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.

Monday, November 20, 2017

When Things Get Really Bad, a reflection on Jeremiah 29:1, 4-14

A man claiming to be a prophet of God announced that Babylon was soon to be defeated. The Lord informed Jeremiah that not everyone who claims to be speaking the word of God is.

The exiles aren't where they want to be. They have lost their home. They are surrounded by strangers. And they are going to be there a lot longer than they had hoped.

The prophet Jeremiah sent them a message, "Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce." In time of loss and despair, they are told to take care of themselves--to find shelter and food, what's needed for refuge and sustenance.

And, they need to recognize that this isn't going to be like a camping trip or even a long journey. He also tells them to get married, and that they will still be in this foreign land when it's time for the children born from these marriages to get married themselves.

Shelter, food, and family. Not hopeless yearning for what was but isn't. Not exactly acceptance but a way to continue under unwanted circumstances.

Then Jeremiah adds another directive, "Seek the welfare of that foreign city and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare will be your welfare."

We can apply this prophecy to our own lives in different ways depending on whether our current situation is more like that of the exiles or more like that of the Babylonians.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Light Has Shined, a Reflection on Isaiah 9:1-7

Isaiah is speaking of a people who have known anguish, not just disappointment that things didn't turn out as well as might be hoped, but anguish, something different from and more than sorrow. His reference is to physical exile, but we can read his promises to apply to all kinds of distances and separations and losses.

Isaiah says of the people who have lived in deep darkness, on them light has shined.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Asking for Justice or Fearing It, a Reflection on Amos 1:1-2; 5:14-15, 21-24

Amos is preaching about what Israel did wrong to deserve the judgment that God had imposed. Scholars disagree on when Amos was doing his prophecy but agree that whether he was writing before or after the monarchy period, this warning of judgment was and is relevant. Amos tells (warns?) them that if they expect to be with God and for God to be gracious to them, then they need to to try to be good, to try to be just. Big well-furnished sanctuaries are not sufficient. God wants more even that big financial outlays and really great music. Rather, what God is looking for is our being just. Which is more difficult--giving more money to the church or being what the church ought to be?

Monday, October 30, 2017

God Speaks to Elijah, a reflection on 1 Kings 19:1-18

It's hard to scare some people--Jezebel, for example.

The king saw Elijah eliminate the prophets of Baal. He experienced the heavy rain that Elijah told him was coming. But, when Ahab reported all this to Jezebel, she didn't back down at all. Instead she sent threats to him, "So let what happened to those prophets happen to me if I don't kill you first."

Elijah, unlike Jezebel, knew when the situation was scary. When he heard the threat, he fled for his life.

Leaving his servant behind, Elijah went a day's journey into the wilderness. Sitting alone under a solitary broom tree, he prayed to the Lord to take his life.

I'm trying to imagine what changed for him--he had been willing to take on a challenge against the priests of Baal, then he had been willing to try to run away from the queen's threat, and how he has given up. Did he think that the Lord had accomplished all possible? Did he think that Jezebel was so much stronger than all the prophets put together that she could win a contest with the Lord? Or, was he just tired of running, of being in conflict? [1-5]

Whatever the reason he had for giving up, the Lord wasn't ready for him to die. An angel came to Elijah, showed him food and water. The refreshments did not refresh him enough to get him back on his journey. The angel returned to him and gave him more encouragement.

Elijah was able to journey for forty days and forty nights coming to Mount Horeb where he spent the night in a cave.

Fear. Despair. Lethargy. Renewed energy. Wilderness trek. Sleep.

Then the word of the Lord came to him asking him what he was doing there.

His response sounds rather confrontational to me, "I've supported you, but nobody else is. They're trying to kill me."
Elijah feels very alone. He is still afraid.
But, now, Elijah is in despair. He had done everything that God wanted; yet, his enemies want to kill him. He ready to give up, to die.

God comes to him in his despair.

Comes to him in an unexpected way. Comes to him in silence.

The commentary in The New Interpreter's Study Bible points out what a contrast this is from earlier theophanies which were accompanied by fire, wind, thunder, lightning, and earthquakes, such as in Judges 5:4-5; Psalms 18:7-15; 68:7-8; Habakkuk 3:15.

In an unexpected way, but Elijah is able to recognize God's voice anyway. [6-12]

When Elijah heard God's voice, he listened. And he did something else. He spoke. He spoke of his discontent. "I've done everything you told me to do, and the result is that they want to kill me. I'm the only one left."

What did Elijah expect God to say? What response do we expect when we lay our lamentations out? Remember, he's not just making this up--he really has been obedient, and people really are out to get him.

God tells him to anoint new kings for Aram and Israel and to anoint a new prophet, Elisha, to succeed him.
God is telling him, "I've haven't abandoned you, but you aren't to abandon your mission, either." Here's how Allen & Williamson put it in Preaching the Old Testament:
Responding to the call and claim of God is a risky busines, and defeat and despondency are often the companions of those who do so. We should not wallow in such feelings, although Elijah did just that, but be open to the God who ever call us forward as Elijah, in spite of himself, was called. God's adamant love gets us through the hard times. [13-18]

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Purpose of the Temple, a reflection on John 2:19-21

King Solomon had intended for the temple to be a holy place, a home of the Lord. Now, a few centuries later, Jesus comes to the temple and is appalled. 

When they saw him driving out the money changers and heard him castigating them, the disciples remembered the line from the Psalms, "Zeal for your house will consume me." Jesus was willing to challenge those who were using for their own benefit what was to be a place to worship. 

Jesus said, "If you destroy this temple, in three days I will raise it up."

By the time that John's gospel was written, this temple had been destroyed by the Romans in retribution for a Jewish insurrection.

Christians began to understand Jesus' words as telling them that he, his living presence, would be the temple for them.

Question for us today: What purpose for us is the sanctuary in our churches? 

Monday, October 23, 2017

Building the Temple, a Reflection on 1 Kings 5:1-5; 8:1-13

When David had become king, he looked at his palace and was aware that God's chest was resting in a tent. However, God spoke to the prophet Nathan that not David, but one of David's sons was to build a temple for the Lord (2 Samuel 7:1-17).

When his son Solomon became king, he began plans for building that temple. Enemies had been defeated. Israel was at peace. The project took seven years, contribution from an ally, and over 100,000 workers.

When the temple was complete, Solomon has the ark brought into Jerusalem to be set in place. The priests carried the ark into the holiest part of this holy place. As they came out, a cloud filled the temple--a cloud, the visible sign of the glory of the Lord.

(His ancestors had been led by the cloud through the wilderness on their journey from slavery to promised land.)

Monday, October 16, 2017

Need for a Change, a reflection on 1 Samuel 16:1-13

The Lord has regretted the choice of Saul as king and has informs Samuel it's time to anoint a new king. Samuel is afraid but does what God wants anyway.  Samuel misunderstands at first what is important in a leader. He thinks the one with he best appearance will do the best job. But, God tells him not to judge by outward appearance. The Spirit of the Lord comes upon David at the point of being anointed by Samuel.

Questions that arose in my mind as I thought about Samuel and David:
Who takes the role of prophet in our contemporary congregations?

Considering how many evil acts have taken place by someone using the name of the Lord, do we want to retire permanently the role of prophet?

Are our modern-day ordinations in any way similar to the anointing of a human being by a prophet?

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Hearing a Hard Message, Reflection on 1 Samuel 3:11-20

How are we to read verse 19? Do we lean entirely on the easy interpretation, "What God wants, God gets"? Is that what "the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground" means?

Or, should we be influenced by the context of this memory? Eli heard the hard word from God transmitted through the young Samuel. And Eli accepted the word. "Don't hide anything from me," he commanded Samuel. So Samuel did what Eli was willing to have done.

What would have happened to God's word if Eli had told Samuel to be quiet, quit running into his room, and go back to sleep?

Can you imagine being Eli?

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

When the Word of the Lord Calls, Reflection on 1 Samuel 3:6-10

Samuel heard God's voice but did recognize that whose voice it was.

Eli knew God, but it didn't occur to him that God would want to talk to Samuel.

It took three tries, but Eli finally caught on.

Would Samuel have ever known that God was intruding on his life if Eli hadn't told him?

When we are Samuel, we need Eli.

When we are Eli, we need to help Samuel.

Monday, October 9, 2017

One of These Days, a Reflection on 1 Samuel 3:1-5

"The word of the Lord was rare in those days...."

Had God really withdrawn from Israel? Historians can stack up the reasons why God might well have decided to ignore those people at that time. They certainly were not behaving in a way that indicated that they had been listening anyway.

Or, had God continued to be reaching out, and they just were too busy listening to their own voices and desires to pay attention?

When we feel lonely, abandoned, stuck in a situation without solution, can we hear God's voice? Or, when we feel complete, secure, satisfied, do we bother to listen?