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.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Voice of the Shepherd, a Reflection on John 10:1-4

We are in the period of Jesus' ministry before the last supper but during a time when he is performing many miracles--displeasing his opponents, the religious authorities. Jesus said that he had come into the world to exercise judgment so that those who don't see can and those who see will become blind." His opponents responded, "Surely we aren't blind, are we?"

So, are Jesus' words in chapter 10 an answer to that question? Is Jesus talking to his followers or his enemies when he describes himself as the shepherd?

Whether he is talking to them or not, isn't he talking about them when he contrasts his own role as the shepherd with that of the thief and bandit?

He has healed a blind man; they have criticized him because he did it on the sabbath. Wouldn't a shepherd have been concerned enough about the sheep in his care not to look on the calendar before helping it?

The sheep can tell the difference between the true shepherd and the false one. They know which one to follow.

John was writing about Pharisees, but they weren't the last false shepherds. Christians must continue to distinguish between the voices speaking to them. Jesus says that the sheep can tell the difference. Is that still true of today's sheep? Do we recognize the voice of the shepherd or are we likely to follow some other attraction?

Monday, June 19, 2017

Shepherd and Host, a reflection on Psalm 23

Psalm 23 is surely the most familiar psalm to many of us. Some of us can even recite it; even more of us recognize it as soon as we hear it being recited.

I suggest a reason that it is so ubiquitous is that we need to hear its message, one of the love and protection that God offers to all of us. A love that protects, comforts, and just is always to be counted on.

John H. Hayes, in Preaching through the Christian Year B, points out that two different images of God are used in this psalm--shepherd and host.

First, the psalm begins, "The Lord is my shepherd." When we are in danger, or in need of direction, we can be comforted with that image of a shepherd taking care of the sheep who really need being taken care of, including being protected from predators, and being told when we are on the wrong path and being shown the right way to go.

Also, the psalm includes, "You prepare a table for me....." The Lord welcomes us, is generous with us, and will continue to do so; "I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long."

Hayes summarizes the diverse expressions of human experience found in this psalm:
One set emphasizes the troubles that threaten to overwhelm human life.... Another set stresses the positive instruments and acts of God's care.... Human life, of course, experiences both the negative and the positive.... This psalm presents the human predicament without any illusion about persons/ being superhumans and above pain, loneliness, and lostness; yet the symbol of God as protector and even corrector affirms the potential of a tranquil life lived amid adversaries and the harsh realities that are the ingredients of every life.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Psalm 13, a Lament Psalm

Over a third of the psalms can be categorized as Lament Psalms. They are important for us to read and to think about. They give us words to express our own sorrows, and they give us permission to use such words, to admit such feelings.

The usual format includes:
addressing God directly,
voicing the complaint,
and, often, expressing trust in God to handle the problem.

Psalm 13 begins, "How long, O Lord?" Are we uncomfortable voicing complaints and doubts?

The psalm asks the Lord to pay attention to the problem--because the situation is so dire that the psalmist must have help.

What has it taken in our lives for us to realize that we need God's help?

Or, are we usually more aware of God when we are in trouble than when things are going well?

Or, the other way around?

Following the usual pattern of a lament, Psalm 13 closes with an expression of gratitude to the Lord for rescue from the dire situation. Then, the psalmist turns to the congregation, "I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me." When we are grateful to God, do we remember to mention that to others?

Monday, May 29, 2017

Two Different Ways, a reflection on Galatians 5:16-26

Paul contrasted two ways of living: by the Spirit or by your selfish desires. He added, "They are opposed to each other, so you shouldn't do whatever you want to do." On the don't-do list: sexual immorality, moral corruption, doing whatever feels good, idolatry, drug use, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, and things like these.

Living by your own selfish desires will harm community because they do not demonstrate or require love of anybody other than oneself thus they are in conflict with the command to love your neighbor as yourself.

Remember the intent of the law is to build a community that would exhibit and allow God's love to prevail.

Don't think of this kingdom as something that we have to die to get. It's a situation that could be possible for us right here and now if only we truly were to consider God our king, if only we truly were to live the way God intended--to sum it up, to love our neighbor as ourself.

If you want to read more, look at Fruit Smoothie, by Dan Dick .

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Book rec

Jana Reiss tweets Galatians 3 in her you-really-should-buy-this-book, "The Twible": "You idiot Galatians! What part of 'saved-by-grace-and-not-by works' did you not understand?" Oh. Pretty much all of it.

https://twitter.com/janariess/status/678746858777366529

One Family, a Reflection on Galatians 3:23-29

Paul is writing to Gentile Christians who have been told that they must become Jews in order to qualify for being part of God's family. He tells them, and through them, us, that they who are not Jews are still children of God.

Faith is the criterion--not citizenship, status, gender.

Jews are in God's family. Those with faith in Christ are, as well.

The first Christians had to learn to accept non-Jews. Modern day Christians may still be having some difficulties in including people who are different. What are the modern day equivalents in verse 28?

Monday, May 22, 2017

Questions to ask myself as I read Galatians 3:1-9

When I listen to the opinions of some Christians then to some different opinions from other Christians, how should I decide which are right?

How do I grade myself on being Christian--by what I do or by what Christ has done?

Just how broad is that acceptance that Paul describes in the account of blessing Abraham and some other groups that didn't practice the rules that Abraham followed?

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Justified, a Reflection on Galatians 2:15-21

To whom is Paul speaking in these verses? We may well assume that since he is writing this letter to the Galatians, this section is addressed to them. But, if we read this week's portion in context, we may not be so sure.

In verse 14, Paul is quoting himself in what he said to Peter in a rebuke, "If you, a Jew, live like a Gentile, where do you get off asking Gentiles to be more Jewish than you are?"

So, in verse 15, when Paul says "We ourselves are Jews by birth," I'm suggesting that he's still quoting what he had said directly to Peter.

"You and I, Peter, believe in Christ Jesus. Although we, as Jews, had been entrusted with the law, the understanding of how God wanted us to live, we now know that God has a way of including not only Jews but others, as well."

BTW, Carl R. Holladay, in Preaching through the Christian Year C, reminds us that Jews already knew that no one is justified by works of the law (e.g., Psalm 143:2; Habakkuk 2:4; Genesis 15:6).

Although these words may have been addressed to Peter, they are of course part of his argument he is using to counteract the attempts of the Judaizers who had followed him to the Galatian congregation and tried to convert the new Christians to Judaism. Paul is asserting that Christians do not have to become Jews in order to be Christians.

"It is Christ who lives in me...I live by faith in the Son of God....I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing."

Tangent from Holladay: We usually read "faith in Christ" in verse 16 to mean that we place our faith and trust in him. Some recent commentators have pointed out that this phrase in Greek is more literally translated to mean the faith that Christ has. Holladay sums it up, "This places greater stress on the work of Christ in our behalf than on our faith in our own behalf."

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Gospel of Jesus Christ, a Reflection on Galatians 1:8-12

Paul writes to them that he is astonished that they have allowed themselves to be misled by some other Christian evangelists: "Who are you listening to? Don't you realize that some people say that they're preaching the true gospel but they aren't even close?"

He issues an anathema against those he asserts are preaching a false gospel. He then asks a question that remains relevant to us: Whose approval is important to you? Do you care more about what the people around you think you should do or what God approves of? Are you trying to please people or Christ?

The difficulty that continues is the necessity of discerning God's will as it may different from that being espoused by some holy-appearing self-proclaimed paragons of Christians. Not everybody who claims the authority to tell us what we should be doing is really speaking the true gospel.