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 World Service Fund, you made possible life-changing mission work led by the General Board of Global Ministries, in areas of clean water and sanitation. Almost 900 million people don’t have access to clean, safe water; and 2.5 billion people do not have safe sanitation. Through partnership across the church and with UMCOR and the Advance for Christ, United Methodists strive to meet this most basic need. 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.

Learn more about the work of the UMC to help people Access Safe Water

July 20, 2014 -- Sixth Sunday after Pentecost/in Kingdomtide
Holy God who chose to live among us: You remind us that in your creation good and evil exist side by side. We know that the evil can come in subtle ways, valuing the regard of others more than seeking to please you, putting self-promotion before compassion for others, or turning a blind eye to injustice. May the gifts we give this morning be our affirmation to choose the good over the evil, and what serves your loving purpose over what denies it. Help us to bear fruit, and may our lives be deemed worthy at the time of harvest. We pray in the holy name of Jesus, our Savior and Redeemer. Amen. (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43)

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

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Reflection on readings for July 22

I love you, O Lord, my strength.
The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer,
my God, my rock in whom I take refuge,
my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised,
so shall I be saved from my enemies.
(Psalm 18:1-3)

2 Chronicles 6:12-8:10
The entire population is assembled for the dedication of the completed temple. Kneeling before the altar, Solomon begins his prayer, "O Lord, God, of Israel, there is no God like you," then recounts the ways that God has cared for them and the ways that God will continue to provide rescue for them.

An interesting juxtaposition between this reading and the one today from Romans is the reference to sin (6:36-39).

That night, God comes to Solomon in a dream and reminds him that the Lord holds people accountable.

Romans 7:14-8:8
At one time, we interpreted this portion of Romans as being an autobiographical account by Paul. However, scholars now assert that he was using "I" to represent a typical anybody, a common practice in Hellenistic writings of his time. Try reading this passage that way rather than as a personal confession of the particular guilt of one man.

We might say "you" or, probably preferably, "we." For example, "We don't always do what we know that we should."

Paul names sin as what is keeping us from doing what we know is right. We can see that doing the right thing is the right thing to do, but we are tempted to do something else. But, we don't need to despair. Paul reminds us that rescue is available to us.

Ronald Allen & Clark Williamson, in Preaching the Letters, discuss Paul's understanding of Sin:
Sin for Paul is not individual sins or the piling up of all of them into some big thing called "Sin" with a capital S, ... a power that governs the world in the old age in which we still live, in spite of the fact that in Jesus Christ we have a foretaste of God's righteousness, .... Paul not only does not express guilt for sinning--"it is no longer I that do it"--he does not admit responsibility for it, at least not so far as to be made guilty for it. Sin is a power in which individuals, groups and nations can become ensnared, like a fish caught in a net. It is our weakness that sin exploits.

They then add:
What we should not do then is wallow in guilt feelings. We should do what Paul did--sing praises to God through Jesus Christ for the magnificent gift of grace (v25).

"Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!"

Psalm 18:1-15
A warrior describes his rescue.

Proverbs 19:24-25
The lazy person buries a hand in the dish,
and will not even bring it to the mouth.
Strike a scoffer, and the simple will learn prudence;
reprove the intelligent, and they will gain knowledge.

Prayer for Today: O Lord our God, we remember the times you have rescued us. Strengthen us now to behave in ways worthy of your attention. Amen.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Reflection on readings for July 21

I call upon you,
for you will answer me, O God;
incline your ear to me,
hear my words.
Wondrously show your steadfast love,
O savior of those who seek refuge
from their adversaries at your right hand.
(Psalm 17:6-7)

2 Chronicles 4:1-6:11

Romans 7:1-13
My source for today is Krister Stendahl, Final Account, Paul's Letter to the Romans. The good that the law has done for us is to provide us with epignosis hamartias, that is, awareness of sin. Stendhahl asserts that verses 7-12 are a midrash on the Fall, that Satan couldn't have tricked Eve without using the law. Paul agrees the law is good, but recognizes that we sin anyway.

Psalm 17:1-15
The psalmist asserts innocence, innocence in every word and deed. I can't help but wonder at least a little if it applies to me when I am in trouble. How often have I contributed to whatever particular difficulty that I find myself in?

Yet, beginning in verse 6, I find the words ones that I can more honestly pray,
I call upon you, for you will answer me, O God;
incline your ear to me, hear my words.
 Wondrously show your steadfast love,
O savior of those who seek refuge
from their adversaries at your right hand.
The psalmist, although in great difficulty, is confident that God will always love and, in that confidence, turns for help.
Guard me as the apple of the eye;
hide me in the shadow of your wings,
from the wicked who despoil me,
my deadly enemies who surround me.
Depending more on the history of what God has done than on the history of what the one making the prayer has done, the psalm concludes with these confident words:
As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness;
when I awake I shall be satisfied, beholding your likeness.
Proverbs 19:22-23
What is desirable in a person is loyalty,
and it is better to be poor than a liar.
The fear of the Lord is life indeed;
filled with it one rests secure and suffers no harm.

Prayer for Today: Pray the verses of Psalm 17 that fit the situation you find yourself today.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Reflection on readings for July 20

Protect me, O God,  for in you I take refuge.
I say to the Lord, "You are my Lord;
I have no good apart from you."
(Psalm 16:1-2)

2 Chronicles 1:1-3:17
Succeeding David as king, Solomon went to the tent of meeting to make offerings to the Lord. That night God appeared to Solomon telling him, "Ask what I should give you." Solomon asked for wisdom. God answered, "Because you asked for this instead of for possessions or for revenge against people who have hurt you, or for long life, I am going to give you not only wisdom but also riches, possessions, and honors."

Romans 6:1-23
Paul asked "Does being saved by grace mean that we can keep on sinning?" He responded to his rhetorical (?) question by asserting that in Christ's death, we are dead to sin. Grace is more than forgiveness,  it is freedom from the power of sin to control us.

I'm paraphrasing: Sin used to control you. You were its slave and an obedient one. Now,  let righteousness be your master. Look at this way, what benefits did you get from sin? What benefits can you receive from God?

Psalm 16:1-11
The Wesley Study Bible describes Psalm 16 as a refugee's song. And certainly the Scriptures contain many stories of refugees--some voluntary but most involuntary. Think about what would be important to you if you lost your home or even your nation, if you had to leave behind so much of what had been familiar, what had seemed to be necessary. Then imagine praying this psalm.

Verse 4 of Psalm 16 reminds us that choosing another god doesn't work out well for people. Verses 5 and 6 are a reminder that the Lord has shown us the way to life, to fullness of joy, and eternal happiness, as well as an expression of appreciation for all that.

The psalmist is not afraid. He trusts the Lord to continue to care for the faithful (10-11).

Proverbs 19:20-21
Listen to advice and accept instruction,
that you may gain wisdom for the future.
The human mind may devise many plans,
but it is the purpose of the Lord that will be established.

Prayer for Today: Lord, remind us of what is important to you. Remind us of the blessings you have given us. Remind us then that you intend for us to share those blessings, Amen.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Reflection on readings for July 19

O Lord, who may abide in your tent?
Who may dwell on your holy hill?
(Psalm 15:1)

1 Chronicles 28:1-29:30
After assembling all officialdom of Israel, David tells them that God would not let him build the temple because he was a warrior who had shed blood, and that the Lord had chosen from David's many sons, Solomon, to be his successor for as long as he keeps the Lord's commandments and ordinance.

Steven Tuell in his commentary points out that in 17:14, the promise for eternal kingship for Solomon and his descendants was unconditional.

Although David was not allowed to build the temple, he did give detailed instructions for building it.

Romans 5:6-21
Several years ago just after reading his passage from Paul about suffering and hope and about God's love for sinners, I then read a couple of stories in the newspaper that seemed to be examples of this message.

The headline is "Vermont: Poetry Classes for Vandals." Twenty-eight young people broke into Robert Frost's house, got drunk, and damaged the place. The prosecuter has asked Jay Parini, a Frost biographer, who believes in the redemptive power of poetry, to lead them in a study of Frost's life and work. The New York Times, June 3, 2008, page A21.

The headline is "Where Illegal Guns Can Do No More Harm." In New York City, thousands of firearms are taken by law enforcement officers each year. Instead of crushing and burying them, they are crushing and re-using them. They have found a way to turn spears into plowshares. Guns are sent to scrap processing plants to be chopped up into tiny pieces and sent to foundries from New Jersey to China. The former firearms will be ultimately be used to build water pipes, chain link fences, or appliances. The New York Times, June 3, 2008, page A22.

Psalm 15:1-5
This psalm is given to us in the words of David but the concerns are ours as well.

It begins with the question, "Lord, who is welcome in your house?"

The answer given:
the one who lives without blame
who does what is right, who has never done wrong to anyone
who stands by his oath even if doing so hurts him
who has never lent money at interest
who has never accepted a bribe.
I'm trying to imagine this list posted at the door of a church--or synagogue or mosque. How many of us would read that list and then go on in?

On the other hand, why is it so much easier for so many of us to imagine a quite different list of who should be allowed in our congregation? Furthermore, why is it so much easier for some of us Christians to think that our Jewish ancestors cared only about dietary restrictions?

Although I'm having a hard time imagining that anyone could live up to the requirements of Psalm 15 completely, I can recognize that I need to try. I need to live and speak in a way that does not harm those around me. I need to remember that any assets I am in possession of are being held by me in trust for the Lord. If I say I'll do something--and it's something I ought to do, then I should do it.

Proverbs 19:18-19
Discipline your children while there is hope;
do not set your heart on their destruction.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, assist us in becoming worthy to enter your fellowship. Assist us in making welcome others into this fellowship. Amen.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Reflection on readings for July 18

The Lord looks down 
    from heaven on humankind
to see if there are any 
    who are wise, who seek after God,
(Psalm 14:2)

1 Chronicles 26:12-27:34

Romans 4:13-5:5
Much of Paul's writing is informed by his need to address an important concern on the Christian church of his time: Can a non-Jew become a Christian? Here, in this letter to the Romans, he reminds them that, after all, Abraham himself was not Jewish at the time that God chose him to be our great ancestor. Paul makes an explicit distinction between Abraham's faith and someone's following religious instruction.

The modern Christian church, as has the church throughout history, continues to wrestle with the question of who is eligible to be included in our faith community.

Who is to be included? "We are," Paul says to his fellows Jews, "because we are descendants of Abraham and God promised inclusion to all of his descendants."

Then Paul adds, "But, remember this: God chose Abraham before the world had even heard of Moses. Abraham couldn't follow the law of Moses before Moses brought it down from the mountain. God's choice was not made because Abraham followed the Jewish law, and it still isn't."

God's promise rests on grace.

Yes, God chooses us. Yes, God chooses a lot of unlikely people. Abraham and Sarah, for example. They were old, really old--100 and 90--when God told them that they were going to have multitudes of descendants.

But, notice that Abraham and Sarah didn't just sit idly by waiting for the future to fall on them. Because of their faith, they were able to respond rightfully.

These great ancestors of ours lived in a way that demonstrated that they really believed that God delivers on promises.

(Caveat: those of you who have read ahead know that Abraham and Sarah sometimes slipped up.)

As I read this passage, I thought about a line from Faulkner that went something like this, "He brought the old man with him every time he came." The old man in Faulkner's tale had been dead a generation or so, but his descendants had not even started to let him go. Well, by the time that Paul was writing to the Romans, Abraham had been dead a long time, but his story still was affecting those who had been told about it.

Paul reminded them, "The words--the pronouncement of acceptance of the trusting--were written not just for Abraham. They were written for all believers."

We read the stories in Scriptures not merely for glimpses into history but also to relive those encounters in our own lives, to glimpse how God continues to work in us humans.

This Sunday, look at the people around you and consider what it means for you that God's Spirit is within each of them. And it's a good time to consider what it means for your congregation that God's Spirit is dwelling within your church body. What kind of witness are you viewing? What kind of witness are you showing? (again, I'm thankful to Allen & Williamson's Preaching the Letters.)

Psalm 14:1-7
The psalmist looks around and can't find anyone who believes in God or anyone who does good. He finds himself in a world of corrupt people, wrong-doers.

And he warns us that this is what the Lord sees, too.

No one does good, no, not one.

The sin that the psalmist specifies is economic. These people who ignore God take advantage of the poor. He says that they really ought to be afraid because God hangs out with the righteous: You would confound the plans of the poor, but the Lord is their refuge.

Do we equate a lack of concern for the poor with atheism?
Do we agree with the psalmist that God prefers the poor?
When we look around us, we also see poverty, but do we see much guilt or remorse?

Proverbs 19:17
Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord,
and will be repaid in full.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, we give you thanks for the help you have given us through the efforts of many people. Help us now to see how we can continue your work by helping others. And increase our will to do so. Amen.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Reflection on readings for July 17

How long, O Lord?
Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide 
      your face from me?
(Psalm 13:1)

1 Chronicles 24:1-26:11
Changes in the situation may require changes in organization. A change in leadership is considered a change in the situation.

Romans 4:1-12
Must Gentiles be circumcised before they can be considered Christian? Our ancestor Abraham, while yet uncircumcised, believed God who recognized his righteousness. Paul concludes "The purpose was to make him the ancestor of all who believe without being circumcised and who thus have righteousness reckoned to them."

Can we metaphorize circumcision to fit present day exclusions and inclusions?

Psalm 13:1-6
Another lament. The psalmist is suffering and has been suffering, feels forgotten by the Lord. But, even in despair, turning still to the Lord for attention.

I'm struck today by the use of two different tenses in verse 5 (I'm using an English translation, not reading the Hebrew). "I trusted" indicates something I have already been doing. But, then, "shall rejoice" may indicate that I am going to respond to my rescue that I am sure will happen.

Verse 6 is not ambiguous: the rescue has happened.

Proverbs 19:15-16
Laziness brings on deep sleep;
an idle person will suffer hunger.
Those who keep
    the commandment will live;
those who are heedless 
    of their ways will die

Prayer for Today: O Lord our God, we step away from our routines for a moment to acknowledge your presence. We are grateful for the many blessings that you have given us. Help us now to respond to those blessings. Help us to be as inclusive as you have been. Amen.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Reflection on readings for July 16

You, O Lord, will protect us;
you will guard us from this generation forever.
(Psalm 12:7)

1 Chronicles 22:1-23:32
Since King David just couldn't trust his son to be able to do the job right, he made sure the right materials were obtained for building the house of the Lord. He cautioned Solomon that his prosperity would depend on observing the statutes and ordinances that the Lord had commanded Moses. Steven Tuell in his commentary of Chronicles points out the differences in David's speech from the way it was described in 1 Kings 2 "where the main body of the speech deals with eliminating enemies and potential rivals."

Choosing what advice to pass on does depend on both what we have experienced and what we want and what we don't want the recipients of the advice to experience.

 Tuell also deduces that David's job had been to be a warrior, Solomon's to be a man of peace. A working bureaucracy is necessary to maintain that peace. So, the Levites.

Romans 3:9-31
Remember that in this letter, Paul is addressing Gentiles. He tells them that they do not have to become Jews in order to be Christians. Their inclusion is a gift.

Psalm 12:1-8
In his A God of Vengeance?, Erich Zengler describes how Psalm 12 follows the basic structure of a lament: 1) Outcry over a disastrous situation; (2) God's answer; (3) Reaction to the congregation to God's words.

Proverbs 19:13-14
A stupid child is ruin to a father,
and a wife's quarreling is a continual dripping of rain.
House and wealth are inherited from the Lord.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, our God, instill within us the wisdom to face whatever confronts us today. Amen.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Reflection on readings for July 15

In you, O Lord, I take refuge.
For you are righteous.
You love righteous deeds.
The upright shall behold your face.
(adapted from Psalm 11:1a, 7)

1 Chronicles 19:1-21:30
Different times, different experiences, different editors, differing versions of history. For example, Chronicles omits details of David's experiences that spring that he got to know Bathsheba. Note that there's also a different giant being killed--but not by a young David but instead by David's nephew.

Another difference: Satan is a character in the story (the first time that name is mentioned in the Bible.) Satan tells David to conduct a census. God was unhappy and sent a plague. The census incident in 2 Samuel is presented more ambivalently: the Lord tells David to do it then David realizes that counting the people is a great sin.

Romans 2:25-3:8
Be judged by the name that you claim. If you present yourself as somebody who knows what God wants people to do, then do those things. As John Gager puts it in his Reinventing Paul, Paul is not denying the law; rather, he is asserting that God will reward the non-Jew who does the law and punish the Jew who doesn't.

Psalm 11:1-7
Psalm 11 asserts that the Lord tests the righteous and the wicked, and that it is the righteous that will behold the Lord.

Proverbs 19:10-12
It is not fitting for a fool to live in luxury,
much less for a slave to rule over princes.
Those with good sense are slow to anger,
and it is their glory to overlook an offense.
A king's anger is like the growling of a lion,
but his favor is like dew on the grass.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, help us to follow your intentions for us. Cleanse from us the practice of hypocrisy and substitute for it genuine love for you and your commands. Amen.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Reflection on readings for July 14

O Lord, you will hear the desire of the meek;
you will strengthen their heart,
you will incline your ear
to do justice for the orphan and the oppressed,
so that those from earth may strike terror no more.
(Psalm 10:17-18)

1 Chronicles 16:37-18:17
1 and 2 Chronicles were written to people who now that they had been released from exile were looking back at what had led to their loss and to their restoration. Today's passage describes David's wish to have a house built for the ark. The prophet Nathan told him that God didn't want that. Instead God was going to do the house building; that is, the family of David.

David responded with a prayer recognizing the power and singularity of God and asking for continued blessing.

David then won several battles extending the kingdom.

Romans 2:1-24
Those who have sinned themselves really don't have the right to judge others. Those who have repented really ought to recognize that other sinners are capable of repenting, too. Those who have been taught what God wants us to do should go ahead and do it.

Psalm 10:16-18
Asserting that the Lord will do justice for the orphan and the oppressed in no way means that we aren't required to do something for them ourselves.

Proverbs 19:8-9
To get wisdom is to love oneself;
to keep understanding is to prosper.
A false witness will not go unpunished,
and the liar will perish.

Prayer for Today: O Lord our God, forgive us for our sins. Restore us to faithfulness. Amen.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Reflection on readings for July 13

Why, O Lord,
   do you stand far off?
Why do you hide yourself 
    in times of trouble?
(Psalm 10:1)

1 Chronicles 15:1-16:36
David has a house. The ark has a tent. When the ark is brought to Jerusalem, David dresses in fine linen, leads a parade of singers and musicians. His wife, Michal, Saul's daughter sees all of this and despises David.

After distributing gifts to the people, more ceremony follows.

Romans 1:18-32
Sin has consequences. For a checklist of sins to avoid, consider verses 29-31.

Psalm 10:1-15
A prayer from someone in despair.

Proverbs 19:6-7
Many seek the favor of the generous,
and everyone is a friend to the giver of gifts.
If the poor are hated even by their kin,
how much more are they shunned by their friends!

Prayer for Today: O Lord, forgive us for our sins. Lead us now into faithfulness. Amen.