up, but it most certainly won’t be the last. 

Two-thousand years ago, God showed up too. Walking. In human form. Searching out lost and terrified sinners. It surprised everyone. But given the first thing God did once Sin showed up, it shouldn’t have. 

And today. God is shows up today too, you know.
You may not have been expecting it. Perhaps you thought you were just going to church. You had consigned yourself to evil and all its consequences. Given the first thing God did once Sin showed up, though, you should have expected more

It’s the old saying all over again. Only now God has transformed it. 
It may have been the first time God showed up, but it isn’t the last.

God heals the rift. God does this by reversing the whole thing. Sending the Son to walk amongst us, to reconcile us first to God. Then, having peace with God, we finally have true peace with one another. We finally have eyes that can see good
We’ve seen enough evil, haven’t we? We could use seeing some good. 

God does this, right now. The reversal of the Fall happens to you, today. Do like Eve, only backward. Take the fruit! Only the fruit from the tree of life, instead; Jesus himself. 
The Holy Spirit already offered you this fruit as your sins were forgiven. 
Here’s the thing, the serpent may be crafty, but the Holy Spirit is relentless. Even now as you dare to believe that simply by taking Jesus for yourself, you could be healed of your Sin, the fruit of life is offered to you again. And that’s not all, in the holy meal, around the table, the fruit of the tree of life will be offered to you again, Jesus’ very body and blood. 

This account of the first and only sin, may be the first time God showed up, but it isn’t the last. 
This God who shows up, walking; comes for you. Just as it was for Adam and Eve, so it is for you. You can’t escape this God. This God who creates everything with care, this God who takes human flesh, hasn’t given up since the beginning, and this God isn’t about to give up now

Yes, you know the story of the beginning, the fall. But in Jesus Christ you also know the end
The God who shows up, walking, will not let Sin ruin the whole thing. This God is determined to rescue us from our sin. 

The fall may have been the first time God showed up walking around searing for terrified sinners, but it wasn’t the last. Not by a long shot. Believe me. 

Saturday, August 27, 2016

i took your counsel

& came to ruin

Perhaps you’re wondering why, exactly, our first lesson is the one we just heard. After all, it sounds… well… just a little… familiar, doesn’t it?

Don’t be fooled, though, the lessons is not a repeat of last week’s…
Well… Not exactly, anyway.

Last week we heard the giving of the Ten Commandments at Mt. Sinai; right after the Israelites had been freed. Today, though, we hear the reiteration of these Ten Commands; 40 years later. Right before the Israelites leave the wilderness for the Promised Land. 

Here, Moses is giving his final sermon. All he can come up with though, is that old refrain again. “Second verse, same as the first; a little bit louder, a little bit worse!”

Moses’ uncertainty about how well those commands took the first time, is betrayed. Apparently Moses isn’t exactly confident in the mettle of those who are about to inhabit the property promised to Abraham long ago…
Apparently before God’s people come into the Promised Land, Moses feels the need to restate a few things…

Here, right before God’s promises to Abraham of progeny and property are fulfilled, Moses stops Abraham’s descendants and gives this loooong sermon.
All of Deuteronomy long…
Apparently God’s people need to be prepared to receive what was promised long ago. It is as if getting what they’ve been waiting for, is as much of a threat to their faith, as waiting for it was…
Like that song on the radio warns, “getting what you want can break your heart.”

So before God’s people settle the land God promised, Moses gives an extended sermon. A sermon about what it means to be God’s people in the land they’ve been waiting to inhabit. A sermon about how to retain their identity as God’s people now that they’ve ended their sojourn… 

…Now the tragedy, of course, is our story shows over and over again that the very thing Moses feared, happened. Beguiled by the blessings, we’ve forgotten the giver of every good gift. Mistaken the gift for the giver…

But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. 
To truly understand this tragedy, we have to know it’s content. Especially since it is hard to hear. Since it is something we vigilantly avoid hearing…

…So… Did you notice the difference between this week’s first lesson and last week’s?
…The truth is, although the change is somewhat subtle, it’s also fairly obvious… 
While most of the lesson is the same. Where it isn’t, it really isn’t… 
The change is, *DING,* you guessed it!
In the Third Commandment. The Sabbath command…

There’s a few significant changes:
First, the command’s range has been expanded. Now the command includes others. No longer is the command to rest only for God’s people. Now everyone who works with, or for God’s people are to enjoy this rest too. 
This is, at it were, the first fair labor-law. 

Second, the command has been inverted. At Sinai, the command began will a call to remember. In other words, remembering God’s deliverance was the motivation to keep the command, to rest.
Now, though, the command is flipped, isn’t it? 
Now it begins with a call to observe the sabbath day.
Now the command makes a promise. Observing the sabbath will remind us of God’s action… 
That’s something, isn’t it? 
We think rituals have to buttress what we already understand. Here, though, it says otherwise. Observing this day will serve to make us understand something we couldn’t have otherwise.

Finally, the command itself has been expanded. Now the command includes why this day is to be kept. What observing this day will remind us of. “Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm…”
Now the command says what this day is about, not just rest. Not the rhythms of creation, but God’s deliverance

In the final moments when God’s people stop wandering and begin settling, Moses gives them this last sermon. 
It begins with the Ten Commandments. Verbatim, more or less. Except when it comes to the Third Command, the Sabbath Command…

Now, apparently, the Sabbath command is going to be important in a different way. Now it is going to be easy to forget God’s deliverance. Now it is going to be easy to withhold God’s blessings. 
Now that God’s promise is about to be fulfilled, it will be easy for God’s people to believe they’ve earned what’s been bestowed. Now it will be easy for God’s people to hoard God’s gifts…

Okay. I’m not the only one this sounds familiar to, right?
The reason why Moses retells this sermon, is the very reason why we need to hear this retelling. 
In the often overlooked book of the Bible. In this often ignored retelling of the commands, we see what Paul meant when he said we, Gentiles, have been grafted on to the tree of Israel. 
Their story, is our story. The tragedy that God’s people failed to heed Moses’ sermon, is our tragedy too, isn’t it?

The Ten Commandments given at Sinai aren’t so much for us. We stopped journeying long ago. We put down our stakes. We’ve settled. 
Now the Ten Commands given at the edge of the Promised Land, though, those are for a people like us. A people who have come into a land and settled it. 

We too have been tempted, and maybe have, forgotten the one who delivered us. We too have been beguiled, mistaking the gifts for the Giver of every good thing. We too have tried to hoard our blessings. We too have fallen for the illusion we’ve earned all our blessings.
*Just spend a little time with subsistence farmers in a place like Honduras if you need help getting over that illusion.*

What Moses feared, happened. It’s the story of God’s people, over and over again. It wasn’t only a people called “Israel” who refused to listen to Moses. A people called “Christian” have too, haven’t we? 

Here, I’ll lay my cards on the table. The first week I did the “what” of the sabbath. The second week, the “how.” Today is the “why.” 

Why Moses retold the Ten Commands at the threshold of the Promised Land. Why we hear this retelling today.
Why we do something as odd as give over 14 percent of our days, to something as unproductive of worship. 
It’s because there’s something we need to remember. Something we’ve forgotten, or maybe even never heard. Something we’re dying to be told. Something we can’t believe unless we stop, and someone else tells us.
You’ve stopped. For better or worse, I’m the someone else. 
So, listen up; you’re not here out of habit. You’re not even here because you’re a good, god-fearing Christian; which has always been open to debate, anyway… 

No, the only reason you’re here, is because God has done something; delivered you. You’re here because God brought you out, to hear this: God rescued you with a mighty arm and an outstretched hand. That’s who you are now. That’s your story. That’s our story. God has taken the tragedy of our failure to heed Moses’s words, and transformed it into the story of our redemption.
Never forget that, okay? 
Your sins, they do not define you. Death will not destroy you. You’ve been delivered. 

Keep this day, God will hold true. Simply keeping this day, in and of itself, will remind you of your deliverance. 

In case you’ve already forgotten, and this promise is so easy to lose, isn’t it? 
I’ll say it again: The only reason you’re here is because God has done something; delivered you. You’re here because God brought you out, to hear this: God rescued you with a mighty arm and an outstretched hand. That’s who you are, now. That’s your story, now.
Never forget that.

Keep this day, and God will not let you forget either.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

there's no starting over, no new beginnings, time races on

& you've just gotta keep on keeping on

As is the case with most adages, the old saying is true; ‘there’s no rest for the wicked.’

There’s the law you’ve always got to stay a step ahead of. Then, there’s the constant looking over your shoulder to make sure your past doesn’t find you. 
Nope, once the wicked go on the lamb, their guard can never come down. You’ve always got to be looking ahead and watching behind. It’s exhausting sure, but there’s no alternative. 
You can’t just stop and catch your breath, lest the sins of your past catch up to you. 

It’s true. There is no rest for the wicked…

Which is probably why this Third Commandment is so notorious. Think about it, it’s one of only two commandments that aren’t prohibitions. Yet, this positive command seems impossible for the wicked like us to actually obey.
To stop and rest. Not once in a while. Not when we think we have the time. But every seventh day! 
You know, for Jewish folks, once that sun hits the horizon, everything stops. It’s sabbath. If the food wasn’t ready or the table unmade, too bad. The sabbath had arrived. Everything else stops.

And of course, that’s the rub isn’t it?
That this call to rest is no mere suggestion. It isn’t a nice idea, either. No, that this is a command. And, a command from God, no less. 

Ready or not, when the sabbath rolls around, everything must halt. Which is all the root of that word, “sabbath,” means, simply “to cease” or “to stop.”

Every seventh days, it all comes to a standstill. Like it or not, ready or not, come the sabbath, we stop and face this one who would place such an unreasonable commandment upon us.

Sure, you may be able to outrun your past, but you can’t outrun the one who makes this command. Every seven days, this God says stop trying to run. Every sabbath, this God interrupts our regularly scheduled programing…

No wonder this commands doesn’t come naturally…
Think about it, it’s strange we’d need this commandment at all! We’re used to commands. Most of them have to do with labor, too. We’re always being commanded to work; work harder and work more.
We’re so worn out by those commands. Yet, when we hear this command, to actually rest, it sounds like a threat. As something we can’t afford. 
That’s how strong our proclivity is to run. Our fear that our sins would catch us if we actually just stopped to catch our breath.

For six days our business is our own. But on that seventh day, God insists on interrupting. On confronting us. 
Word to the wise here, that’s exactly what’s happening now
Don’t think you get to sit back and merely hear about what God does. I’m telling you what God is doing. Right now! God is cornering you. Commanding you to stop

I know, you’ve got a lot to do. In fact, you’re not sure what I just said while you were going over your grocery list. You can’t get away from the one who utters this Word to rest, though; God…

It’s true, these is no rest for the wicked. We can never get far enough from our sins.
But, no one can outrun this God either, though. So stop trying. Just stop.
Our excuses, our anxieties, will hold no truck with this God. 
Whether we like it or not, whether we’re ready or not, every seventh day,  right now, all our pursuits come to a screeching halt

And that’s still the rub, isn’t it?
That’s why we try to get a little R&R, only to return worse for the wear!
This is no mere call to take a much needed break, a holiday. This is a command. A command from God, no less. Stop.

In the preamble to these Ten Commandments. You know, the part we usually skip, God makes a bold claim. God lays out exactly why this God gets to be the one making commands: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery…”

It’s God who freed the Israelites from serving the taskmaster named Pharaoh. Now this Lord is their God instead of Pharaoh. So this God has some commands. 

Once every seven days, the Israelites must stop. Must remember they’re delivered. They have different lord than Pharaoh. A Lord who doesn’t demand more and more, but instead grants freedom. 
That’s all the Ten Commandments are, sisters and brothers. How to live as if the Lord is your God… 

Now in the Gospel today, Jesus makes some pretty bold claims too. Not that the sabbath was made for humankind and not the other way ‘round. Although that’s bold. The real shocker comes next
When Jesus looks around and says some as audacious as, he —the son of man— is lord even of the sabbath!

That he, Jesus, is what God is up to in the sabbath. That he, Jesus, is the full revelation of what God’s sabbath means
When God calls us to rest, we’re not dealing with just any God. We are dealing with the God Jesus calls “Father.” The God who raises Jesus from the dead.
And us along with him! That’s what baptism means, to be buried and raised with Jesus. That’s why there’s commands in that baptismal liturgy.

Every seventh day, we contend with the God who would command a people like us to rest. Today, Jesus shows up and shows us what this rest is. What God is up to with this commandment we would never come up with on our own. 

There is no rest for the wicked. And that’s not what the sabbath is. God isn’t interested in a mere break from your running. God has determined to do more than give you one day off. 
God has decided to deliver you. All the way. Deliver you from the sin of your past. Deliver you from the future they’re driving you to. 

That’s what the sabbath is; being delivered. Delivered by the God who freed the Israelites. The God who raises Jesus, and all those who are baptized in his name, from the dead.
This is no mere break from the taskmaster’s demands, be they Pharaoh’s or Sin and Death’s. Rather this is deliverance from the taskmasters themselves! An end to their reign of terror. 
The one no one can outrun has shown up; God. And not just any god, but the God who insists on deliverance. The God of the Exodus and the Empty Tomb.

There is no rest for the wicked. Believe me, I know. 
The one who makes these commands, the one who is lord even of the sabbath, though; is the one who says ‘stop.’ The one who can say something like that. The one who has freed us from all those other false gods and their demands.

This is the kind of lord you have, folks. That’s what this command is all about. Not that you can rest, or even get to. But that you have a lord who has delivered you. Delivered you from ceaseless toil to freedom. 

And that’s why this rest is no mere suggestion or nice idea, but a  commandment. A commandment from God, no less. That’s why week after week, we stop and remember that this one who is the lord of the sabbath has done. 

Let’s end with Martin Luther’s words. In the Large Catechism he says, “…(W)hen you are asked what ‘you are to hallow the day of rest’ means, answer: ‘hallowing the day of rest means to keep it holy.’ What is meant by keeping it holy’? Nothing else than devoting it to holy words, holy works, and holy living. The day itself does not need to be made holy, for it was created holy. But God wants it to be holy for you.”

That’s sabbath, isn’t it?
Not that God has made a day holy. Not that God, once upon a time, delivered a people. Not that God raised one man from the dead. But rather that God wants to raise you with the Son of Man. That God wants deliver you. That God wants this holy day, to be holy for you.

So let this day be holy, here, have sabbath: 
In the name of the lord of the sabbath, you are free. Stop. Jesus has delivered you from the power of Sin, which is Death. The one Jesus called “father,” not only raised him from the dead, but right now sends the Holy Spirit to deliver his’ resurrection to you.

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit your sins, every single one of them, is forgiven. You are delivered.