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.

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

August 3, 2014 -- Eighth Sunday after Pentecost/in Kingdomtide

God of abundant grace and compassion, you heap blessings on us with the reminder that we have been blessed to be a blessing. As we offer our tithes and offering this morning, we remember that we live in a world where so many don’t have enough to eat or clean water to drink. The words that Jesus spoke to the disciples ring loud in our ears: “You give them something to eat!” As we put these gifts in your hands and lift our eyes in gratitude, bless the gifts and multiply them to ease the need in places we may never go for people we may never meet. We ask this in the holy name of Jesus, the Christ. Amen. (Matthew 14:13-21)

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

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Reflection on readings for July 31

Lift up your heads, O gates!
and be lifted up, O ancient doors!
that the King of glory may come in.
(Psalm 24:7)

2 Chronicles 29:1-36
Hezekiah proclaimed that the destruction they had suffered was due to the misdeeds of their ancestors but now with the help of the Lord they could start over.

Romans 14:1-23
Church conflict is an old story. Paul says to the strong, "Get over yourself. Don't start a fight with those whose beliefs lead them to a stricter life style than the one you allow yourselves."

A problem I have with this teaching is that Paul characterizes the strict as weak. Do I agree with that?

In any case, I welcome his additional comment, "Don't pass judgment; that's God's job."

Paul was writing to a church that was made up of people from very different backgrounds, as had he been when writing to the Corinthians.

"Some of you are strong enough in your faith that the rules the others hold to seem petty to you." Once Paul had criticized Peter for siding with those who insisted on following rules. Now, Paul seems to be siding with them himself.

"If you love them, treat their needs seriously. After all, we are in this together. After all, we owe our allegiance to God." (I've been reading Garry Wills' What Paul Meant.)

Psalm 24:1-10
Who can approach the holy? Still a question for modern worshipers.

The clean hands and pure hearts--are these absolute requirements of who can get in, or are they strong suggestions for how worshipers should order their lives, or they necessary in order for us to receive blessing--or to recognize what is a blessing?

Proverbs 20:12
The hearing ear and the seeing eye--
the Lord has made them both.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, help us now to welcome strangers and to tolerate friends when they are strange. Help us in all our deeds and thoughts to be faithful to you and to demonstrate that faithfulness in our words and deeds. Amen.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Reflection on readings for July 30

Surely goodness and mercy
    shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house
    of the Lord
my whole life long.
(Psalm 23:6)

2 Chronicles 26:1-28:27
Suggested memory verse: But when he had become strong he grew proud, to his destruction. (26:16),

Romans 13:1-14
Paul cites specific commandments which deal with behavior toward other people, behavior that destroys relationships (see Exodus 20:13-17). He says all of these specific commandments as well as any other commandments can be summed up in this one command, "Love your neighbor as yourself." He is echoing Moses. You may remember that in the center of the purity regulations that the Lord spoke to Moses was "You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Lev 19:18).

"The way to fulfill the law, the way to live the way God intends for us to live," Paul says, "is to love."

Krister Stendhal, in his Final Account, Paul's Letter to the Romans, reminds us that church people in particular may need to hear this command to love one another:
"Knowledge puffs up, and love builds up, and Paul is not using that language in order to say that there is much love in the church. On the contrary, he said, if you are going to be a church, and if you are going to be able to stand such distressing fellow Christians as we Christians often are to one another, and as we find ourselves to be, you surely need love. Love is measured by the amount of tension it can take, not by how it feels."
After reminding them of the command to love one another, Paul, like Moses in Leviticus, returns to a list of forbidden activities: drunkenness, debauchery, quarreling, and jealousy.

Moses was speaking to people in the wilderness on their way to the land that had been promised them. Their lives had been ruled by Pharaoh. They now have a new law. They now should recognize that the Lord is their master. Paul is speaking to people living under the reign of Caesar. It's time for them to recognize who really is in charge.

And, Paul is speaking to us.

Psalm 23:1-6
Harold Kushner in his  Lessons to be Learned and Lived, a Reflection on Psalm 23 reminds us that the psalm doesn't offer us the pious hope that if we are good people that our lives will be easy. Instead, we can expect God's help as we meet the challenges that face us. Another lesson that Kushner finds in the psalm is that although we cannot control what happens to us, we can control how we respond to it.

Gary Sims, when he used to write the Reflections each week for First United Methodist, Albuquerque, asked these questions:
Do you dwell in the house of the Lord?
If not, when are you planning to move in?
Will it be after you take care of a few things in your life?
Do you have an agenda or plan that you want to follow before turning your life over to God?
Are you putting God's goodness and mercy on hold?
Are you counting your blessings to see if your cup is overflowing?
Are you looking for a bigger cup?
Do you see that now is the time to move into God's house so that these promises of life can begin?
Proverbs 20:11
Even children make themselves known by their acts,
by whether what they do is pure and right.

Prayer for Today: O Lord our God, we have read over and over what you expect of us. Forgive us for those times that we have not loved or not lived the way you have taught. Forgive us and strengthen our will to change. Amen.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Reflection on readings for July 29

But you, O Lord, do not be far away!
O my help, come quickly to my aid!
(Psalm 22:19)

2 Chronicles 24:1-25:28
King Joash restored the temple  that had been looted by previous rulers. As long as the priest Jehoiada was around, the king did what was what in the sight of the Lord. But, after Jehoiada died, the king fell away. When his sins were pointed out by the successor priest,  Joash ordered his stoning. Joash was assassinated by his servants. His successor, Amaziah, is given a mixed review.

Romans 12:1-21
The center, physically and metaphorically, of the Torah is Leviticus. Think of it as a kind of confirmation manual (with thanks to John H. Hayes' essay in The New Interpreter's Study Bible).

This book begins with seven chapters giving instructions for sacrifices. The animal you offer should be without blemish. Bring it to the entrance of the tent; the priest will take over there. Bring offerings even for unintentional sins. Also offer sacrifices for thanksgiving

Paul said, "Offer your own body as the sacrifice. Offer not only your body; offer yourself, all of yourself. Not just once, giving an animal to the priest and thinking you have accomplished what you came to do. Offer your body, your time, your effort. And your body includes your mind. Use that mind to figure out what God wants, not what the world seems to think is more important."

In this definition of sacrifice, Paul is echoing Old Testament prophets:
"'What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?' says the Lord; 'I have had enough of burnt-offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats (Isaiah 1:11)'".

"For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt-offerings" Hosea 6:6).

Boring & Craddock, in their People's NT Commentary remind us that the "you" Paul uses is plural. Paul is still talking to "y'all." Paul is talking to the organized community of folks called out from some other kind of life.

I'm struck by the "one body" part. I get the metaphor. But, I am even more impressed with the "members of one another." I am not sure what to do with this metaphor, but I am going to think about it some more.

Paul listed the kinds of gifts that were needed in the church of his day. Consider how timely his analysis still is: prophecy (he's not talking about fortune tellers); ministry; teaching; exhortation; giving; leading.

Rejoice in hope. Be patient in suffering. Persevere in prayer.

Paul's sermon here is not so much "How to become a Christian," as it is "What to do now that you're a Christian." He stresses, as he has done before, that Christians love each other, really love each other. Give money if they need money. Don't seek revenge against those who may have earned it. Live peaceably (I'm relieved to say that he adds, "as much as possible.)

OTOH: One of my all-time favorite Pauline quotes is verse 20. "Do nice things for your enemies; it's guaranteed to drive them nuts."

Psalm 22:19-31
Psalm 22 begins in despair, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" It lifts up complaints of mistreatment and mockery and threats. And, intertwined with these laments, are words of remembrance of what God and done and a call to God to do more.

Verse 22 begins with "Save me" but then shifts to "You have rescued me."

How do rescued people respond?

Thank God and make those thanks public. Give thanks in the middle of the congregation.

Those people present there at that place will hear of God's work. And not only them. All of the families of the earth will know what God has done and what God can do. People living now and people to come.

Whose praise of the Lord have you heard? Who has heard your praise of the Lord?

Proverbs 20:4-6
The lazy person does not plow in season;
harvest comes, and there is nothing to be found.
The purposes in the human mine are like deep water,
but the intelligent will draw them out.
Many proclaim themselves loyal,
but who can find one worthy of trust?

Prayer for Today: Pray the parts of Psalm 22 that apply to your life today.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Reflection on readings for July 28

O my God, I cry by day,
   but you do not answer;
and by night,
   but find no rest.
Yet you are holy,
enthroned on the
   praises of Israel.
(Psalm 22:2-3)

2 Chronicles 21:1-23:21
Three bad rulers--Jehoram, Ahaziah, Athaliah. They walk in the ways of Israel (considered an indictment in Chronicles).  The Lord inflicted Jehoram with what sounds like Crohn's Disease to me, and saw that the other two were assassinated. But, even though the rulers were wicked, God continued to care for Judah as heirs of David. God's faithfulness is stronger than human sinfulness.

Romans 11:13-36
Paul has been reminding the Romans that you don't have to be a Jew to be a Christian. "Of course, God has not rejected the Jews. Look at me, for example," he says.

Now, he reminds them that you don't have to be a Christian to be included in God's family. God's mercy depends on God.

Every once in a while I read again from Krister Stendahl's Final Account, Paul's Letter to the Romans. Here's an excerpt that applies to today's reading:
Not until after Constantine did Christians get the itch to conquer the world for Christ. They thought of themselves as a peculiar people, as a light and as salt, witnessing and letting the chips fall wherever they may....
There are two ways of thinking about God. One way is to imagine a God who asks, first thing every morning, "What are the statistics on the saved?" Another is to have a God who asks, first thing, "Has there been any progress for the kingdom?" These are two distinct theologies. Paul's theology was the latter. He saw the mystery of God's workings not as a kind of universalism, but as the faithfulness of a new witnessing people....
Psalm 22:1-18
One of the discussions I remember from some theology class was the classic problem of how God could be all good and all powerful and at the same time we humans were suffering. Trying to solve this, we came up with quesions like "Did we deserve every bad thing that happened?" or "Was the bad thing we were experiencing going to turn out to be a good thing after all?"

However we frame our answers to our inquiry into the nature of God, we who are faithful hold on the knowledge (hope? faith?) that yes, God is all-powerful and all-good.

But, sometimes, we feel abandoned. We can pray "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Even Jesus felt abandoned--remember Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34. Yet, even in that sense of forsakenness, we can turn only to God. O my God, "I cry by day ... and by night...."

Proverbs 20:7
The righteous walk in integrity--
happy are the children that follow them.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, in times of despair, remind us that you are with us, that you offer us support. And, in all times, inspire us to behave as people who are so cared for should behave. Amen.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Reflection on readings for July 27

Be exalted, O Lord, in your strength!
We will sing and praise your power.
(Psalm 21:13)

2 Chronicles 19:1-20:37
When Jehoshaphat returns home after the battle, he is met by by the prophet Jehu who tells him he shouldn't have depended on an unfaithful ally. The king then actively worked to bring the people back to the Lord. He counseled the judges, priests, and family heads to make their decisions not on their own personal benefit but rather on faithfulness to the Lord.

When the Moabites and Ammonites invade, Jehoshaphat turns to the Lord for rescue. All the inhabitants of Judah prayed. The Moabites and Ammonites attacked Mount Seir, destroying the inhabitants completely, but then turned on each other leaving no survivors. Judah took the booty--livestock, good, clothing, precious things--so much stuff that it took three days to haul it all.

The people of Judah expressed their gratitude to the Lord.

Jehoshaphat made peace with the king of Israel, an act that the chronicler criticized.

Romans 10:14-11:12
Despite what we may have heard for some other Christians, Paul asserts that God has not rejected the Jews.

Psalm 21:1-13
The Lord is given credit for victory and also the responsibility to take care of enemies in the future.

Proverbs 20:4-6
The lazy person does not plow in season;
harvest comes, and there is nothing to be found.
The purposes in the human mind are like deep water,
but the intelligent will draw them out.
Many proclaim themselves loyal,
but who can find one worthy of trust?

Prayer for Today: O Lord our God, we recognize that we have had the opportunity to hear your word over and over. We confess that we have often responded by doing what we wanted to do anyway. We ask you now to continue to speaking to us and to stir us this time into listening and obeying. Amen.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Reflection on readings for July 26

The Lord answer you in the day of trouble!
The name of the God of Jacob protect you!
(Psalm 20:1)

2 Chronicles 17:1-18:34
The king preferred favorable comments from his prophets. Some prophets prefer to tell the king what he wants to hear. Results may turn out not so well.

Romans 9:25-10:13
The righteousness that come from the law is one thing according to verse 5; the righteousness that comes from faith is something else, according to verse 6-8. But, this is not an argument about which is superior--Judaism or Christianity, because both arguments come from what Christians call the Old Testament. Jewish arguments presented for an aid to understanding Christianity?

Righteousness from the law: see Leviticus 18:5, You shall keep my statues and my ordinances; by doing so one shall live: I am the Lord.

Righteousness is not something human beings are capable of achieving on their own. God's help is necessary: see Deuteronomy 30:11-14, Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away. It is not in heaven, that you should say, "Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?" Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, "Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it? No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe.

Faith is in your heart but cannot be confined there. As Boring & Craddock put it in their People's New Testament Commentary: "'Internal' faith without 'external' confession is as defective as external pretense without faith in the heart...."

The prophet Joel goaded his Jerusalem listeners: Be aware, the Day of the Lord is coming. Repent, return to the Lord. Be glad and rejoice in God. Joel told them that good times would replace the devastation they they had been experiencing. Then he said, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved." For I will restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem" (Joel 2:32).

Centuries later, Paul quotes this prophet, Romans 10:13.

Many have read this promise stated by Paul as an exclusionary statement. They assert that Paul is saying "Only those who believe that Jesus is Christ and Lord are included in God's promises." Others, influenced by verse 12, read Paul's remarks as inclusionary rather than exclusionary. "You, even you, are included. You don't have to be a Jew to be part of God's promises."

Psalm 20:1-9
The psalmist is addressing the King who is going into battle
--Here is my prayer to the Lord for you.
May the Lord answer you when you call for help.
May the Lord accept your offerings.
May the Lord grant your requests and fulfill your plans.

We want and need the king to defeat our enemies. We acknowledge that the king needs God's help.

Our enemies, on the other hand, says the psalmist, depend on chariots and horses. They fail. We, who depend on God, succeed.

We might ponder how we apply Bible scriptures written in a different society and different time to our own situations. In countries like mine with no king, how do we read that question? Who is king for us? What does the term anointed mean to us? Are there any modern-day equivalents?

Another tangent--I'm struck by the last verse, "Give victory to the king, O Lord; answer us when we call." The psalmist seems to recognize that the king's victory is not the end of the story. Rather, we still have request of the Lord, and, even after the king's success, we want the Lord to respond to our prayers.

Yet another tangent--and a reward for those who kept reading to this point. I'm reading Walter Brueggemann's Out of Babylon that calls Americans to consider how attached we are to being a modern-day Babylon. Here's an excerpt from a review:
It was the center of learning, commerce, wealth, and religion. Devoted to materialism, extravagance, luxury, and the pursuit of sensual pleasure, it was a privileged society. But, there was also injustice, poverty, and oppression. It was the great and ancient Babylon—the center of the universe. And now we find Babylon redux today in Western society. Consumer capitalism, a never-ending cycle of working and buying, a sea of choices produced with little regard to life or resources, societal violence, marginalized and excluded people, a world headed toward climactic calamity. Where are the prophets—the Jeremiahs—to lead the way out of the gated communities of overindulgence, the high rises of environmental disaster, and the darkness at the core of an apostate consumer society?
Proverbs 20:2-3
The dread anger of a king is like the growling of a lion;
anyone who provokes him to anger forfeits life itself.
It is honorable to refrain from strife,
but every fool is quick to quarrel.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, we yearn for our own comfort, we pray for your support. Remind us now that others are in need today, that you can use us to extend your help to them. Amen.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Reflection on readings for July 25

Let the words of my mouth
    and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable to you, O Lord,
     my rock and my redeemer.
(Psalm 19:14)

2 Chronicles 14:1-16:14
King Asa of Judah cleared the land from places of false worship and demanded that the people follow the commandments of the Lord. He was also a successful military leader, fortifying the land and driving back invaders.

The chronicler tells us that Asa  did what was good and right in the sight of the Lord. That's a rare description in Chronicles. Yet, he entered an alliance with Aram (Syria) against Israel.

We may be disturbed by part of the covenant they entered into (see 15:13).

Romans 9:1-24
In the first eight chapters of Paul's letter to the Romans, he has been talking about Gentiles, their sins deserving of God's judgment and the gift of grace offered to them through Jesus Christ. Gentiles are not subject to the law; rather, God has adopted them into the family (as Jews themselves had been earlier adopted).

Krister Stendhal, and others, assert that the climax of the letter is in chapters 9 through 11 in its discussion of the redemption of the Gentiles and the salvation of Israel (from Reinventing Paul, John G. Gager).

Paul preaches that Christians do not have to become Jews to be included in God's family. Nor do Jews have to become Christians in order to stay:

to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed forever (Romans 9:4-5).

The question for us moderns is whether God still has flexibility in defining family.

Psalm 19:1-14
"Where did you see God?" our small group asks us at the beginning of each meeting. I don't think I have ever answered by quoting the first verses of Psalm 19, but I may remember to next time.

"Look at the sky," the psalmist says. "Notice that it's day. Notice that it's night. Where do you think the sun came from? Why do you think it moves?"

God has so ordered the universe that the sun rises and sets, the sun provides light and warmth for us.

If only we humans could respond affirmatively to God's intentions.

The commands of God are intended to help us live good lives, orderly lives, joyful lives.

And they are intended to help us avoid behavior that would harm us and others. God's law provides rewards and boundaries (are these always opposites?)

Although we may want to behave wisely, we may fail at times. And we live among people who don't seem to care about doing right at all. Protect us from them, and protect us from failing to live up to God's wishes for us.

God is not a cosmic bellhop, Michael Shevack & Jack Bemporad tell us in their Stupid ways, Smart ways to think about God.

Just ring the bell, and God becomes your own personal Pavlovian puppy. Eagerly He goes to work, gratifying your every desire, indulging your every whim....

And, by making God an extension of your own desires, you have made your own desires God-like. In essence, you have made yourself God. You are the center of the universe and God is at the periphery.

That hardly resembles a healthy faith. Indeed, it is more akin to cult behavior. it turns man into God. It has a very ancient name, idolatry. because the first step in any meaningful religion is to recognize our proper place in the scheme of things....

Proverbs 20:1
Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler;
and whoever is led astray by it is not wise.

Prayer for Today: Pray Psalm 19.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Reflection on readings for July 24

The Lord lives!
Blessed be my rock,
and exalted be the God of my salvation,
(Psalm 18:46)

2 Chronicles 11:1-13:22
As the kingdom split, the Levites in the north moved south to Judah. Yet, Rehoboam abandoned allegiance to the Lord. The king of Egypt invaded taking fortified cities of Judah up to Jerusalem. As a prophet told Rehoboam, "You abandoned the Lord; so, the Lord has abandoned you." Rehoboam repented. Partial protection followed. Egypt took much of Jerusalem's treasures but refrained from complete destruction.

During the reign of his successor Abijah, Israel invaded Judah but was driven back.

Romans 8:26-39
....More groaning--in verse 26, the Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. Allen & Williamson in Preaching the Letters expand on this verse by saying:
The Spirit helps our praying. That the Spirit (roughly interchangeable with God or Christ in Paul) "groans" indicates that God is affected by us as we are affected (and effected--created) by God. God's passions can become our prayers, and our prayers can become God's passions.
Paul said, "For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son....And those whom he predestined, he also called..."

What do Methodists think about predestination? Here's what John Wesley said: On Predestination.

Paul is convinced that the love of God in Christ is eternal and inevitable.

Psalm 18:37-50

Proverbs 19:27-29
Cease straying, my child, from the words of knowledge,
in order that you may hear instruction.
A worthless witness mocks at justice,
and the mouth of the wicked devours iniquity.
Condemnation is ready for scoffers,
and flogging for the back of fools.

Prayer for Today: God, we acknowledge now that your Spirit has been with us, has supported us throughout sufferings. Remind us now that you will continue to be with, will continue to support us, that nothing or no one will be able to separate us from your love In Christ Jesus our Lord.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Reflection on readings for July 23

It is you that light my lamp;
the Lord, my God, lights up my darkness.
(Psalm 18:28)

2 Chronicles 8:11-10:19
The rich queen of Sheba visits Solomon and is overwhelmingly impressed with his wisdom and his displays of wealth. We are told that also all the kings of the earth came to Solomon to hear his wisdom. He was so rich that silver in Jerusalem was as common as stone.

After his death, accusations by some arose that Solomon had enslaved workers to build the impressive structures.

Romans 8:9-25
God's law was intended to help humans live the kind of life and to have the kind of community that God wanted them to have. God's law outlined for them how to have the right relationship with God. Yet, being humans, they didn't do so well.

God has a new plan: Christ Jesus. "Those of you who cannot comply with the old law are not required to try. God's Son has dealt with sin. Life in the Spirit of Christ serves as compliance."

Eugene Boring and Fred Craddock, in The People's New Testament Commentary, suggest reading Deuteronomy 30 to remind ourselves of the life-giving original function of the law. They are also helpful in pointing out that the word that the NRSV translates as "flesh" refers to human life as a whole, rather than being limited only to our "lower nature," as translated by the NIV.

We English speakers read "You are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit," and think "He's talking about me. He's making promises to me about my life." Well, so he is, but he's talking to the me that is part of us. The Greek pronoun translated as you is in the plural. Paul is talking to the Christian community. "Church, you're not in the flesh. Church, the Spirit of God dwells in you. Church, God's breath gives you life."

Paul, in this letter addressed to Gentile Christians, discusses their disobedience and their redemption (Chapters 1-4) and their new life in Christ (5-8).

"You have been adopted into the family," Paul says. "You will share in the inheritance." Then Paul gives us a BTW: part of that shared inheritance is suffering.

Sharing in the Spirit does not immunize us against the suffering that is part of creation; but, suffering is not the last word.

Paul believed that the end was coming very soon. We now believe this earth and our attachment to it are going to continue for quite a while. This difference in timetable forces us to consider how we are to interpret Paul's words about hope and patience.

Sources: Reinventing Paul, John G. Gager; Paul and His Letters, Leander E. Keck

Here's what Boring and Craddock say:
God is concerned with saving not only individuals but with all of creation.
Sin also is concerned with the individual and with all creation.
The evil we are experiencing is not the last word.
Through the Spirit, we have a foretaste of what God's new world will be like.
Hope is not just a wish; hope is confidence.
"We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now," Paul writes to the Romans.

In labor pains? Creation was not complete in a week? I'm making a connection between this verse and Psalm 104:30, "When you send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the ground."

A difference--in the psalm, the Spirit creates, but there's no mention of pain.

So, I'm back to the word "groaning." I looked up the word in my Aland dictionary and my Thayer's lexicon and learned that it implies not only groaning but groaning together.

All of creation is groaning. And, according to Paul, even we who have received fruits of the Spirit are also groaning. Groaning while we wait for adoption.

As I read this, I don't think Paul is talking about some life after death, but is talking about a life here on this earth, a life in which the Spirit lives in and through and around us--and we are aware of that presence.

Psalm 18:16-36
The psalmist lists reasons that he deserved rescue.

Proverbs 19:26
Those who do violence to their father and chase away their mother
are children who cause shame and bring approach.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, you have adopted us into your family. You have made us your heirs. Direct us now to use our inheritance in the way you intend. Amen.

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 (6:36-39) and the one today from Romans is the reference to sin .

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.