It took a year to read the Bible, then almost 9 months to read the Apocrypha. Now, I'm going to try to offer reflections on the Narrative Lectionary. But, I won't be posting daily--at least, for a while.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Seek the Lord, a Reflection on Isaiah 55:6-11

The invitation continues, "Seek the Lord, call upon him." But not just simple imperatives. Seek while he may be found. Call while he is near. Yes, God has made an everlasting covenant. Yes, all nations are invited. But, we aren't being reined in against our will. We are to seek, we are to do some calling. Moreover, we're supposed to do that seeking and calling now.

I don't know what to do with the phrases "while he may be found" and "while he is near." What's with the "whiles"? Are we under a time limit?

Or, can I let verse 7 help me here? Our return to the Lord enables us to realize the mercy and pardon. They are there waiting for us but we have to notice.

Or, should I give in to verse 8? How am I supposed to know everything; after all, the Lord is capable of thoughts and ways that are not available to us humans.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Abundance, a Reflection on Isaiah 55:1-5

A country church on a state highway was trying to raise enough money to pay off the mortgage on its new Family Life Center. One of the favorites was selling tickets for catfish suppers, grilled hamburgers, even chitlins, once.

On their sign out front, the preacher would post:
Catfish Supper
June 27, 5-7 p.m
Cost $8
Isaiah 55:2
No one ever told her they thought the sign was funny or appropriate.

and

Isaiah is writing to exiles in Babylon describing for them what their new life in an old place will be. Water for the thirsty. Food for the hungry. God promises to make with them an everlasting covenant. And because God has done so much for them, they are to reach out to strangers, to foreign strangers....

Sometimes when I read this passage from Isaiah, I focus on the everlasting covenant part, but, this week, I'm looking harder at the repentance part. "Let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them...."

Remembering the parable of the fig tree that despite its three-year span of unfruitfulness has been given one more chance, I'm reading Isaiah's plea, "Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near."

Is there a time limit for us? Well, even if there isn't, shouldn't we start seeking? If we haven't been calling, wouldn't this be a good time to?

Abundant pardon is available. Advent, that season of expectation, in a good time to ask for it, to live for it.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Another look at Ezekiel 37

Ezekiel was speaking to people in exile. Was their home lost for them forever? Did the losses in their lives prevent them from worshiping God, from being connected to God? Could they still be a people? Does the despair that comes from the pain in our lives keep us from any hope?

The Lord comes to Ezekiel and asks, "Can these bones live?" Ezekiel says, "You know the answer."

The answer that the Lord gives him is in the form of an instruction, "Prophesy to these bones. Tell them what I am going to do."

Ezekiel does speak to the people. And as he does, those scattered bones come together, sinews and flesh and skin cover them. But, no breath.

Here we are, a bunch of individuals grouped together, yet not accomplishing anything. Economic times are tough. Where will the money come from to satisfy our needs? our wants?

A bunch of bones lying in a field. Even when connected, they're not getting the job done.

God says, "I'll put my breath into you and you shall live again."

This state of life works as a metaphor for our own times.  A couple of examples: We can use it to despair of our economic difficulties or of the decline in organized religion--or in our particular denomination. We may still look the way we did in the past when things were better, but things aren't the same. We aren't as productive, we fear the future.

Here we are, church congregations, fearful of their present and for their continued future, who can celebrate receiving God's own breath into their midst.

When there was no breath in those mortals, the breath of the Lord God came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet.

O Lord, lift us from our fear.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

A Necessary Element, a Reflection on Ezekiel 37:11-14

Ezekiel was speaking to people in exile. Was their home lost for them forever? Did the losses in their lives prevent them from worshiping God, from being connected to God? Could they still be a people? Does the despair that comes from the pain in our lives keep us from any hope?

The Lord comes to Ezekiel and asks, "Can these bones live?" Ezekiel says, "You know the answer."

The answer that the Lord gives him is in the form of an instruction, "Prophesy to these bones. Tell them what I am going to do."

Ezekiel does speak to the people. And as he does, those scattered bones come together, sinews and flesh and skin cover them. But, no breath.

This state of life works as a metaphor for our own times. A couple of examples: We can use it to despair of our economic difficulties or of the decline in organized religion--or in our particular denomination. We may still look the way we did in the past when things were better, but things aren't the same. We aren't as productive, we fear the future.

When there was no breath in those mortals, the breath of the Lord God came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Can these bones live?, a Reflection on Ezekiel 37:1-10

The Lord asked, "Can these bones live?"

I thought about Ezekiel's vision when I read the article ‘Religion’ is Going Extinct; Religion Isn’t by Louis Ruprecht.

A team of mathematicians concluded that religion was becoming as distinct as dinosaurs. But, there's extinct and there's, let's say emergent. Here's how Ruprecht interprets the data:
Now, if we take the language of “extinction” seriously—as we should—as well as the evolutionary theory it seems to presuppose, then a better way to read this data might be to suggest that a number of recognizably religious traditions are undergoing some significant modern mutations, such that the affiliations into which they are turning bear only a partial resemblance to what preceded them. Dinosaurs don’t just go extinct, they became birds—that’s the idea.

Monday, November 20, 2017

When Things Get Really Bad, a reflection on Jeremiah 29:1, 4-14

A man claiming to be a prophet of God announced that Babylon was soon to be defeated. The Lord informed Jeremiah that not everyone who claims to be speaking the word of God is.

The exiles aren't where they want to be. They have lost their home. They are surrounded by strangers. And they are going to be there a lot longer than they had hoped.

The prophet Jeremiah sent them a message, "Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce." In time of loss and despair, they are told to take care of themselves--to find shelter and food, what's needed for refuge and sustenance.

And, they need to recognize that this isn't going to be like a camping trip or even a long journey. He also tells them to get married, and that they will still be in this foreign land when it's time for the children born from these marriages to get married themselves.

Shelter, food, and family. Not hopeless yearning for what was but isn't. Not exactly acceptance but a way to continue under unwanted circumstances.

Then Jeremiah adds another directive, "Seek the welfare of that foreign city and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare will be your welfare."

We can apply this prophecy to our own lives in different ways depending on whether our current situation is more like that of the exiles or more like that of the Babylonians.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Light Has Shined, a Reflection on Isaiah 9:1-7

Isaiah is speaking of a people who have known anguish, not just disappointment that things didn't turn out as well as might be hoped, but anguish, something different from and more than sorrow. His reference is to physical exile, but we can read his promises to apply to all kinds of distances and separations and losses.

Isaiah says of the people who have lived in deep darkness, on them light has shined.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Asking for Justice or Fearing It, a Reflection on Amos 1:1-2; 5:14-15, 21-24

Amos is preaching about what Israel did wrong to deserve the judgment that God had imposed. Scholars disagree on when Amos was doing his prophecy but agree that whether he was writing before or after the monarchy period, this warning of judgment was and is relevant. Amos tells (warns?) them that if they expect to be with God and for God to be gracious to them, then they need to to try to be good, to try to be just. Big well-furnished sanctuaries are not sufficient. God wants more even that big financial outlays and really great music. Rather, what God is looking for is our being just. Which is more difficult--giving more money to the church or being what the church ought to be?

Monday, October 30, 2017

God Speaks to Elijah, a reflection on 1 Kings 19:1-18

It's hard to scare some people--Jezebel, for example.

The king saw Elijah eliminate the prophets of Baal. He experienced the heavy rain that Elijah told him was coming. But, when Ahab reported all this to Jezebel, she didn't back down at all. Instead she sent threats to him, "So let what happened to those prophets happen to me if I don't kill you first."

Elijah, unlike Jezebel, knew when the situation was scary. When he heard the threat, he fled for his life.

Leaving his servant behind, Elijah went a day's journey into the wilderness. Sitting alone under a solitary broom tree, he prayed to the Lord to take his life.

I'm trying to imagine what changed for him--he had been willing to take on a challenge against the priests of Baal, then he had been willing to try to run away from the queen's threat, and how he has given up. Did he think that the Lord had accomplished all possible? Did he think that Jezebel was so much stronger than all the prophets put together that she could win a contest with the Lord? Or, was he just tired of running, of being in conflict? [1-5]

Whatever the reason he had for giving up, the Lord wasn't ready for him to die. An angel came to Elijah, showed him food and water. The refreshments did not refresh him enough to get him back on his journey. The angel returned to him and gave him more encouragement.

Elijah was able to journey for forty days and forty nights coming to Mount Horeb where he spent the night in a cave.

Fear. Despair. Lethargy. Renewed energy. Wilderness trek. Sleep.

Then the word of the Lord came to him asking him what he was doing there.

His response sounds rather confrontational to me, "I've supported you, but nobody else is. They're trying to kill me."
Elijah feels very alone. He is still afraid.
But, now, Elijah is in despair. He had done everything that God wanted; yet, his enemies want to kill him. He ready to give up, to die.

God comes to him in his despair.

Comes to him in an unexpected way. Comes to him in silence.

The commentary in The New Interpreter's Study Bible points out what a contrast this is from earlier theophanies which were accompanied by fire, wind, thunder, lightning, and earthquakes, such as in Judges 5:4-5; Psalms 18:7-15; 68:7-8; Habakkuk 3:15.

In an unexpected way, but Elijah is able to recognize God's voice anyway. [6-12]

When Elijah heard God's voice, he listened. And he did something else. He spoke. He spoke of his discontent. "I've done everything you told me to do, and the result is that they want to kill me. I'm the only one left."

What did Elijah expect God to say? What response do we expect when we lay our lamentations out? Remember, he's not just making this up--he really has been obedient, and people really are out to get him.

God tells him to anoint new kings for Aram and Israel and to anoint a new prophet, Elisha, to succeed him.
God is telling him, "I've haven't abandoned you, but you aren't to abandon your mission, either." Here's how Allen & Williamson put it in Preaching the Old Testament:
Responding to the call and claim of God is a risky busines, and defeat and despondency are often the companions of those who do so. We should not wallow in such feelings, although Elijah did just that, but be open to the God who ever call us forward as Elijah, in spite of himself, was called. God's adamant love gets us through the hard times. [13-18]

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Purpose of the Temple, a reflection on John 2:19-21

King Solomon had intended for the temple to be a holy place, a home of the Lord. Now, a few centuries later, Jesus comes to the temple and is appalled. 

When they saw him driving out the money changers and heard him castigating them, the disciples remembered the line from the Psalms, "Zeal for your house will consume me." Jesus was willing to challenge those who were using for their own benefit what was to be a place to worship. 


Jesus said, "If you destroy this temple, in three days I will raise it up."


By the time that John's gospel was written, this temple had been destroyed by the Romans in retribution for a Jewish insurrection.


Christians began to understand Jesus' words as telling them that he, his living presence, would be the temple for them.


Question for us today: What purpose for us is the sanctuary in our churches?