Offertory Prayer

Your offering 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, such as the quadrennial gathering of United Methodist youth and adults that happened last month in Orlando at YOUTH 2015! This event brought more than 4800 people together to challenge our youth to embrace their Methodist identity and to “Go On” to a deeper relationship with Christ. The testimonies of lives changed are powerful, and the impact will go on for years. These kinds of cooperative efforts across our connection are made possible thanks to the way the people of The United Methodist Church live and give connectionally. I invite you to give generously as we worship God through sharing our gifts, tithes, and offerings.

Learn more about ministry with youth and young adults at: http://globalyoungpeople.org

August 30, 2015 – Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost / in Kingdomtide

Generous and Holy God, every good and perfect gift that touches our lives does indeed come from above, provided through your gracious and boundless love. We bring these gifts, such a small portion of what we have received by your hand, and doing so join them with others that we might be found to be doers of the word and not listeners only. We pray this is the name of Jesus the Christ, our rock and our redeemer. Amen. (James 1:17-27)

August Offertory Prayers were written by the Rev. Rosanna Anderson, Associate Director of Stewardship at Discipleship Ministries, The United Methodist Church.



Thursday, August 27, 2015

Reaction to people with different religious practices, a reflection on 3 Maccabees 3

The king was so incensed that the Jews living in Egypt were determined to remain Jewish that he ordered them to be put to death. An untrue rumor was circulated that the Jews were trying to keep other Egyptians from complying with their own customs.

However, the Jews continued to maintain goodwill and loyalty toward the rulers while still adhering to their religion; for example, keeping their food laws. Some Egyptians hated the Jews for being different; others admired their good deeds and uprightness. Another minority group, Greeks, weren't strong enough to help the Jews but did try to offer comfort to them.

The king, not considering what God would think, published his own thoughts about the Jews, "Although we treated these people well, supported their temple and cities financially, in their arrogance, they refused to let us enter their temple. Despite this offense, when we got back to Egypt, we offered alliance with and citizenship to them. But, in their malice, some of them continued to demonstrate their determination to adhere to their own ways. So, arrest them. Torture anyone who tries to protect them, torture them to death. Anyone who informs on somebody will get that person's property plus 2,000 drachmas. Anyone who shelters a Jew will be burned with fire."

Is it always difficult for the majority to tolerate the minority?

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Raising the Ante, a reflection on 3 Maccabees 2

Facing the sanctuary, the high priest bent down and extended his hands with great dignity and prayed, "Lord, give attention to those of us suffering from a powerful, impious man. You've destroyed those who committed injustices, even the strong." He listed several examples including how Pharoah's army had been swallowed up when chasing the escaping Hebrew slaves led by Moses.

They continued their prayer, "See now, O holy King, that because of our many great sins we are rushed with suffering, subjected to our enemies, and overtaken by helplessness. In our downfall this audacious and profane man undertakes to violate the holy place on earth. Do not punish us for the defilement by these men. Wipe away our sins. Reveal your mercy."

God, having heard the prayer, complied dramatically. God shook Phil so hard that he lay helpless on the ground, paralyzed, unable to speak. His friends and bodyguards quickly dragged him away. After a while he recovered, but, in no way did he repent.

In retribution, when he returned to Alexandria, Phil required registration and branding of the Jews living there, and imposed poll taxes and slave status on them. But, if they agreed to give up being Jewish, they would attain equal citizenship with the Alexandrians. Although a lot of Jews did change their citizenship, most refused to abandon their religion. Instead they used bribes to save themselves.

They remained hopeful, and abhorred the collaborators.



Tuesday, August 25, 2015

3 Maccabees, Sanctity of the Sanctuary

When Philopater (also called Ptolomy), the king of Egypt heard that the Syrians (led by Antiochus) had seized some of the land under his control (land Egypt had seized from the Jews), he ordered all his forces--infantry and calvary--to go to war. He took his sister Arsinoe with him.

Theodotus, a Syrian, decided to stop the advance by assassinating Philopater. His attempt was thwarted by Dosithesis, a Jew by birth who had become an apostate. Then, when the Syrians attacked and were winning, Arsinoe, in tears and disheveled clothes, pleaded with the troops to defend themselves and their families. She also offered them gold if they won the battle. And they did.

When he arrived in Jerusalem, Phil was greeted with gifts. But, when he attempted to enter the temple sanctuary, they told him that it wasn't permitted--that not even all Jews, not even all priests were allowed to go into the sanctuary; only the high priest, and for him, only once a year.

Phil just could not see why their rules applied to him. After all, he was not any ordinary citizen. The priests responded by prayed to God. Their prayers were so loud that crowds gather and rushed to the temple--even brides and their mothers.

Phil arrogantly determined to do what he wanted. The crowds kept up the protest, preferring death to profanation of the temple.

Questions that arise from reading this chapter: 1) What are our rules for enforcing the sanctity of our worship centers? 2) Do those rules make a distinction between some members and other members? 3)  How seriously do we take objections to our ways of protecting the sanctity of our worship centers?

Monday, August 24, 2015

God makes unlikely choices, a reflection on Psalm 151

This psalm is attributed to King David as a response to his  killing Goliath. Although he was the smallest and youngest brother, a musician and sheep herder, he was the one who called by God. God's choices are not always the same as ours might be.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

When forgiveness is needed, a reflection on The Prayer of Manasseh

Look back at 2 Kings 21 to see the poor evaluation of King Manasseh's reign over Judah. Not only did he encourage the worship of many false gods, he also had many innocent people murdered. Yet, the Apocrypha includes this prayer attributed to him.

The prayer opens with acknowledgement of how powerful God is and how feared. But not only feared, God is merciful, relenting at human sufferings. God forgives those who repent. God will forgive even me.

Read again the last few verses if you find yourself needing forgiveness for something you really should notLook back at 2 Kings 21 to see the poor evaluation of King Manasseh's reign over Judah. Not only did he encourage the worship of many false gods, he also had many innocent people murdered. Yet, the Apocrypha includes this prayer attributed to him.

The prayer opens with acknowledgement of how powerful God is and how feared. But not only feared, God is merciful, relenting at human sufferings. God forgives those who repent. God will forgive even me.

Read again the last few verses if you find yourself needing forgiveness for something you really should not have done:
I have sinned, O Lord, I have sinned,
and I acknowledge my transgressions.
I earnestly implore you,
forgive me, O Lord, forgive me!
Do not destroy me with my transgressions!
Do not be angry with me forever or store up evil for me;
do not condemn me to the depths of the earth.
For you, O Lord, are the God of those who repent,
and in me you will manifest your goodness;
for, unworthy as I am, you will save me according to your great mercy,
and I will praise you continually all the days of my life.
For all the host of heaven sings your praise,
and yours is the glory forever. Amen. have done:
I have sinned, O Lord, I have sinned,
and I acknowledge my transgressions.
I earnestly implore you,
forgive me, O Lord, forgive me!
Do not destroy me with my transgressions!
Do not be angry with me forever or store up evil for me;
do not condemn me to the depths of the earth.
For you, O Lord, are the God of those who repent,
and in me you will manifest your goodness;
for, unworthy as I am, you will save me according to your great mercy,
and I will praise you continually all the days of my life.
For all the host of heaven sings your praise,
and yours is the glory forever. Amen.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Marriages--approved and unapproved, 1 Edras 9

After a period of mourning over their great iniquities, Ezra made a proclamation that all the returned exiles should assemble in Jerusalem. Anybody who didn't come within two or three days would be expelled from the category of returned from captivity and his livestock be confiscated.

On the day of assembly, the weather was cold. Ezra told them, "Separate yourselves from your foreign wives." The multitude shouted their agreement with loud voices. But, they added that since it was winter, the cold would prevent them from doing all they were supposed to do. They asked that the leaders stay but that the rest of them who had foreign wives take care of the situation 
later. 

Eventually many men who had married foreign women put them away together with their children.

Everyone gather to hear Ezra read the law.They wept as they heard the law--"Eat the fat and drink the sweet, and share with those who don't have any. This day is holy; do not be sorrowful, for the Lord will exalt you." 

So, with great rejoicing, they ate and drank and shared because they were inspired by the words which they had been taught. And they came together.

What was life like for the men who had had to give up their marriages in order to remain in their society? How did those marriages affect other married people? Why did they have this rule at this time? After all, many of their leaders in the past had taken foreign wives, and many in the future will, too.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Mixed marriages, a reflection on 1 Esdras 8

The Oxford Bible Commentary points out that the move from Zerubbabel to Ezra is a move from discussion of the physical restoration to the spiritual. Further, as in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, the gap in the time periods of something like 70 to 120 years is not made explicit. (p 203ff).

Esdras (from now on, I think I'll go ahead and call him Ezra), a scribe, was sent by the king along with  other Israelites, priests, holy singers, porters, and ministers to live in Judea and Jerusalem and there to abide in the law of the Lord. He directed the treasurers of Syria and Phenice to give them whatever resources the needed and that no taxes be levied on the temple professionals.

One matter that arose--Some of their sons had married Gentile women. Ezra reacted strongly, went into mourning. He tore his clothes, pulled out his hair from his head and beard, fasted, and sat in mourning all day.  Then, he rose and prayed, "O Lord, we are sinners, but you have shown us mercy. We now have been allowed to return home and to rebuild your temple. Yet, we have disobeyed your commandments.

As he lay flat on the ground weeping, a large number of men, women, and children gathered around him, and they were weeping too. One of them called out, O Ezra, we have sinned against the Lord God, we have married foreign women. Let us now make an oath that we will put away all our heathen wives and their children.

Ezra agree that they should do this.

//Ezra 7-9

Today also we are confronted with religious leaders preaching against some marriages.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Reflection on 1 Esdras Chapter 7, New Temple

Temple completed. At the dedication, 100 bullocks, 200 rams, and 400 lambs were offered in sacrifice; also, 12 goats for the sins of the tribes of Israel.  The priests and Levites were arrayed in their vestments, arranged by family. Passover was celebrated followed by the feast and merry making.

In this celebration and religious remembrances, some distintion was made between those who had been taken in captivity and those who had been left in the land.

//Ezra 6; 1 Chronicles 23-26

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The King Says Build, Esdras 6

The Jews wanted to rebuild the temple, but the others did not. The Syrian governor and other rulers wrote to King Darius telling him that some Jews who were in captivity have now returned and they are building a big, new, costly building. They are doing this rapidly. When we asked them who had given permission for this, they replied that they are servants of the Lord who made heaven and earth, and that a king of Israel long ago had built one. However, that God, provoked by their sinning, gave then over to Babylon who burned the building down and took the people captive. They then added that King Cyrus had given them permission to come back here and rebuild and restock their temple. We're asking that you search the records to see if King Cyrus really did allow this. Further, if he did, let us know if you agree.

King Darius found the evidence that Cyrus had commanded the rebuilding of the temple and the restoration of the valuable holy vessels. He told the Syrian rulers not to interfere but to provide some support.

Disobeying or making fun of anything the king said carried severe punishment.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

1 Esdras 5, First Try at Rebuilding

After the third bodyguard, Zerubbabel, won permission to restore Jerusalem, King Darius sent along with them a thousand calvary for their protection and musicians to make them merry on their journey.

After seven months, they were home. They gathered to worship, joined by some of the other citizens but to the hostility of other citizens. They gave burnt offerings every morning and evening and other offerings and sacrifices at the appropriate times. But, they did not have a temple.

In the second year after their arrival, they laid a foundation for the temple. The people responded with trumpets and shouts praising the Lord. The trumpets were so loud that some other people heard them and came to find out what was going on. When they learned that the returned exiles were building the temple, they offered to help. The offer was rejected.

Their response was that if you won't accept our help, then we won't let you build it at all. They cut off supplies and by plots and demagoguery and uprisings, preventing completion for two years.

Parallel: 1 Edras 5:7-73 to Ezra 2:1-4;5