Offertory Prayer

Invitation to the Offering
The offering you made last week empowered ministry within our congregation and in response to the needs of our community. It also helped support the work of ministries beyond the local church that reach people who are in desperate need to feel the touch of love and reconciliation. Through the Episcopal Fund, your church not only supports the Bishop who serves your conference, but the global work of our United Methodist episcopal leaders. Your giving makes possible their witness for the whole church in many areas including evangelism, justice ministries, global health and working with the world’s poor. This ministry happens thanks to the generous support of United Methodists like you. I invite you once again to give generously as we worship God through the sharing of our gifts, tithes and offerings.

August 31, 2014 -- Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost/in Kingdomtide

Learn more about the work of the Council of Bishops of the UMC at: http://www.umc.org/who-we-are/council-of-bishops

Holy God, we bring our gifts to your altar this morning, remembering that Jesus told us that if we were truly to be his disciples we would need to “deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow.” It’s tempting to try to follow, without taking the cross; or to try to follow, without denying ourselves. More often, we seek to simply take the name of “Christian” without the denying, the taking of the cross, or the following. Guide us, Lord, on this journey of discipleship. Use these gifts, and use us. In our Savior’s holy name, we pray. Amen. (Matthew 16:21-28)

"Prayers by Ken Sloan. Copyright General Board of Discipleship. www.GBOD.org Used by permission."

Friday, August 29, 2014

Reflection on readings for August 29

Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause
against an ungodly people;
from those who are deceitful and unjust
deliver me!
(Psalm 43:1)

Job 31:1-33:33
Job gives a list of sins that would deserve being punished and asserts his innocence of each one of them. For example, he hasn't been unfaithful to his wife or told lies or mistreated his slaves or withheld anything from the poor or widows.

Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar have nothing to say. A fourth accuser appears, Elihu, who is angry with Job for justifying himself rather than God. He says, "Since I am young, I gave you others the change to impart some wisdom, but you didn't. So, I will." Elihu demands that Job is wrong to claim that he is sinless because God can't be wrong. God forgives sinners who admit that they have sinned.

2 Corinthians 3:1-18
Since Paul's understanding of the purpose of Moses' veil differs from that of the version in Exodus, we are prompted to wonder why. Boring & Craddock, in their New Testament Commentary, suggest that Paul thought that the veil like other components of Jewish religious faith were not necessary for Christians.

For Paul, none of us need to be protected from a view of the glory of the Lord. The New Interpreter's Study Bible suggests that Paul may be referring to the new covenant as described by Jeremiah, "No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, 'Know the Lord.' for they shall all know me...." (Jeremiah 31:31-34).

When we try to get a modern meaning from an ancient text, we really ought to spend some effort on thinking about what the text meant when it was written--in this case: what was the underlying problem that Paul was addressing.

Allen & Williamson, in Preaching the Letters are helpful. Paul is trying to overcome the problems he believes that the super apostles have caused in Corinth. He is rebutting claims that they have made about him:
....The other missionaries have incorrectly used Exodus 34:29-34. Paul speaks with great boldness, that is, not viewed but frankly and publicly. The super apostles imitate Moses, but not in the way they think they do. According to Paul, they speak from behind a veil, preventing the community "from gazing at the end of the glory." In other words, they prevent the congregation from seeing clearly the nature of the coming realm of God beside which the glory so prized by the super apostles will fail. Therefore, the super apostles and those who follow them are "hardened against the purposes of God in the same way as Pharaoh."
Psalm 43:1-5
Many times when we pray, we are expressing gratitude for what has already been provided for us. But, sometimes, we are in situations of despair, of loss, of fear. Psalm 43 gives us the words to pray to God when we have been treated unfairly.

We ask for defense and for refuge.  And when we need defense and refuge, we turn to God. We ask God to spread light on our situation so we will know what we should do. We have known this, and we have to re-know it from time to time.

Caution: William Holladay, in Long Ago God Spoke, reminds us that the word translated as soul, nepes, should not be understood as some religious part of us but rather as all that makes up our total being.

Proverbs 22:8-9
Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity,
and the rod of anger will fall.
Those who are generous are blessed.

Prayer for Today: In times of frustrating despair, pray the words of Psalm 43.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Reflection on readings for August 28

As a deer longs for flowing streams,
so my soul longs for you, O God.
(Psalm 42:1)

Job 28:1-30:31
Job rhapsodizes on wisdom, how hard it us for so many to find it and how God knows and is its source.  Job looks back on his life, how rewarding it had been, and, in despair, how hard it is now.

2 Corinthians 2:12-17
Not everybody accepted Paul's preaching with approval. Neither does Paul approve of some of the others' preaching. He asserts his sincerity and that he has been commissioned by God.

Psalm 42:1-11
No, we don't have to pretend that everything that happens is really for the best. We are allowed to recognize the difference between things working out well and not working out at all.

Much of the Bible is written about God and about the relationship between God and God's people--Genesis through 2 Chronicles, say.

The books of the prophets are filled with words that God intends for us to listen to.

The wisdom books, including but not limited to Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, are largely people speaking to people, that is, wise people speaking to people that need and want to be wise.

Psalms, though, has a large component of people speaking to God.

And often, what we say is a complaint, an expression of sadness, a lament that things are the way we wanted--or expected--them to be.

Psalm 42 begins with an expression of longing for God, a longing prompted by a sense of separation from God. A long separation, and one that has been noticed by onlookers.

The psalmist is in despair. He thinks that God has forgotten about him.

Is being too unimportant to be remembered worst than being so bad that you deserve being punished?

Although he thinks that God has forgotten him, he knows very well that his enemies haven't. They mock him, "Where is your God?"

But, even in despair, the psalmist turns to God,
Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my help and my God.

Proverbs 22:7
The rich rules over the poor.
and the borrower is the slave of the lender.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, turn us toward Christ, keep us focused on Christ, enable us to demonstrate the work of Christ in this world. Amen.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Reflection on readings for August 27

Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,
from everlasting to everlasting.
Amen and Amen.
(Psalm 41:13)

Job 23:1-27:23
Job's friend has accused him of great wickedness--of overextending credit to people beyond what they can pay back and then stripping them of their remaining assets" (22:1-11). The friend then counsels Job to try to get closer to God and to do what God wants, "If you pray, God will listen" (22:21-30).

Job responds "If, only. I've been praying. I've been asking God why that I have been punished this way. but I can't seem to find him. He's not anywhere that I've looked." Job further responds to his friend's attack by asserting, "I've done what God wants. I've never sinned." (10-12).

Job is ready to give up, "I'd just like to vanish."

Yet, even in this, Job says, "Still I’m not annihilated by darkness; he has hidden deep darkness from me."

After reading Job 24, look at your daily newspaper (that is, if you are an old person like me and still read the printed paper; otherwise, read it online or catch the news on TV or radio.) How timely this chapter seems. We still have violence--by other people and by nature. We still have wealthy,  powerful people who are able to protect themselves in ways the rest of us cannot.

Job says to Bildad, and to us, "Well, what are you doing to help?"

2 Corinthians 1:12-2:11
Paul explains that he has delayed returning to Corinth because of an earlier troubled visit. He asks them to forgive the trouble maker that had caused Paul the trouble there.

Boring and Craddock in their People's New Testament Commentary sum it up for us:
Paul regards the church to be in a struggle with hostile demonic powers that resist its mission. Discord within the congregation is more than a problem of interpersonal relationships. Internal conflicts hinder the mission of the church and are thus a strategy of Satan.
Psalm 41:1-13
A prayer for forgiveness. An assertion of God's care.

Proverbs 22:8-9
Whosoever sows injustice will reap calamity,
and the rod of anger will fail.
Those who are generous are blessed,
for they share their bread with the poor.

Prayer for Today:  God, we turn to you for healing, both for our bodies but also for our congregations. Amen.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Reflection on readings for August 26

Do not, O Lord, withhold your mercy from me;
let your steadfast love and your faithfulness
    keep me safe forever.
(Psalm 40:11)

Job 20:1-22:30
Zophar demands that Job pay attention to him. "Wickedness tastes good for a while but turns to vomit." He outlines ways that God will send punishment to sinners.

Job replies that Zophar should listen to what he has to say, "The wicked don't always get punished." then adds, "How often will you comfort me with empty nothings?"

Eliaphaz is not convinced by Job. He reminds him of the greatness of God and asserts that God will save the penitent.

2 Corinthians 1:1-11
[Scholars tell us that 2 Corinthians as we have it in our Bible is a compilation of several letters written by Paul then combined but probably not in chronological order.]

Paul tells the congregation at Corinth: God consoles us in our afflictions so that we may console others. God raised Jesus and will rescue us.

In their Jewish Annotated New Testament, Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler point out that the relationship between affliction and consolation was raised in 1:3-11 and is the backbone of the arguments we will read in 4:7-10; 4:16-5:10; and 12:7-10.

Psalm 40:11-17
These verses sound like ones that Eliaphaz could pray. Yet, they also sound like ones that we could all pray.

Proverbs 22:7
The rich rules over the poor,
and the borrower is the slave of the lender.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, open us to your truth but guide us in our telling others what they ought to be doing. Console us in our pain. Direct us to consoling others. Amen.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Reflection on readings for August 25

You have multiplied, O Lord my God,
your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us;
none can compare with you.
Were I to proclaim and tell of them,
they would be more than can be counted.
(Psalm 40:5)

Job 16:1-19:29
Job responds to those people who have been preaching to him: Have windy words no limit?

He then speaks of his despair but asserts "There is no violence in my hands, and my prayer is pure."

Job prays for relief, "My spirit is broken, my days are extinct, the grave is ready for me, and my eye dwells on their provocation."

Bildad levels accusation at Job, "You think we are stupid. The wicked get what they deserve."

Job responds that his friends' comments have not been helpful and have even made his situation more painful.

Job pours out a lament to God and affirms his allegiance to God.

1 Corinthians 16:1-24
Paul asks them to give financial support to the churches in Jerusalem.

Paul's final message is still timely to our modern congregations: Keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.

Psalm 40:1-10
Psalm 40 begins "I waited patiently for the Lord...." Believers by being believers are not immune from the pains in life. I'm also admitting that my own waits have not always been very patient. But, the psalmist was patient--and needed to be--note the "waited" part. But, also note what is being waited for--the Lord. Even in times of tribulation, pain, or disappointment, the psalmist recognizes the source of what is going to make things better.

This trust comes, in part, from what has already happened, "He drew me up from a desolate pit, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure." Rescue plus a new start.

The psalmist doesn't keep this rescue, this improvement in his life a secret. Rather, he tells about it. And the ones he tells listen, and, because of what they hear, their lives are changed, their expectations are changed, even what they consider as powerful enough to help them through their difficulties will shift, "Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord. Happy are those who make the Lord their trust, who do not turn to the proud, to those who go astray after false gods."

This psalm begins with gratitude to the Lord, recognition of what the Lord has done. It continues with affirmation of the benefits of trusting the Lord rather than some other false gods, "You have multiplied, O Lord my God, your wondrous deeds and your thoughts; none can compare with you."

How are we to worship? What is it that God expects us to do to show that we do worship? Where does worship happen? What is the necessary cost? Am I doing it right?

The psalm says, "Sacrifice and offering you do not desire, but you have given me an open ear. Burnt offering and sin offering you have not required." Focus first on what is not necessary--offerings; then, pay attention to what we have been given--that open ear.

That ear is open to what has been written in the Torah. More than listening, the psalmist attests that what has been written in a scroll has become a law within his heart.

Proverbs 22:1
A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches,
and favor is better than silver or gold.

Prayer for Today: O Lord our God, give us the right words to share when someone around us is in despair. And, O Lord, restrain us from saying the wrong words to them. Amen.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Reflection on readings for August 24

Hear my prayer, O Lord,
and give ear to my cry;
do not hold your peace at my tears.
For I am your passing guest,
(Psalm 39:12a)

Job 12:1-15:35
Job told his friends "You think you know so much. Well, everybody knows as much as you." He reiterated his argument that despite what they believed that his situation was not punishment for sin.

He then says "Every animal, every bird, every plant, every fish can tell you that every living thing is in God's hand. I want to argue my case with God."

His friend Eliphaz (Ch 4) speaks again. "Why do you think you know more than we do? What you're saying is a diminishment of God." He repeated his assertion that the wicked will be punished.

1 Corinthians 15:29-58
Christian faith is more than good theology; it's also right living.

Series of contrasts.

Analogy of seed that becomes flower--although you can't see the flower now, it will come from the seed. We already participate in Adam's earthly humanity, and Not yet, in the resurrection life of the new humanity. Notice that Paul does not mention physical resurrection of either Jesus or ourselves. "Body" is the essential self. How resurrection happens is a mystery (Boring & Craddock).

For further reading: I'm posting from a commentary by Thomas Fischer about wrong reasons to serve God: 1) Guilt; 2) Pressure; 3) To please people; 4) Pride; 5) To earn salvation

Psalm 39:1-13
It is interesting to read this psalm on the same day as the selection from Job. Eliphaz could have prayed these verses.

Proverbs 21:30-31
No wisdom, no understanding, no counsel,
can avail against the Lord.
The horse is made ready for the day of battle,
but the victory belongs to the Lord.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, when we despair, encourage us. When we fear, comfort us. When we waiver, strengthen us. Amen.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Reflection on readings for August 23

Do not forsake me, O Lord;
O my God, do not be far from me;
make haste to help me,
O Lord, my salvation.
(Psalm 38:21-22)

Job 8:1-11:20
His friend Bildad tells Job, "If God is punishing you, you must have done something to deserve it. God will not reject a blameless person. " Job replies, "How can anyone lead a totally blameless life? God is all-powerful, but he is not listening to me." Job then addresses God directly, "Why are you doing this to me? You made me, you know me, you know I haven't done anything to deserve what is happening to me."

Another friend, Zophar speaks, "You say you are innocent. God knows what you have done. Turn to God now."

1 Corinthians 15:1-28
Paul reminds the Corinthians the message he terms of first importance: Christ died, was buried, was raised, and appeared to witnesses including Paul himself.

Paul has received this gospel and is passing it on to the Corinthians. His knowledge is based on experience and scripture.

And, now, here we are. What we know about Christ is also based on what we are told--both by long-ago witnesses as well as those in our own times. We hear them recount the good news. We read our Bibles. And we hold firmly to the message that is being proclaimed.

Sidelines: Apparently Paul was not aware of the traditions underlying the Gospel reports of the appearances of Christ to the women at the empty tomb. He includes that the death for our sins and the being raised on the third day was in accordance with the scriptures. That is, to Paul, the death and resurrection of Christ are not a repudiation of Judaism.

Corinth was a city that had been destroyed then rebuilt by the Romans. In Paul's time, it was a thriving port city strategically located with ports on the Aegean and on the western gulf leading to the Adriatic. Like other formerly Greek cities, many gods had been worshiped.

The church founded there by Paul, Silas, and Timothy had, at first, been a vital Christian congregation, but, by the time of this letter, the Corinthians had been visited by and impressed with followers of Simon Peter (spiritual phenomena) and Apollos (wisdom).

(The above information is abstracted from the excellent The People's New Testament Commentary by M. Eugene Boring & Fred B. Craddock.)

I'm struck by Paul's rhetorical strategy. He writes to rich people stressing his being least and unfit. His doing what he is capable of doing is due to the grace of God. Yet, Paul did not leave the gift stored on a shelf of some closet. He worked hard--harder than the other apostles (is this a dig at Peter's followers?)

He worked hard, but he attributes God's grace for the ability to do the work--or, should I read this as God's grace for the ability to want to do the work?

Now, back to us. We have had the opportunity of good, faithful teaching by hard-working teachers who were filled with grace and able to demonstrate that grace to us. And we have been faced with not-so-faithful, not-so-grace-filled teachings and examples. Let us hold firm to the good news proclaimed through Paul. Let us come to believe--and act as if we did. Let God's grace to us not be in vain.

Psalm 38:1-22

Proverbs 21:28-29
A false witness will perish,
but a good listener will testify successfully.
The wicked put on a bold face,
but the upright give thought to their ways.

Prayer for Today: Pray Psalm 38:21-22.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Reflection on readings for August 22

The salvation of the righteous is from the Lord.
You are our refuge in time of trouble.
You help us and rescue us;
you rescue us from the wicked and save us,
because we take refuge in you.
(adapted from Psalm 37:39-40)

Job 4:1-7:21
His friend Eliphaz responds to Job's despair by asserting that sinners deserve punishment. He advises Job to turn to God and pray for deliverance. Job responds that he would agree except that he doesn't know what he has done to warrant the pain he is in. He then does ask for deliverance.

1 Corinthians 14:18-40
More advice on conducting worship service: Make them intelligible to visitors. Suggested pattern: a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Have only two or at most three people speak in tongues and then only if someone can interpret. Women should be silent.

How much of Paul's advice to the Corinthians applies to our worship services? What advice would he give to us today?

Psalm 37:30-40
Reading this passage today I am reminded of Eliphaz' comments.

Proverbs 21:27
The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination;
how much more when brought with evil intent.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, open us to share your word. O Lord, somehow restrain us from misusing your word. Amen.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Reflection on readings for August 21

For the Lord loves justice
and will not forsake the faithful ones.
(adapted from Psalm 37:28a)

Job 1:1-3:26
After reading Deuteronomy, we may think we know the formula to success--do what God told us and things will work out right; don't do it and we will surely suffer. Then, we read the Book of Job.

Job has done everything he was supposed to do. For a while, it looked as if the formula was working for him. He had a big family and a lot of wealth.

Then things fell apart.

The Adversary (in Hebrew, ha-satan) contends to the Lord that Job was a good man only because he had lots of blessings (Job 1:6-12). Then when Job still did not sin even after losing his possessions (1:13-22), the Adversary argued that Job would change his attitude if he himself was injured.

The Lord agreed to this test. The Adversary afflicted Job with a painful skin ailment. Job's wife urged him to blaspheme God.

He wouldn't.

Instead, he said, "Should we accept only good from God and not accept evil?"

After receiving devastating news and living through its aftermath, Lawrence Kushner wrote When Bad Things Happen to Good People that explores the theological underpinning of this question and how it worked out in his family's life.

1 Corinthians 14:1-17
Advice on getting people to come to your church: They're going to understand what you're saying only if you are intelligible.

Psalm 37:12-29
Differences between the wicked and the righteous; difference between their outcomes.

Proverbs 21:25-26
The craving of the lazy person is fatal,
for lazy hands refuse to labor.
All day long the wicked covet,
but the righteous give and do not hold back.

Prayer for Today
: O Lord, console us in times of difficulty.  Direct us to your will. Open us to sharing with others our knowledge of you. Amen.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Reflection on readings for August 20

Commit your way to the Lord;
trust in the Lord;
the Lord will act.
(adapted from Psalm 37:5)

Esther 8:1-10:3
Defeat of their aggressors. In order to remember always, they instituted the feast of Purim.

1 Corinthians 12:27-13:13
Society then was comprised of different levels. Some people were in categories not much respected or admired. Some people were regarded as being at the top of the social pyramid. 

Not only society in general, but also the church.

Paul instructed them to recognize their mutual need for each other's contributions.

I'm wondering about today's congregations. Some differences in all churches--somebody preaches, somebody teaches children's Sunday School (for churches that still have children), somebody leads the choir, and so on. But, do all congregations include people from different economic and ethnic backgrounds? If they did, what differences would the church experience? What differences would the church make on the world (or, at least, the community around it)?

"If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal....," Paul wrote to the fractious Corinthian congregation.

Sounding good, even great, doesn't mean much in Paul's assessment. Love is requisite.

"If I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith...."

Being able to be prophetic, that is, to be able to transmit the words of God, means nothing without love.

Being able to perform miracles, being willing to be generous, even sacrificing one's own safety are all nothing without love.

For the church to continue to do God's work in the world, its members must have love.

And that includes love for each other. Not just feeling, but also acting.

We can see God's love in the community that surrounds us. We can be part of God's love now.

Psalm 37:1-11
Yes, bad things do happen, and, yes, bad people exist. Even if we do what we're supposed to do, we may still have to face the consequences of somebody else's doing what we don't want them to do.

This psalm counsels us on how to get through those bad times.

First, Don't let yourself be tied up in reacting to the person who is trying to hurt you.

After all, they aren't going to be able to sustain themselves forever.

Second, Instead of paying a lot of attention to the person who is trying to upset you, turn that attention to what does last, the Lord.

Paying attention to the Lord, trusting the Lord, will change us.

Vindication may take a while, but leave it up to the Lord.

Proverbs 21:23-24
To watch over mouth and tongue is to keep our of trouble.
The proud, haughty person, named "Scoffer,"
acts with arrogant pride.

Prayer for Today: O Lord our God, help us to notice how those around us show wisdom and generosity, and are willing to share their gifts with the rest of us. Help us now as a church to continue to do your work in the world. Help us to love each other and to act like it. Amen.