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."

Monday, September 1, 2014

Reflection on readings for September 1

Your throne, O God, endures forever.
Your royal scepter is a scepter of equity.
(Psalm 45:6)

Job 40:1-42:17 The Lord reminds Job, "I am powerful, I have created the order by which all elements, animals, and people live. I am the giver of all, the One who knows all. Can any human do what I do."

Job replies, "I know you can do everything, that nothing is impossible for you. Hear me now."

What Job wishes for the Lord to hear is "I thought I knew you, but I lacked knowledge. Now that I see you clearly, I recant and repent."

After this comment by Job, the Lord will say to Eliphaz "I'm angry with you and your friends who have not spoken the truth about me as did Job."

The test is over. Job is returned to his life as it had been.

When Job emerges from his tragedy, he able to pray for his friends--I presume this means the ones who had been badgering him and trying to correct him throughout the book.

He died old--at 140, twice the length of what was expected in Psalm 90:10.

Many commentators think that this section was added by a different source from most of the book of Job. These verses seem to be a reaffirmation of the Deuteronomic theory of blessings as rewards for right behavior in contrast to verses 1-6 in this chapter.

Modern commentators try to reconcile both understandings by saying that whichever we hold, that God is present in our bad times and our good. We may make bad choices or bad things may happen despite our good ones, but God is still with us. And, our recognition of God's presence can help us through our difficult times.

Aside: Allen & Williamson in Preaching the Old Testament remind us that Job 42:6 is difficult to interpret:
Some scholars think that Job recognizes that both the Deuteronomic viewpoint on blessing and curse (represented in the book of Job by the friends) and Job's persistent demands to understand this notion in another framework of meaning comes up short. Having been addressed directly by the awesome God, Job recognizes that chaos is innately a part of creation and neither chaos nor prosperity can be neatly explained. While chaos is powerful, God's speeches in chapters 38 through 41 assure Job that it will not destroy the patterns of life through which God supports the world.
2 Corinthians 5:11-21
Paul tells us: At one time, we viewed Christ from a human point of view. We now know better. His death changed what we knew about him, and it changes what we know about ourselves and each other. We don't live just for ourselves; we live for him who died and was raised--raised for all.

Paul is telling us about a great do-over:
So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!
God has acted. God promises to act: Christians look forward to the coming of Christ. Christians have been changed by the coming of Christ.
At the beginning of chapter 5, Paul contrasts the earthly tent we live in with the building we have from God, an eternal heavenly dwelling. He then shifts terminology from tent to body. While we are in living in this body, we are not in the home we will have with God. Paul asserts that we need to think ahead while we are still in this body because we will be judged by Christ and receive recompense.

Paul, as usual, moves from the each to the all. "Since everyone is to be judged, we need to persuade everybody," he argues. "Everything we do is for you. Everything we do is because of the love of Christ. Christ died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them."

Paul himself had once viewed the followers of Jesus as troublemakers. He had tried to stop them until he himself was stopped by the risen Christ. Paul now sees everyone not just in the flesh but as a new creation.

Everything is new. God took action, reconciling us to God and also giving us the ministry of reconciliation.

Reconciliation--getting things back to the way they should have been before we disrupted them.

Reconciliation implies that we weren't always right and that other people didn't always do right to us. You don't need forgiveness if you have never sinned. But we did. And they did. And God reconciled the world through Christ, that is God forgave our trespasses. And didn't stop with our forgiveness. God entrusted the message of reconciliation to us.

Paul wrote to those fractious Corinthians, "In Christ, there is a new creation." They can start over. And this time they can do it right. At the first creation, God pronounced each part good.

And while it started off good, our human ancestors did mess up quite a bit.

But, remember, "In Christ, there is a new creation."

Paul goes on to tell them--and through them, us--what our assigned task in this new creation is to be. We are ambassadors for Christ. Ambassadors--we travel, reach out, communicate. God appeal is made through us--in our travel, reaching out, and communicating, we are charged with transmission of what God wants them to know.

Paul had explained the meaning to the Corinthians, and now they were to live it out so others would also know it.

Since the first creations, humans had given in to sin. Now, it's time to defeat it.
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Note: We are not being called to be self-righteous but rather to be part of and communicators of God's righteousness.

Psalm 45:1-17
Although this psalm is directed to a bride who is marrying the king, we can read it as being directed to any bride, "Forget your people and your father's house." That is, we can read it that way, but it's really hard today to imagine that any bride should be asked to break off any family contact and instead submit to her husband's authority--even if the exchange would result in lots of gifts and extravagant clothes.

I find more palatable the interpretation that God calls people to leave the comfortable and familiar to go to the uncomfortable and unfamiliar. Think of foreign missions, but don't restrict mission work to other countries. After all, there's plenty of unfamiliar places within easy driving distance of where we go to church--or, pretty likely, within walking distance.

I'm looking at verse 16 now, "In the place of ancestors, you ... shall have sons..." In the church we attend, we may hear, or say, "That's not the way we do it." Yet, it may be time to rethink the way we are used to and consider whether a new way might suit God better.

Aside: Why do Americans need a prayer addressed to a king? I suppose Christians can overcome any problem with this verse by thinking that the ancient psalmist was anticipating the birth of Christ the King. In any case, the king is this psalm has important characteristics that all persons in power should attempt to emulate: love of righteousness and hatred of wickedness.

Proverbs 22:14
The mouth of a loose woman is a pit;
he with whom the Lord is angry falls into it.

Prayer for Today: God, remind us that you travel with us when we leave the comfortable and the familiar to try new places and to meet new people. Remind us of the ways you intend for us to behave in any place, familiar or unfamiliar. Amen.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Reflection on the readings for August 31

Rouse yourself! Why do you sleep, O Lord?
Awake, do not cast us off forever!
Rise up, come to our help.
Redeem us for the sake of your steadfast love.
(Psalm 44:23, 26)

Job 37:1-39:30
Job and each of his friends have done a lot of discussing what has happened and why, but now, for the first time in the book of Job, the Lord speaks.

"Man up. Answer these questions. Where were you when I was creating? Who gave me any help or advice about anything?"

Tangent: Please note that later the Lord will say "I'm angry with those three guys who kept mounting pious arguments to Job when he was suffering. Job is the one who has spoken right of me," (42:7-10). Thus, I'm asserting that God is okay with our needing to express laments.

The Lord has appeared to Job out of the whirlwind. Commentators tell me that this word can mean thunderstorm. I've seen more thunderstorms than whirlwinds, so I'm translating it that way. I'm imagining looking out the window (or, since I'm from Texas, standing out on the porch) watching the lightning, the trees swaying, loose objects bouncing down the street. In the days after the storm, I can observe how dust has become a flower bed.

The Lord says to Job, "Who can do this? Can you?" then asks, "Who do you think can you provide a way that wild animals can be fed, that birds can find food?"

God has provided a world in which flowers grow and lions lunch--and sometimes I get glimpses of all of this, and when I'm not looking, this world keeps revolving. Sometimes I get a glimpse of God but even when I'm not looking, God is still there, still at work.

2 Corinthians 4:13-5:10
Paul writes to the Corinthians that he and they have the same spirit of truth that is in accordance with scripture, "I believed, and so I spoke." Allen & Williamson, in their Preaching the Letters, find the source of that scripture to be Psalm 116. So, I looked this psalm up: "I love the Lord, because he has heard my voice and my supplications. Because he inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live."

Paul is testifying that his knowledge of the Lord enables him to do that testifying. What the Lord has done for him, the Lord can do for him. And for them, as well.

And for some others, too. Read verse 15 again. It contains assertions that are we aren't to find contradictory:  Everything is for our sake. Grace extends to more and more people. The extension of grace results in an increase in recognition of God.

For some of us, belief has to come before grace. For others, we felt the result of grace and then were able to believe.

But, just who is included in this "more and more people" that Paul refers to?

Belief in God is not belief in some magic power that will ensure that we will never suffer, never face hard times, never have losses. Paul writes to people whose lives are difficult.

Pain is real but temporary. God's glory lasts forever.

Commentators differ on the message that Paul is delivering in the opening verses of chapter 5. A common interpretation is that he's saying that our physical bodies on earth will decay, but we are assured of a heavenly home. On the other hand, Beverly Gaventa in Texts for Preaching has found another interpretation, that rather Paul is not referring to resurrected bodies of individuals but rather is referring to the new creation in which believers will find a home.

Can we, as Christians, find as much assurance in the notion of a transformed earth for everyone as we do in the notion of being individually transported to a home far away from this earth?

Psalm 44:9-26

Proverbs 22:13
The lazy person says, "There is a lion outside! I shall be killed in the streets!"

Prayer for Today: O Lord our God, sustain us through our times of difficulty. Strengthen our faith in our times of difficulty. Then in times of ease and comfort, jog our memory of your presence. Amen.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Reflection on readings for August 30

For not in my bow I trust,
nor can my sword save me.
But you have saved us from our foes,
and have put to confusion those who hate us.
In God we have boasted continually,
and we will give thanks to your name forever.
(Psalm 44:6-8)

Job 34:1-36:33
Elihu warns that Job is misleading them, that God gives people what they deserve to get. God sees everything. Then Elihu specifies certain sins that will be punished; e.g., not helping the poor.

He continues, "Your wickedness and your righteousness affect other people, Remember, God doesn't listen to an empty cry."

Elihu exalts God's greatness and warns of God's anger.

2 Corinthians 4:1-12
Paul was writing to the early church, the post-transfiguration, post-crucifixion, post-resurrection church: Those other apostles have been misleading you. They have thrown a veil over the true gospel. The light that has enabled us to see is the light that will enable you to see. That light comes in the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

The light was there for the Corinthians, but they had allowed themselves to be blinded by the false apostles.

He wrote to the Corinthians of what seems like a paradox, that extraordinary power belongs to God but we who follow God may not always appear very powerful. Look at Christ, Paul says, he suffered and died. We may undergo afflictions, suffering, persecution. Keep looking at Christ. His life is now made visible in what we do.

The church is the Body of Christ.

An example of a Christian who was willing to suffer, even to give up his life, was Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  He led a resistance movement against the Nazis, returning to Germany from safety in America. He loved God, and because of this love, he loved God's people.

Here is an excerpt from his The Cost of Discipleship:
In the fellowship of the crucified and glorified body of Christ we participate in his suffering and glory. His cross is the burden which is laid on his Body, the Church. All its sufferings borne beneath this cross are the sufferings of Christ himself. .... For while it is true that only the suffering of Christ himself can atone for sin, and that his suffering and triumph took place "for us," yet to some, who are not ashamed of their fellowship in his body, he vouchsafes the immeasurable grace and privilege of suffering "for him," as he did for them. No greater glory could he have granted to his own, no higher privilege and the Christian enjoy, than to suffer "for Christ," ....
Although Christ has fulfilled all the vicarious suffering necessary for our redemption, his suffering on earth is not finished yet, He has, in his grace, left a residue of suffering for his Church to fulfill in the interval before his Second Coming (Col 1:27). This suffering is allowed to benefit the Body of Christ, the Church....
The Christian may now serve so that "Christ may be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death" (Phil 1:20). Such vicarious activity and passivity on the part of the members of the Body is the very life of Christ, who wills to be formed in all this. We are simply following the first disciples of Christ.

However, not many of us will face imprisonment or execution because of our claim to be Christian. Yet, we are called to make Jesus visible in our lives. Beverly Gaventa, in Texts for Preaching B,  points out:
This passage may be particularly important for those churches that were once referred to as "mainline." The frantic search for answers to declining membership and for new identity for denominations might well be set in a larger context, one that at least considers the possibility that in some sense the church's ministry cannot be defeated, despite all appearances to the contrary.
Psalm 44:1-8
How much of our success, how many of our achievements, do we attribute to our own hard work, to our own efforts? How willing are we to give God credit?

Proverbs 22:10-12 (adapted)
Drive out a scoffer, and strife goes out;
quarreling and abuse will cease.
Those who love a pure heart and are gracious in speech
will have the king as a friend.
The eyes of the Lord keep watch over knowledge,
but overthrows the words of the faithless.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, help us to discern your presence in this world that we inhabit. Help us to live the way that Christ taught, even in those times that it is inconvenient for us. Amen.

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.