It took a year to read the Bible, then almost 9 months to read the Apocrypha. Now, I'm going to try to offer reflections on the Narrative Lectionary. But, I won't be posting daily--at least, for a while.

Friday, February 12, 2016

God is not a cosmic bellhop, Reflection on Psalm 19

"Where did you see God?" our small group asks us at the beginning of each meeting. I don't think I have ever answered by quoting the first verses of Psalm 19, but I may remember to next time.

"Look at the sky," the psalmist says. "Notice that it's day. Notice that it's night. Where do you think the sun came from? Why do you think it moves?"

God has so ordered the universe that the sun rises and sets, the sun provides light and warmth for us.

If only we humans could respond affirmatively to God's intentions.

The commands of God are intended to help us live good lives, orderly lives, joyful lives.

And they are intended to help us avoid behavior that would harm us and others. God's law provides rewards and boundaries (are these always opposites?)

Although we may want to behave wisely, we may fail at times. And we live among people who don't seem to care about doing right at all. Protect us from them, and protect us from failing to live up to God's wishes for us.

God is not a cosmic bellhop, Michael Shevack & Jack Bemporad tell us in their Stupid ways, Smart ways to think about God.
Just ring the bell, and God becomes your own personal Pavlovian puppy. eagerly He goes to work, gratifying your every desire, indulging your every whim.... 
And, by making God an extension of your own desires, you have made your own desires God-like. In essence, you have made yourself God. You are the center of the universe and God is at the periphery. 
That hardly resembles a healthy faith. Indeed, it is more akin to cult behavior. It turns man into God. It has a very ancient name, idolatry. because the first step in any meaningful religion is to recognize our proper place in the scheme of things....

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Tests that we would rather explain away, a Reflection on Mark 10:17-31

Several years ago, three long-divided denominations, Methodists, Catholics, and Lutherans, made a public commitment to unity. Their agreement "on justification by faith, or how individuals are forgiven and brought into a right relationship with God, began with a colorful opening procession in which robed leaders of the three historic Christian traditions walked side by side."

I'm going to have to say that this doctrine is important and has been divisive. But, I wonder what joint statement they could issue on their understanding of selling all (17-22). Or, what joint statement could they possibly issue about Christianity requiring someone to desert work, home, and family (29-31)?

Yes, I know that Mark's community thought the end of the world was near and that they wouldn't have to live long without assets. But, still. What is the source of our happiness? How closely are we willing to live to Jesus' test of who would get eternal life?

Monday, February 8, 2016

Denseness of Disciples, a Reflection on Mark 9:30-37

Jesus again tells his disciples that he will be betrayed and killed and will rise again.

Mark tells us that Jesus restricted this knowledge to the disciples because he didn't want anyone else to know it. I'm wondering if he really needed to be so restrictive about the information. After all, the disciples not only did not understand what he meant; they were afraid to ask him to explain it all to them.

Something apparently they did understand was priority. They argued about who was the greatest. Jesus answered this concern by giving a lesson and an example. An example that told them what greatest meant to him. 

He said "Whoever wants to be first must be last and servant of all." He then showed them a little child and said, "When you welcome the weak and defenseless, you are welcoming me."

Not only are we great when we help the weak, we also see him in the weak.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Sin, then, a reflection on Psalm 32

Let's say that someone did something wrong--wrong, in the sense of hurtful or dishonest. That is, somebody sinned. What are the consequences of sinning? I mean the consequences to the person doing the sinning.

When the sense of sinning sinks in, what next? How do we get past it?

Psalm 32 recognizes that someone may well do something wrong some time and may regret it.
When I kept quiet,
my bones wore out,
I was groaning all day long---
every day, every night!

.... [Common English Bible]

Then, the unhappy regretful someone can try confession.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Now they know, a reflection on Mark 9:1-8

Peter, James, and John were helped in their understanding of who Jesus was by the events on the mountaintop. They witnessed a change in Jesus' body. They saw him clothed in white as was the Divine One described by Daniel (7:9). And they saw Moses and Elijah, great figures in the history of their people, both who had spoken the word of the Lord.

And what he first tells them is not to tell anybody else until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. Fred Craddock in Preaching through the Christian Year B, explains this command: They may have heard that Jesus is the Son, the Beloved, but they haven't yet heard everything they need to know to be effective disciples. They are not yet ready to be witnesses nor are their audiences yet read to hear it.

Off on a tangent: Look back at Exodus 19:16-20 that tells of the appearance of a thick cloud on a mountain and the voice of the Lord; also Exodus 24:12-18, Moses and Aaron go up the mountain, the glory of the Lord appears in the cloud, then Moses enters the cloud. Other references to the cloud as a symbol of the divine presence include Numbers 14:10; Ezekiel 1:4; Daniel 7:13-14; Mark 13:26; 14:2. (Thank you once more, Allen & Williamson, for your Preaching the Gospels.)

Sing (or, at least read) these two hymns about the Transfiguration: 258, "O Wondrous Sight! O Vision Fair" and 260, "Christ, upon the Mountain Peak," The United Methodist Hymnal.

All the elements of Mark's account are there: the six days of waiting, the cloud, the glory, the voice, the descent from the mountain. Moses' face shone due to his experience in the presence of God. Exodus also describes the making of the tent of meeting.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Trusting God, a Reflection on Psalm 27:1-6

The psalmist speaks words of confidence: The Lord is my light and my salvation. I will be confident. Light to show me the way to go. The Lord is the stronghold of my life. Stronghold, protection while I am on that way.

But, think about why the psalmist is making these assertions. They aren't empty assurances. Rather, they are tied to specific fears; for example, "When evildoers assail me" or "Though an army encamp against me."

The psalmist is not trying to get us to believe that being a faithful follower of God means that we will never see trouble, never suffer from illness, never be besieged by enemies. No, what the psalmist says is that during these times of travail, the Lord was a comforter and rescuer.

In response to the actions that the Lord has taken, the psalmist expresses the wish to continue to be near the Lord by visiting the temple--to live there, to be able to see the Lord there, and there to be protected.

To summarize: At times of great distress when I needed the Lord, the Lord was with me. I remember this, and I am telling you about it. I will continue to need the Lord.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Facing the Meaning, Reflection on Mark 8:34-38

They are not aware of what being the Messiah means. Not just victory. Not just winning over oppressors. And it's time for those closest to Jesus to begin to learn this.

Jesus begins to teach them what is going to happen--not just the healings and feedings and water-walking, but also suffering, rejection, and even death.

Peter doesn't like this kind of talk and tries to persuade Jesus to back off some. Jesus is adamant.

Jesus speaks not only to the disciples but to the crowds, "If you want to follow with me, deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me."

He's talking to us.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Prayer resources

Plain Teaching, a Reflection on Mark 8:31-33

Jesus was rejected in his hometown (6:1-6) but continued his teaching, called disciples, gave them authority to heal (6:7-13). He fed 5,000, walked on water, and healed the sick (7:30-56). Although some of the religious folks were offended by his ways, some foreigners accepted him readily (7:1-37). He fed another 4,000, which did not impress everybody, and cured a blind man (8:1-26).

When he asked Peter, "Who do you say I am?", Peter replied, "You are the Messiah" (8:27-30).

Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must endure great suffering and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, be put to death and rise up three days later (8:31).

The title of Son of Man may be an allusion to the vision of one like a human being coming with the clouds of heaven, the one who was to be given dominion over all nations forever, (Daniel 7:13-14).

Early Christians had to reconcile the suffering and death of this man with the acceptance of him as Messiah. How could one chosen by God suffer the kind of death that he did? Mark's gospel helped them with this theological problem. Jesus said the suffering was inevitable and part of God's plan. (See The Gospel According to Mark, by Morna Hooker, for more on this).

At this point he spoke plainly--not in parables. He intended for them to get it. Peter grasped the message but did not approve of it. Jesus rebuked him strongly (8:32-33).

How hard would it have been for them to continue to follow Jesus after they had heard this news?

Some Christians throughout history have read into this passage a necessity for all Christians to suffer. Was Jesus telling Peter what the Messiah had to go through, or was he preparing him for what all Christians would have to bear? In either interpretation, we can remember throughout the Scripture, God has stood by those who are suffering.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Not ready, a Reflection on Mark 8:27-30

Mark has reported a series of miracles--walking on the water, several healings, two feedings of large crowds.

Who can do these things?

Jesus asks his followers, "Who do people think I am?" The disciples give a list of forerunners to the Messiah. Then Jesus asks "Who do you think I am?"

Peter answers for them, "You are the Messiah." Jesus instructs them not to tell anyone.

The crowds are ready to know that the Messiah is coming, but not ready to realize that he is here, among them.