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.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

An unclean prophet, a Reflection on Isaiah 6:1-8

Verses 1-4 describe an overwhelming sense of God's glory and the appropriate response to it. On a throne. A high and lofty throne. So large that just the hem of his robe fills the temple. Heavenly beings attend him. They sing, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts."

Verses 5, in contrast, describes the great contrast with this glory with the human condition. Isaiah realizes that he is unworthy.

Verses 6-7 give us reassurance. Since we are not worthy, God has a way of redeeming us, of overcoming our sin. Isaiah's guilt was removed.

Verse 8 reminds us why we need this redemption. We have a task. Isaiah accepted his call.
(much of this from or inspired by Isaiah 1-39, by Walter Brueggeman)
How much of this is repeated in a typical church service?
Do we recognize an overwhelming divine presence?
Do we recognize our own sinfulness?
Can we receive redemption? If so, what are we prepared to do with it?

Monday, May 21, 2018

Looking toward Trinity Sunday, Reflection on John 3:1-17

Jesus has been talking to Nicodemus, but now is speaking to a plural you when he says "Very truly I tell you.... The Son of Man must be lifted up so that whoever believes in him may have eternal life."

We take "lifted up" to mean the crucifixion or the resurrection or the ascension, or all of these. He is in Jerusalem at the beginning of his ministry yet his words will be understandable after his death, resurrection, and ascension.

Or, will they be? Nicodemus had seen signs as had the other Pharisees but he was unwilling to come publicly to Jesus. The audience for John's Gospel had seen even more signs; were they able to believe?

Jesus said that those who believe in him may have eternal life; also see, John 3:36; 4:14; 5:24; 6:27: and 17:14 (with thanks to The New Interpreter's Study Bible).

What is being promised? Not just heaven later after we're dead. The word we translate as eternal carries the meaning of a different quality of life, a new life free of the worldly, temporal concerns of the old life.

Surely, all football fans have seen that sign in the stands saying John 3:16. Please don't stop with that verse. God's intention is that this eternal life is for us all.

As we are now approaching Trinity Sunday, Fred Craddock (in his contribution to Preaching Through the Christian Year B) helps us as he explains that Jesus Christ reveals the truth about God and that the Holy Spirit is the active presence of God. Then, he stresses:
But the overall affirmation of the text is that God is a life-giving God. This is no new word, as though God had ceased to be a wrathful judge and had now mellowed into forgiving love. The Hebrew Scriptures had declared God's grace in the story of the brazen serpent in Numbers 21:4-9 (vv.14-15). Our text proclaims, then, what has always been true of God, and what is comforting to hear again: God loves the wold; God desires that none perish; God gives the Son that all may live; God has acted in Christ not to condemn but to save. To trust in this is to have life anew, life eternal.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Reactions to the Pentecost Surprise, a Reflection on Acts 2:1-11

The Holy Spirit appeared suddenly, loudly, and effectively. The reaction was mixed. Some were bewildered, amazed, astonished.

Even when they found themselves able to understand in their own languages what the recipients were saying, the first witnesses either didn't know what was happening or made up a reason that seemed reasonable--they must be drunk.

Miracles or any exciting phenomena do not necessarily generate faith.

Peter responded to the lack of understanding and the rude remark by preaching a sermon.

Nonbelievers will not agree with our explanations. At least right away. After all, why should they? Allowing experience to explain phenomena is not unexpected.

Be careful with those sermons. They don't always help the unbeliever. At least right away.

I'm wondering what fraction of the people listening to a sermon on any Sunday are unbelievers. I'm wondering what they think about what they see happening that we explain has come through the Lord.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Jesus Christ is Lord, a Reflection on Philippians 2:5-13

In their The First Paul (, Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan offer us three understandings of this passage by contemporary scholars:

    1) Christ is being contrasted with Adam, who with Eve wanted to be like God. Rather, he emptied himself.

    2) The text is referring to the preexistent Christ, the prebirth Jesus, who emptied himself to become human; that is, vulnerable, even to the point of being executed.

    3) Paul's first hearers would have been aware that the Roman emperor claimed to be "in the form of God" and regarded "equality with God as something to be exploited." They would have heard the claims that the emperor was divine, Lord, Son of God, Savior of the World, bringer of peace on earth. Paul is making the radical claim that Jesus Christ is the one who deserves the titles instead of Caesar.

Borg and Crossan say we don't have to choose between these three interpretations:
All make the same claim. What we see in Jesus--Christ crucified and raised as "Jesus Christ the Lord"--is the way, the path. This, Paul says in this text, is the mind that the followers of Jesus are to have. What we see in Jesus is the way, the path, of personal transformation. And it is the way, the path, of advocacy of a way of life very different from and in opposition to the normalcy of "this world." And it would cost Paul his life.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Consolation from love, Reflection on Philippians 2:1-4

Paul encouraged Christians to live in community and to care for one another. How might such a community look now?

Generations of Hope is a nonprofit adoption agency that has designed a community to resemble a nurturing small town, complete with surrogate grandparents. Created out of a shuttered Air Force base, Generations of Hope seeks to rescue children from foster care and place them with adoptive parents who have moved here. About 30 children currently live with parents in 10 homes. The community is also home to 42 older people who have subsidized rent.

Read more about this amazing experiment

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

John's advice--Share, a Reflection on Luke 3:7-11

John's target in this passage is the pious. He warns them that just showing up for the worship service does not substitute for doing what God wants them to do.

John is warning them of imminent destruction--The ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree that doesn't bear good fruit is going to be cut down.

The crowd asks him how they can avoid being destroyed.

He tells them "Share what you have with who needs it."

Christians today seem to be upset about behavior of others, but I don't hear much criticism of people neglecting to share. Are we raising a different crop of fruit than what John was talking about?

Monday, April 30, 2018

Y'all, a Reflection on Philippians 1:3-8

For whatever reason, English speakers dropped the singular second-person pronoun. So, we can't tell when "you" means "thee"; i.e., singular, and when it means "you"; i.,e., plural.

So, I looked up this passage in my Greek New Testament to make sure which you that Paul was writing to. And, of course, the you is plural. In the American South, we would say y'all but probably wouldn't write it.

In any case, read this passage as if it is written to your congregation, not just to you personally. Paul is concerned about how all of you are, and how all of you are treating each other, and how all of you are working to do the work that Jesus Christ intended for all of you to do.

We need to keep in mind that salvation is not merely a personal matter, a case of my being plucked out of a bad situation, but rather a much bigger matter, a case of the world in which I live being transformed.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Time to Repent, a Reflection on Acts 17:29-31

Paul had been raised as a Jew and had lived among Jews. So, a god not made by human hands would have been a basic, long-accepted truth for him--but not so for the Athenians. As would the existence of God not lots of gods.

Paul is talking to people who would not have been brought up on the Scriptures that had formed and nurtured his understanding.

They may not have known about God, but God knows about them. "We are God's offspring," he tells them. It's hard for some of us to go this far. Although like Paul, we may believe that God created them since God created everything, we still aren't quite ready to accept that non-Christians are also God's children.

Paul then talks about the future, what is necessary for them and for all of us to do--Repent. We might be able to plead ignorance if we really had not been told something, but once we have been told, ignorance is no longer a valid excuse or even explanation. Paul tells them, "The day is coming when God will appoint a man to judge the world in righteousness."

What we do does matter. We will be judged. And since we will be judged righteously, that's the way we should be behaving.

"You can be assured of this," Paul tells them, "because he has raised this judge from the dead."

Monday, April 16, 2018

Sermon to Seekers, a Reflection on Acts 17:22-28

Paul stood in front of the Areopagus in Athens. I looked it up. The word means "Temple of Ares (god of war)" or "Mars' (another name for Ares) Hill." This building in Paul's time was the meeting place for the highest judicial and legislative council.

He begins by complimenting the Athenians on how religious they are. Or is he being a little snarky when he says that they worship even an unknown god?

He continues "Although you may not know the god you worship, I can tell you about the God who made the world, everything in it, a God not confined to any building, a God who does not need anything but instead provides everything."

Paul then tells them that God is the source and director of all people, and that while we may be looking for God, God is not far from us.

The one-God part may have been difficult for the Athenians to grasp. We moderns on the other hand may not be able to admit how many temples of unknown gods we spend time in and money on. We think our jobs are important, as are our leisure activities. Like the ancients, we also search for meaning or affirmation or security, physical or psychological, and, of course, amusement.

And like them, God is not far from us--even when we are looking in the wrong direction. God has created us--all of us--and continues to provide us life.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Ananias goes to Saul who listens, a Reflection on Acts 9:7-20

Jesus spoke to Ananias in a vision: Go tell Saul to tell about me to both Gentiles and Jews.

Ananias was surprised at the choice of Saul because of his efforts at ridding Judaism of Christ followers. But, he expressed no surprise at the message only the messenger. After all, Jesus himself had reached out to many persons who were not faithful Jews--or any kind of Jew--for example, sinners, collaborators, and foreigners.

Jesus is still reaching out. It is ironic that he would choose Saul for the mission. Saul, who had been trying to rid the Jews of those who were adherents to Christ, is now going to be asked to go to people who aren't even Jews.

Ananias was afraid and had reason to be; yet, he does what the Lord tells him to do--approach this man who has been persecuting people like him.

He did what Jesus had told him to do. Immediately Saul's sight was restored. He got up, was baptized, ate some food, got stronger, and begin to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying "He is the Son of God."