Offertory Prayer

Invitation to the Offering
The offering you made last week empowered ministry within our congregation and in response to the needs of our community. It also helped support the work of ministries beyond the local church that reach people who are in desperate need to feel the touch of love and reconciliation. Through the World Service Fund, your church supports a great tradition of United Methodist support for Higher Education. Providing scholarships and loans, a network of college chaplains, and an ongoing relationship with 113 colleges, universities and seminaries that are part of our connection – together we open doors to education for many deserving students. 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 our General Board of Higher Education & Ministry at

September 14, 2014 -- Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost/in Kingdomtide
Merciful God, you have filled our lives with a deluge of love and grace. Yet we are too often stingy with forgiveness for others. While Christ’s sacrifice on the cross removed the weight of our sin, we continue to blend in with a world that is intent on keeping score and settling debts. May the gifts we give this morning, small in comparison with all we’ve received, help strengthen the church’s ministry of love and compassion. In our giving, may we make a witness as those who have been forgiven much and who seek to have Christlike grace shine through our lives. We pray this in his name. Amen. (Matthew 18:21-35)
"Prayers by Ken Sloan. Copyright General Board of Discipleship. Used by permission."

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Reflection on readings for September 17

Hear my cry, O God;
listen to my prayer.
(Psalm 61:1)

Isaiah 25:1-28:13
They have heard Isaiah's prayer of gratitude for their deliverance. He now tells them that the Lord will make for all peoples a banquet. Two things are important about this banquet. First, it really is a banquet. The menu includes rich food and fine wines. Second, it's not just for them; it's a feast for all peoples. This banquet takes the place of the negative force that death has held over them, swallows it up forever. Walter Brueggemann reminds us of New Testaments allusions to this promise in 1 Corinthians 15:54 and Revelation 21:4 (Isaiah 1-39, WestminsterJohnKnoxPress).

With victory comes a call for judgment against foes. Why is it sometimes hard for us to accept blessings from God without our expecting God to punish people that we consider sinners? Thinking about the metaphor "Leviathan," I am considering that perhaps I would find it easier to think of this punishment as against sin rather than as against specific wrongdoers.

Galatians 3:10-22
Again, Paul is stressing that Gentiles to not have to first become Jews before being accepted as Christians. God accepts Gentiles into the family. For example, God granted acceptance to Abraham generations before giving the law to Moses.

Psalm 61:1-8

Proverbs 23:17-18
Do not let your hearts envy sinners,
but always continue in the fear of the Lord.
Surely there is a future,
and your hope will not be cut off.

Prayer for Today: O Lord our God, remind us that you are God of other people, too. Amen.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Reflection on readings for September 16

O grant us help against the foe,
for human help is worthless.
(Psalm 60:11)

Isaiah 22:1-24:23
Walter Brueggemann, in his commentary on Isaiah 1-39: After reading the harsh oracles against the foreign nations, we are presented with an equally harsh one against Jerusalem and Judah. When the enemy threatened, Jerusalem built up defenses but did not bother to turn to Yahweh. They celebrated victory when the enemy departed but did not mourn their leaders who had deserted them but then been captured. The oracle condemns the bad steward who had not used his authority correctly. The Lord will appoint a new steward who will keep Jerusalem secure.

Oracles against foreign natures resume. Patricia Tull, in Women's Bible Commentary, points out the insults against Tyre employ sexual imagery and innuendo, an aging and forgotten prostitute who will return to her trade. Tull comments on the timeliness of this metaphor:
More than a million young women, and even girls, are enticed from home every year by the promise of jobs...and find themselves violently forced into foreign brothels, the earnings from their sufferings benefitting captors....
After the oracles against specific nations, Isaiah warns that the Lord is about to lay waste to the earth.

Galatians 2:17-3:9
To whom is Paul speaking in these verses? To the Galatians or to Peter?

In verse 14, Paul is quoting himself in what he said to Peter in a rebuke, "If you, a Jew, live like a Gentile, where do you get off asking Gentiles to be more Jewish than you are?"

So, in verse 15, when Paul says "We ourselves are Jews by birth," I'm suggesting that he's still quoting what he had said directly to Peter.

"You and I, Peter, believe in Christ Jesus. Although we, as Jews, had been entrusted with the law, the understanding of how God wanted us to live, we now know that God has a way of including not only Jews but others, as well."

BTW, Carl R. Holladay, in Preaching through the Christian Year C, reminds us that Jews already knew that no one is justified by works of the law (e.g., Psalm 143:2; Habakkuk 2:4; Genesis 15:6).

Although these words may have been addressed to Peter, they are of course part of his argument he is using to counteract the attempts of the Judaizers who had followed him to the Galatian congregation and tried to convert the new Christians to Judaism. Paul is asserting that Christians do not have to become Jews in order to be Christians.

"It is Christ who lives in me...I live by faith in the Son of God....I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing."

Tangent from Holladay: We usually read "faith in Christ" in verse 16 to mean that we place our faith and trust in him. Some recent commentators have pointed out that this phrase in Greek is more literally translated to mean the faith that Christ has. Holladay sums it up, "This places greater stress on the work of Christ in our behalf than on our faith in our own behalf."

Psalm 60:1-12

Proverbs 23:15-16
My child, if your heart is wise,
my heart too will be glad.
My soul will rejoice
when your lips speak what is right.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, guide us into right decisions. Open us to the grace you are offering. Amen.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Reflection readings for September 15

O my strength, I will sing praises to you,
for you, O God, are my fortress,
the God who shows me steadfast love.
(Psalm 59:17)

Isaiah 19:1-21:17
God plans a complete dismantling of Egypt: pride, certitude, prosperity, and security. Restored then defeated by Assyria. The complacent Babylon will be destroyed (Walter Breuggemann, Isaiah 1-39).

Galatians 2:1-16
Affirmation that Christians did not have to conform to all the requirements that Jews had to meet. Characterized as false believers the Christians who spied on the freedom that the Galatians had. Paul had argued openly with Peter who under pressure had refused to eat with the Gentiles. "Don't get stuck on certain rules," Paul exclaimed to Peter.

Psalm 59:1-17
Prayer for deliverance from enemies combined with request that the Lord punish them.

Proverbs 23:13-14

Prayer for Today: O Lord, deliver us from our complacency, our dependence on our possessions. Shake our uncertainty that everybody else should just do what we think is right, that we are the only ones able to discern your will. Amen.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Reflection on readings for September 14

People will say, "Surely there is a reward for the righteous,
surely there is a God who judges on earth."
(Psalm 58:11)

Isaiah 15:1-18:7
Oracles continue expressing great sadness at the devastation but assurance of God's restoring power.

Galatians 1:1-24
Paul begins this letter to the Galatians by reminding them that his authority to speak to them comes through Jesus Christ and God.

He also reminds them of the importance of what Jesus Christ has done, "who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age...." According to Ronald J. Allen and Clark M. Williamson in their Preaching the Letters without Dismissing the Law:
For Paul, the cosmic rulers who distort the present world fought the coming of the new age by putting Jesus to death. That death, however, became the occasion whereby God revealed the divine power to free people from their sins, that is, from the actions and thoughts committed under the influence of the cosmic powers that turn the present into a chaotic and broken realm (1:4) Indeed, the earlier statement that God raised Jesus from the dead indicates that Jesus' death and resurrection are signs that the apocalyptic transformation is at hand (1:1).
He then expresses astonishment that they have allowed themselves to be misled by others.

Paul writes to them that he is astonished that they have allowed themselves to be misled by some other Christian evangelists: "Who are you listening to? Don't you realize that some people say that they're preaching the true gospel but they aren't even close?"

He issues an anathema against those he asserts are preaching a false gospel. He then asks a question that remains relevant to us: Whose approval is important to you? Do you care more about what the people around you think you should do or what God approves of? Are you trying to please people or Christ?

The difficulty that continues is the necessity of discerning God's will as it may different from that being espoused by some holy-appearing self-proclaimed paragons of Christians. Not everybody who claims the authority to tell us what we should be doing is really speaking the true gospel.

Paul is writing to a church in crisis. Although these Galatians had learned about Christ from Paul, they were now being influenced by some missionaries who have been preaching what Paul calls a gospel so different from the one he has proclaimed that it perverts the gospel of Christ (1:6-9).

Paul reminds them of his credentials: At one time, Paul had been instrumental in the attempt to halt the inroads of the Christian message into Judaism. Then, God told him to preach to Gentiles, to tell them about Jesus Christ.

Although he began his travels without prior conference with the central church in Jerusalem, he did at a later point meet with Peter and with James, the brother of Jesus.

Paul's understanding is that Gentiles do not have to become Jews in order to be Christians. The disciples who have been upsetting the Galatians disagree. They have been trying to convince the Galatians that being a Jew is an entry requirement.

Paul himself never quit being a Jew. But, he did not restrict Christianity to Jews alone.

Paul's idea has won out over that of those false apostles to Galatia. Yet, we still are being confronted by those who think our way of being Christian is not strict enough, not close enough to the Scriptures. Or, we may be in the strict group that is preaching to those who are not living up to what appears to be very scriptural. How could they? Complainers and complainees need to spend some time with this letter.

On the United Methodist Church website under the tab Our People,  I read:
The People of The United Methodist Church
Help people in their community
Accept you for who you are
Offer a place to belong
Care for and support each other
Show respect for other religions
Support people facing difficulty
Welcome diverse opinions and beliefs
Guide others to find deeper meaning
I think Paul would say we are on the right track.

Psalm 58:1-11
Crying out for revenge. Affirming reward for righteousness. Reassuring or troubling?

Proverbs 23:12
Apply your mind to instruction
and your ear to words of knowledge.

Prayer for Today:
O Lord, guide us to the true gospel. Keep us attentive to your will. Encourage us to build a church in which we can help our community and each other, support people in difficulty, and as hard as it is sometimes, to welcome, or at least tolerate, diverse opinions and beliefs. Amen.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Reflection on readings for September 13

Be exalted, O God, above the heavens.
Let your glory be over all the earth.
(Psalm 57:5)

Isaiah 12:1-14:32
From Walter Breuggemann's commentary, Isaiah 1-39:  Chapter 12 is a doxology affirming hope that refuses to give in to the present debilitating circumstances. Chapter 13 and 14 recount the horrendous acts of the powerful nations and promises that the Lord will act.

2 Corinthians 13:1-14
Paul said, "Some of you think that the rest of you are not thinking and living and talking as Christians should. You think you get the message much better than the others do and you are pretty open about your disdain for them."

He could be talking to some of us.

Paul's instructions to the fractious Corinthians seem, to me, to be really hard to follow: "Agree with one another and live in peace."

Yet, how else can Christians be Christian?

Psalm 57:1-11
In a time of despair, the psalmist turns to God for refuge and rescue.

Proverbs 23:9-11
Do not speak in the hearing of a fool,
who will only despise the wisdom of your words.
Do not remove an ancient landmark
or encroach on the fields of orphans,
for their redeemer is strong;
he will plead their cause against you.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, sustain us in times of trouble or doubt. And restrain us in times of self-superiority. Amen.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Reflection on readings for September 12

Be gracious to me, O God,
for people trample on me....
O Most High, when I am afraid,
I put my trust in you.
(excerpt from Psalm 56:1-3)

Isaiah 10:1-11:16
Isaiah was speaking to people who were aware of the devastation that the powerful Assyria had deployed, taking advantage of the poor, plundering the weak. Israel had been overtaken. Judah was under threat. Yet, the prophet speaks a message of hope.

Isaiah promised them a new king. This king would be supported by the Lord:
The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
The promised king would be an ideal king. A king who would be what kings should be. With his wisdom, understanding, counsel, knowledge, and fear of the Lord, this king would be a good judge. He would be fair to the poor and the meek. He would overcome the wicked.

Christians have long appropriated this vision of the ideal king to the messiah, Christ.

Questions to ask as we anticipate the coming of Christ: Do we need a powerful monarch to enforce peace? In what ways does this passage describe the church (after all, we think of the church as the body of Christ)?

Isaiah described the ideal king as caring for the poor and vulnerable. Do we see this as a necessary role for a ruler? for Christ? for the church?

Isaiah describes what the kingdom ruled by this new king will be like. Peace among natural enemies. More than peace, harmony.

In an article, "Preaching the Advent Texts: Hope, Peace, Courage," in the Journal for Preachers, Advent 2010, John Buchanan writes:
Americans read the morning paper and hope that there hasn't been another suicide bomber, that a Palestinian rocket hasn't precipitated a deadly Israeli retaliation, that more beautiful young Americans have not died in Afghanistan. We live between yearning for peace and the reality of the world in the year of our Lord 2010. And the preacher's responsibility is to help the congregation remember the promise of Isaiah's vision and to point to signs, tiny green shoots sprouting in unlikely places--shoots of Jesse.
What gifts do we bring as peacemakers--in our world, our cities, our neighborhoods?
In what ways do you see God acting to make all things new?

2 Corinthians 12:11-21
Paul lists what he is afraid he will find when he visits the congregation in Corinth: quarreling, jealousy, anger, selfishness, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder. What do visitors find when they visit a congregation today? Christians, we can do better, and we must.

Psalm 56:1-13
Another lament, another reminder to trust God.

Proverbs 23:6-8
Do not eat the bread of the stingy;
do not desire their delicacies;
for like a hair in the throat, so are they.
"Eat and drink!" they say to you.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, we seek your presence. O Lord, cure us from our habits of many congregations, like quarreling, jealousy, anger. Direct us toward being peacemakers in our communities and within the larger community. Amen.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Reflection on readings for September 11

Give ear to my prayer, O God;
do not hide yourself from my supplication.
Attend to me, and answer me;
I am troubled in my complaint.
I am distraught.
(Psalm 55:1-2)

Isaiah 8:1-9:21
Isaiah spoke to some scared people, "Don't fear people ganging up on you. Turn your attention to the Lord. Some people can see only distress and darkness, but you can see a great light."

Hear an excerpt from Handel's Messiah, Wonderful Counselor.

2 Corinthians 12:1-10
"I prayed to God to rescue me from my torment," Paul wrote. "I didn't get the response that I had wanted, but I did get the one that God thought I needed."

A lot of troublesome theology can be and has been derived from this passage. Yet, I want to hold on to the hope that is in it. Whatever happens to me, I can benefit from it, I can use it, to do God's work.

Carl R. Holladay, in Preaching through the Christian Year B, reminds us that Paul's rival evangelists had used their skills to prove that they were more powerful than Paul. He's saying that they may be winning a game but that it's not the right game.
What he knew only well was that "weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities...were more frequent and typical of his apostolic life than were visions....In this respect, his life was analogous to that of Christ. Indeed, the crucifixion of Christ came to symbolize human suffering experienced in response to a divine calling....
Psalm 55:1-23
As I read this psalm, I am thinking about the videos we in Memphis have seen of the assault  by a mob in a Kroger parking lot. Like the psalmist, we want refuge from outrage and strife. I pray, however, that we can refrain from the more vindictive verses in this psalm and focus on the reminder that the Lord takes care of rescue.

Proverbs 23:4-5
Do not wear yourself out to get rich;
be wise enough to desist.
When your eyes light upon it, it is gone;
for suddenly it takes wings to itself,
flying like an eagle toward heaven.

Prayer for Today: In times of despair, pray Psalm 55.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Reflection on readings for September 10

Hear my prayer, O God;
give ear to the words of my mouth.
(Psalm 54:2)

Isaiah 6:1-7:25
Verses 1-4 describe an overwhelming sense of God's glory and the appropriate response to it. On a throne. A high and lofty throne. So large that just the hem of his robe fills the temple. Heavenly beings attend him. They sing, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts."

Verses 5, in contrast, describes the great contrast with this glory with the human condition. Isaiah realizes that he is unworthy.

Verses 6-7 give us reassurance. Since we are not worthy, God has a way of redeeming us, of overcoming our sin. Isaiah's guilt was removed.

Verse 8 reminds us why we need this redemption. We have a task. Isaiah accepted his call.

(much of this from or inspired by Isaiah 1-39, by Walter Brueggeman)

How much of this is repeated in a typical church service? Do we recognize an overwhelming divine presence? Do we recognize our own sinfulness? Can we receive redemption? If so, what are we prepared to do with it?

King Ahaz was more willing to trust the Assyrians than he was to believe that the Lord would save his country from invasion by Aram (2 Kings 16; Isaiah 7:1-6).

The Lord spoke to this fearful king--please note that the threat he fears is real, that's he's not just timid. "Ask me for a sign," the Lord said. But Ahaz refused saying "I will not test the Lord." We can interpret his refusal as piousness or as an unwillingness to know what God wants him to do after he has already decided what's best.

The Lord gives him a sign anyway.

Ahaz had been focusing on kings and armies and enemies. Isaiah points his attention to a young woman who is about to bear a child, "She will name him Immanuel, God is with us. What you fear, you need no longer fear."

2 Corinthians 11:16-33
Paul criticizes his critics and asserts his own qualifications as a true apostle.

He recounts the dangers he has faced because of that apostleship.

Following Jesus can be risky.

Psalm 54:1-7
This psalm gives us words to pray when we have been mistreated. Notice that revenge is left to God to handle.

Proverbs 23:1-3
When you sit down to ear with a ruler,
observe carefully what is before you,
and put a knife to your throat
if you have a big appetite.
Do not desire the ruler's delicacies,
for they are deceptive food.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, sustain us through our fears, our fears of physical harm and our fears of criticism. Keep our attention focused on your will. Amen.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Reflection on readings for September 9

God looks down from heaven on humankind
to see if there are any who are wise,
who seek after God.
(Psalm 53:2)

Isaiah 3:1-5:30
Isaiah tells the people of Israel this parable: The owner of the land, with great effort, plants vines on a very fertile hill. He got grapes, but not the kind of grapes he had worked for. He vows to make a new start, to tear down the wall that protects the vines, to quit tending them, not to prune or hoe, and he will quit watering them.

Isaiah is trying to get them to think about how much sense the landowner's reaction makes. "Apply this parable to your own lives. God gave you this land and cared for your needs. God expected great things from you. God expected you to yield justice and righteousness. That's not what you did."

2 Corinthians 11:1-15
Paul asserts his apostleship as true, his concern for the congregation at Corinth to know and live out God's good news. He warns them against false apostles who may disguise themselves as ministers of righteousness.

How do we moderns discern which ministers are true apostles and which are disguised as such?

Psalm 53:1-6
God knows who is corrupt and who is true. Reassuring or disturbing?

Proverbs 22:28-29
Do not remove the ancient landmark
that your ancestors set up.
Do you see those who are skillful in their work?
they will serve kings;
they will not serve common people.

Prayer for Today: O Lord our God, guide us into lives that make our world a place of justice, of righteousness, of care for each other. Amen.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Reflection on readings for September 8

I will thank you forever,
because of what you have done.
In the presence of the faithful
I will proclaim your name for it is good.
(Psalm 52:9)

Isaiah 1:1-2:22
Isaiah presents the case against Judah. He uses the epithets Sodom and Gomorrah. It helps to understand this passage if we realize that their sin was inhospitality rather than what seems more convenient to us to be against.

"Don't be like Sodom and Gomorrah," Isaiah tells them that the Lord is saying. "They pretended to worship me, but they neglected to do any true worship. What I require is not parading around in public but rather taking care of those who need care."

What good is our worship if we ignore God's concerns?

The Lord has specific suggestions: rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.

We shouldn't comfort ourselves by saying that we don't sacrifice bulls in our sanctuaries anymore. These warnings are still relevant. What are our churches concerned about? How much time and money are we spending on ourselves and much effort are we putting into seeking what God considers justice?

The Lord gave and gives options: No matter how sinful you have been, you can repent and change. Building a world in which all have justice will result in a world in which you will benefit. Building a world in which many suffer will result in your having to live there too--a place of need and threat and fear.

Isaiah lived in a time when his nation was under threat--and a time when the leaders and the people of the nation had not been following the instruction of the Lord. Having called the powerful to repentance, the prophet also offers hope to the fearful.

Questions to consider as you read Chapter 2:

v1, What new thing have you seen--something that was totally unexpected?
Can you hope for something without working for it?

v2, What parallels do you see between the highest mountain and our places of worship?

v3, Why do we go to church?

v4, How important is the prophecy of peace for us? Do we think we are judged on basis of whether we are will to go to war?

v5, What does the phrase "walk in the light of the Lord" mean to you?

Is this passage from Isaiah about them and then, us now, or us someday?

2 Corinthians 10:1-18

Psalm 52:1-9
The psalm addresses the powerful, "Why do you boast of the mischief you have done against the godly? God will see that you pay for what you have done."

And those who have been harmed but remained faithful to God will see the downfall of the mighty ones: "See, the one who would not take refuge in God, but trusted in abundant riches, and sought refuge in wealth!"

Rich sure seems good to us much of the time, but the Psalms remind us that being rich is not satisfactory as a total goal. For one thing, it doesn't last. For another, seeking that goal at the expense of all others results in our loss of everything important.

Rather, than trust money, this Psalm reminds us to trust in God forever and forever and to thank God--publicly.

Proverbs 22:26-27
Do not be one of those who give pledges,
who become surety for debts.
If you have nothing with which to pay,
why should your bed be taken from under you.

Prayer for Today: O Lord our God,  guide us into true worship,  not parading around in public but rather taking care of those who need care. Remind us that you are our refuge so that we will trust you to take care of us in the future and be grateful for what you have done for us already. Amen.