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, a talented group of global communicators, lead by United Methodist Communications in Nashville, Tennessee, directs messaging that reaches people who have never set foot in one of our churches. Through billboards, digital advertising, video spots, radio and more, they give people outside the church a glimpse of who we are and what matters to us as Christians. 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 United Methodist Communications and

April 20, 2014 – Easter Day
God of our deepest joys and Alleluias! We sing our Resurrection songs this morning, not because of a miraculous historical event, but because you continue to bring life out of death and hope out of despair! When you rolled away the stone and let light enter Christ's tomb, you entrusted each of us who follow him to be bearers of light into the dark places of our world – carriers of the inexhaustible hope into lives filled with despair. May the joy of this morning, of the triumph of the Resurrection, empower us in our living out of these tasks, and in our generosity to support others who serve in our name. In the name of the risen Christ, we pray. Amen. (John 20:1-18)

"Copyright General Board of Discipleship. Used by permission."

Friday, April 18, 2014

Reflection on readings for April 18

Glorious things are spoken of you,
O city of God.
(Psalm 87:3)

Joshua 16:1-18:28

Luke 19:1-27
As a tax collector, Zacchaeus would have been viewed as a collaborator with the occupier. Yet, Jesus invites himself over to his house. How shocked should we be? After all, in last week's Gospel passage, Luke 18:9-14, Jesus declared a tax collector to be justified but not the religious person who was proud of being religious.

But, Zacchaeus is also rich, and as Sharon Ringe reminds us in her Commentary on Luke, rich people don't fare as well; e.g., 12:13-21; 16:19-31; 18:18-25.

The people who were there did not approve of Jesus' willing association with someone they perceived to be a sinner.

Zacchaseus' response was to vow to give up half his possessions and repay four-fold anyone he had cheated.

Then Jesus declares, "Today salvation has come to his house because he too is a son of Abraham." As a son of Abraham, he is not clutching his wealth to himself but sharing it with the poor who need it and returning what he did not deserve. Sharon Ringe asserts:
Because of his political and economic role as a chief tax collector, Zacchaeus has never been in a position to consider membership in the people of God something on which he can presume (note John the Baptist's warning in 3:8). In fact, some would say that his profession has made him the equivalent of a Gentile.
Suddenly his membership in the chosen people is reinstated. His earnest promise is not mentioned as a reason, but one is left with the sense that they are connected. His embrace of the opportunity to give alms ... does not earn his new identity.... But the lifestyle he has embraced makes his identity evident.
"Salvation has come to his house," Jesus said. The question of salvation is not how we get it but what we do with it.

Psalm 87:1-7

Proverbs 13:11

Prayer for Today: Christ, our Savior,  keep us mindful of what you have told us that saved people do. Amen.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Reflection on readings for April 17

Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me,
    for I am poor and needy.
Gladden the heart of your servant,
   for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
(Psalm 86:1, 4)

Joshua 15:1-63
Caleb offers his daughter Achsah as a wife to the man who can successfully oust the inhabitant of a piece of land that had been designated as his. Othniel took the land and Caleb gave him Achsah. She then asked her father for more land--a field with springs.

The rest of the tribe of Judah was also successful in taking over the land assigned to them by Caleb. An exception was the Jebusites, who could not be driven out of Jerusalem.

Luke 18:18-43
He tells his disciples what is going to happen in Jerusalem. Even though he is very specific, they don't understand what he's saying to them.

Psalm 86:1-17
Psalm 86 begins with a plea to the Lord for help, a plea not based on anything done to deserve help but rather on the nature of the Lord--good, forgiving, and abounding in steadfast love. The psalmist continues by  recording the unique greatness of the Lord, and how everybody--all nations--recognize this greatness.

In verse 11, we have two more requests: Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart to revere your name. The psalmist wants to know more about God so as to live the kind of life that God would want. Moreover, to live that kind of life, the psalmist is going to have to give up other distractions.

After the requests come expression of gratitude including a reassertion of God's love and care.

But, even with the knowledge that God is powerful and loving, the psalmist recognizes that life can be far from perfect, "O God, the insolent rise up against me; a band of ruffians seeks my life, and they don't care about you at all."

In this time of difficulty, the psalmist asks God, "Turn to me and be gracious to me; give me strength; save me."

When we are in our own times of difficulty, we can pray this psalm, we can ask for Lord's favor, because we also can remember the times that the Lord has helped us and comforted us.

Proverbs 13:9-10

Prayer for Today: Pray Psalm 86.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Reflection on readings for April 16

Show us your steadfast love, O Lord,
    and grant us your salvation.
Let me hear what you will speak,
for you will speak peace 
    to your people,
    to your faithful, 
    to those who turn to you in their hearts.
(adapted from Psalm 85:7, 8)

Joshua 13:1-14:15

Luke 18:1-17
Today's passage from Luke begins, "Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart." Noting the "then," I looked back to see what had been happening just before he told them the parable.

Jesus had responded to the question by the Pharisees of when the kingdom of God was coming. He told them that it wouldn't be coming with things that could be observed because it was already among them. We read this as a statement that God's kingdom was already evident in the ministry of Christ.

Jesus had then turned to his disciples and told them that they shouldn't be misled as to the days of the Son of Man. He reminded them of what had happened to the unfaithful in the time of Noah and of Lot. Some enjoying themselves, tending to their own needs, then came destruction and only a few survived.

The widow in the parable has been waiting for justice, pleading for vindication, for a long time. The early church could have seen the parallel in her situation and theirs. By the time that the Gospel of Luke was written, the early church had been waiting for the reappearance of Christ for a long time. In many, many ways the church continues to wait for justice for the weak and their vindication against the powerful.

The widow persistently and publicly continued to ask for justice from a judge who had power but was not himself just. He finally gave in to her, saying "I'm tired of her bothering me."

Jesus told them to learn from what the judge said.

Commentators split at this point. Some say that Jesus is telling them to keep praying to God, to keep arguing, pleading, seeking justification. Others don't like the idea of all of God being represented by an unjust judge so they put the emphasis on the need for God's people to keep pleading with those who have power.

In either case, Jesus intends for us to keep praying.

Then, Jesus tells them the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. If we read this parable as a comfort to us because we are so much superior in our righteousness than the Pharisee, then we have missed the point. I remember someone saying as she began her path toward ordination, "If they want humble, I can be the most humble."

Jesus is speaking to those--that includes us--who think themselves so righteous that they are contemptuous of others who just cannot measure up to their standard. In describing the Pharisee, Jesus is not telling us that there's sometime wrong with fasting or tithing. Nor is he saying that there is anything wrong with going to a holy place to pray.

Further, Jesus is not saying that the sins of the tax collector are to be emulated. What's wrong is not righteousness but self-righteousness. As Fred Craddock puts it in Preaching through the Christian Year C,"The Pharisee trusts in himself; the tax collector trusts in God: that is the difference." He then cautions us that the point of the parable is not to think that the tax collector should be proud and thankful that he is not like the Pharisee, and that we shouldn't be either.

Psalm 85:1-13
I'm looking at this psalm today as a primer on a kind of prayer--a prayer when we want our lives to be different and we admit that we may have had some responsibility in their not being what we would have been, what we want them to be.

1. Remind the Lord, "You have been favorable to us." List some specifics. Of course, the Lord already is quite aware of this. The reminder is really for you.

2. State plainly what you want, "Restore us, Of God of our salvation, and put away your indignation toward us." Probably implicit is that God's indignation will no longer be needed because you intend in the future to act like a person worthy of that salvation you're asking for.

3. State just as plainly how bad things are when you are not right with God. "Will you be angry with us forever?"

4. Now, that you have listed your wants, be ready to hear what God wants, "Let me hear what the Lord will speak."
Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him,
that his glory may dwell in our land.
Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet;
righteousness and peace will kiss each other.
Faithfulness will spring up from the ground,
and righteousness will look down from the sky.
5. Affirm God's gifts and your own promise to be worthy of receiving them "Righteousness will go before him, and will make a path for his steps."

Proverbs 13:7-8

Prayer for Today: Pray Psalm 85, focusing on the verses that fit the kind of day you are having today.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Reflection on readings for April 15

My soul longs,
indeed it faints
    for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh sing for joy
    to the Living God.
(Psalm 84:2)

Joshua 11:1-12:24

Luke 17:11-37
Luke presents us with an account of people carrying out Biblical injunctions. That is, since they are lepers, they are keeping themselves separate from everyone else and also calling out a warning so no one will inadvertently come near them. Further, when they are cured, Jesus tells them to head for the temple so a priest can certify that they are no longer lepers. (That's also in the Bible. You can look it up in Leviticus 13:35-45; 14:2-32).

Nine of the ten who have been healed follow these instructions. However, one does something else. He returns to Jesus, thanks him, and gives praise to God for his healing.

Jesus asks why the nine others did not return to give thanks to God and points out that this one who did is a foreigner.

They all had been suffering. They all had turned to Jesus for help. They all had faith that Jesus could heal them--even the foreigner. And all were healed. Jesus then tells them all what to do next. Nine do it.

Yet, Jesus holds out for praise the one who returned to him for thanks. Sometimes, we have something to learn from outsiders.

Psalm 84:1-12
A worshipper of God is on a pilgrimage to the temple in Jerusalem. My husband and I are within easy driving distance of the church we attend. I read in the psalm, "My soul longs, indeed it faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God." I'm pausing to consider whether my soul longs and faints for that building I am headed toward. I do want to be there, I feel deeply (some weeks, anyway) the need to be there, but I'm not sure about the fainting part. Further disturbing to me is that while I am really, really glad to have that church and to be going there, I have never sung out loud about it while on the way.

So, what does this psalm say to me?

I'm not willing to leave it totally for the original psalmist.

Part of the difference is that the building I am talking about is one that I go to on the average about three times a week. The psalmist, I repeat, is making a pilgrimage. Yet, why would familiarity and ease about the access cause me to be less joyful?

Perhaps I am being too narrow in the application of the psalm to my religious life. Try this: my whole life is a journey toward the presence of God. As I go through my ordinary life--grocery shopping, TV watching, grandchildren enjoying, I am in the presence of God. God's dwelling place, God's courts, God's house--none of those are completely defined by any one building constructed by human beings.

So, Sunday mornings and the rest of the week, let me sing with the psalmist, "A day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. O Lord of hosts, happy is everyone who trusts in you."

Proverbs 13:5-6

Prayer for Today: Choose a prayer from Joan Stott's website The timeless psalms.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Reflection on readings for April 14

O God, 
do not keep silence;
do not hold your peace 
    or be still, 
O God!
(Psalm 83:1)

Joshua 9:3-10:43

Luke 16:19-17:10
When alive, the rich man enjoyed being rich. He dressed well and ate well. He used his money to satisfy himself well beyond need although he might have shared some of it with that poor, sore-covered man who was right there by his front door.

We know that the rich man was aware of the poor guy--he even knew his name. I'm pausing here to wonder why I think that ignoring the needs of people whose names we know is different from ignoring those of strangers.

He not only knows the name of Lazarus; he wants to be waited on by him. "I need something. Send Lazarus to help me."

Abraham informs him that the situation is now reversed: the one who had good things now doesn't, and the one who had suffered in his lifetime is now comforted. Moreover, the time to change that is past. The rich man has lost the opportunity to use anything that he once controlled.

The rich man reacts by wanting to ensure that his relatives don't end up the way he has. He begs Abraham, "Send Lazarus to warn my brothers so they won't have to end up the way I have." Abraham reminds the rich man that those brothers have already received sufficient warning because they have access to the Bible. Abraham says that he doesn't think the Bible works for everyone, but that a visitation from someone who has died would.

I would be willing to interpret this remark as a reference to the resurrected Christ, but Abraham's next remark limits that willingness. He says, "If they don't believe the Old Testament, they won't believe the New one either."

Believing in Christ does not mean that we are to cut up and throw away the front part of our Bibles. And if we were to do that, we would miss a whole lot about the necessity of helping the poor. Just saying.

Jesus had been instructing the apostles, and, at times, the crowds, in discourse and with parables what life with him would be like and what is expected of those who follow in his way.

They may have needed to have their confidence bolstered. They asked to have their faith increased. Jesus replied, "If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could get a mulberry tree to jump in the ocean just by telling it to."

When I was in the 5th grade, somebody gave me a necklace with a mustard seed encased in a plastic ball. I used to look at that tiny seed and wonder why the trees around me weren't listening to me. And I lived in a place where the trees weren't very big.

Other Bible readers, like me, have been troubled by this passage. Is Jesus promising us that we will be able to perform superhuman actions or great magic tricks? Or, is Luke using hyperbole or even metaphoric talk?

Fred Craddock in Preaching through the Christian Year C points out that the "if" in Jesus' statement can be translated in two ways, The word "if" could be describing a condition contrary to fact. Or, "if" could be describing a condition according to fact.

Try substituting "since" for "if" to see how this would sound in English. Craddock says Jesus is giving them "an indirect affirmation of the faith they have and an invitation to live and act out in that faith. They ask for an increase in their faith. He says that the faith you already have is effective and powerful beyond your present realization."

Do we deserve any special praise for following Christ? for accomplishing what he has required of us? Or, as Christ's servants, aren't we when we think of ourselves as doing good as dramatic as getting a tree to jump in the lake, aren't we even then just doing our job, just doing what Christ's servants are to do?

Psalm 83:1-18
At those times that we feel under attack and that God is not paying enough attention to us, we can pray this psalm. Remembering those times that God has gotten rid of enemies for other people, we can ask for God to get rid of those who are harming us. The psalm concludes with a reminder (to the psalmist or to God?) that the wrongdoers need to know God.

Proverbs 13:1

Prayer for Today: O Lord, remind us when we need it of our faith in you and remind us that we can and are supposed to use that faith. Amen.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Reflection on readings for April 13

O God, You have taken your place in the divine council;
In the midst of the gods, you hold judgment:
"How long will you judge unjustly
and show partiality to the wicked?"
(adapted from Psalm 82:1-2)

Joshua 7:16-9:2

Luke 16:1-18
Jesus told his disciples a parable about a rich man about to fire his manager who had been accused of squandering his property. I don't know if that mean incompetence or dishonesty or if it matters.

When his boss demands an accounting, the manager knows that he has no defense. And, he doesn't think he's going to be able to get a job as good as the one he has. The only prospects he sees are manual labor or begging.

Since, he doesn't want to do either of those, he comes up with an alternative plan. He summons each of his master's creditors and reduces the amount they owe. Whatever his previous shortcomings had been, this act is certainly dishonest. He has been entrusted with the care of someone else's resources, and he is misusing them to satisfy his own needs.

How are we to interpret this parable? One alternative is to assume that the boss represents God and that the manager represents the church. We treat the world and the goods in it as if they are ours. We use them for our own benefit, or we waste them without considering whose they really are. How would we react if God called us to account? How would we try to justify our decisions and our behavior?

The manager in the parable took actions that would prevent the master from getting his due. In what ways, do we that make up the church act that would limit what the world understands about God?

An employee had abused the trust of his employer and had been caught. The boss told him he was going to be fired. So, the employee figured out a way to get more of his boss's money while he could.

That story is not particularly shocking to modern readers, and I doubt it would have been then, either.

The boss's reaction, though, is surprising. Rather than having the employee sent to prison, he commends him for his shrewd actions. And, even more difficult to understand is Jesus' comment, "And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes."

It doesn't help much that commentators disagree on whether that comment was made by the boss or Jesus talking about the boss. Either way, Jesus is offering it to his disciples. We would have been more comfortable with a parable in which the dishonest employees was caught and repented and tried to pay back his boss and so on.

So, I was relieved to read the interpretation offered by Ronald Allen & Clark Williamson in their Preaching the Gospels without Blaming the Jews. They disagree with the standard assumption that the owner in the parable is a representation of God. Rather, they propose that Jesus is using the story to "cast a negative light on some Pharisees (and other Jewish leaders)". Thus, in their view, "The dishonest manager is not a model but a foil for the Pharisees. They are as misguided as the manager."

Allen & Williams tie this parable to the one in chapter 15 of the Prodigal Son. They interpret the story of the older son resenting the acceptance of his brother as a parallel to that of some Jewish leaders who resented the inclusion of Gentiles in the early church.

In any case, I know I would be more comfortable if Luke had just left this story out altogether. I am not helped much by the commentators who try to convince me that the employee was cutting his commission out of the debt and that's what the boss was commending.

But, whether I get the intended meaning of the parable right or not, I still am grateful for verses 10-13. They sound a lot more like what I am accustomed to hearing from Jesus.
"Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth."
We didn't create this world; God did. We didn't create the wealth on the earth, but God has entrusted it to our care.

Psalm 82:1-8
One troubling aspect in this psalm is that God will judge our actions.

Something else troubling is the actions that we are going to be accountable for. God is going to judge whether we
    give justice to the lowly and the orphan
    maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute
    rescue the weak and the needy
    deliver them from the hand of the wicked.

We need to review this checklist as we determine how our church congregation should be involved with our neighborhoods and we need to review it as we determine what each of us personally is called to do.

How far does this Bible stuff go? Should we also think about this list as we make decisions on who to vote for?

Proverbs 13:2-3

Prayer for Today: Choose a prayer from Joan Stott's website The Timeless Psalms.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Reflection on readings for April 12

Hear, O my people,
while I admonish you;
O Israel, if you would but listen to me.
(Psalm 81:1)

Joshua 5:1-7:15
All of the people who had begun the journey from Egypt had died. Only people who had been born in the wilderness will enter the promised land. Since none of the males born during the exodus had been circumcised, the Lord directed Joshua that it was now time to do so.

Metaphorizing this, I ponder what practices that an older generation considered necessary have their children forgotten or not gotten around to or object to. What practices should be restored?

As the Israelites had eaten the passover meal in Egypt the night before they left, this new generation also kept the passover. They can because they now are in a place that has food other than manna. Again metaphorizing, I wonder how we mark transitions and how we determine that it is time to do so.

These are not perfect people. Despite being told specifically not to take some things devoted to the Lord, some of the men did--with serious consequences.

Luke 15:1-32
The Pharisees and scribes--read religious leaders or religious insiders--were disgruntled that Jesus was willingly spending time with people that they did not consider worthy.

He asked "What shepherd wouldn't leave behind 99 safe sheep to go after the one who was lost?" Apparently a rhetorical question because he added, "And having found that lost sheep, the shepherd invited all his friends for a celebration."

Or not a rhetorical question now that I think about it because his critics that day are displeased by his allowing sinners so near. Or, maybe they are waiting to hear that those sinners have repented before they can be joyful about having them around.

Would the religious insiders have agreed that there would be more joy in heaven about sinners being there than them? Or, could they have seen that their own attitude of exclusion and superiority qualified them for the category of sinner? Is Jesus holding out to them the opportunity to repent of their sins--sins that they can't repent of until they recognize and admit that they have?

Jesus follows the lost sheep parable with one about a lost coin. Again something valuable is lost. Again the owner searches dilligently. Again the owner rejoices when the lost is retrieved.
Again, the owner invites others to celebrate that the lost has been found.

Jesus that such joy will be in heaven when one sinner repents.

I keep getting stuck on the repent part. What did the sheep or the coin do to get saved? Maybe the sheep was bleating and the coin was shiny? Would that constitute repentance? I'm settling for the assumption that these parables are not about somebody else repenting but they are about the pharisees and the scribes, about what their attitude is and what it ought to be.

The respectable people sure didn't like it that Jesus was willing to associate with people who weren't so respectable. And they said so out loud. And Jesus answered them out loud.

The Parable of the Prodigal Son (or, as some put it, the Parable of the Two Sons, or, as others put it, the Parable of the Waiting Father) is part of his response.

Something like what was upsetting the religious leaders keeps on happening. People who don't behave the way we want our children to grow up should be welcomed into our fellowship? Join our local church? Speak at the Annual Conference? Who makes the rules? Who gets to decide who is following them? Have they read the Bible? Don't they care?

These are questions that the respectable church members can ask. Jesus is talking to the respectable people of his time. But, before we address their attitude, let's look at an example of someone who inarguably does not behave the way he should have.

In the parable, the younger son does behave in an unquestionably poor way. He demands his inheritance before his father dies. He squanders it in dissolute living. Then the economy turns against him. Just as he runs out of money, so does the whole country. He finds an unpleasant job that doesn't even pay well.

So hungry that he's eating pig food, he starts comparing his situation with the one his father provides for his employees.

Whether he would have repented even if his circumstances had been different, we don't know.

What we are told is that even though he no longer feels that he deserves to have the status of a son, he wants to return to his father--because his father treats non-sons well.

I can read this parable as an illustration of repentance and forgiveness in a family. The younger son has sinned and recognized his sin. Or, at least, he has recognized that he needs his family. Admitted to himself not yet to those he has sinned against. But, before he can do that, his father comes to him, comes not reluctantly or grudgingly but running.

His father embraces him. Then, the son speaks his words of repentance.

Or, paying attention to the introductory words of this chapter about the grumbling Pharisees and scribes, I can read this parable metaphorically. Who is welcome at the table? What prevents someone from being worthy of sharing a meal with us? Who gets to decide? Which comes first--repentance or grace?

Further, what is this grace for, anyway--and, who's it for? Remember that Abraham was blessed to be a blessing (Genesis 12:1-3. Remember Jonah's assignment. (Thanks to Allen & Williamson, once again). Also, remember that foreigners had been included in the Exodus (Numbers 9:14; Judges 1:16)

If Jesus had stopped at verse 24, we still would have a powerful example of unmerited grace--a father forgiving his son and celebrating his return. When we sin, we can find hope that we will be forgiven. When someone sins against us, we can find an example of how to show forgiveness.

But, Jesus did not stop with the celebration.

Rather, he introduced the elder brother. Like the Pharisees and scribes who had been complaining that Jesus was associating with sinners, the elder brother had always been obedient. And, like them, he wasn't happy at all about the inclusion of someone who had not exhibited much obedience.

He's particularly upset by the extravagant celebration. "I've done everything you could have expected, and now, you are giving a dinner for him!"

The father reminded the elder son that he still was going to get everything that he had been expecting to get. Celebrating the return of the younger brother did not change the status of the elder brother. "But," the father insists, "You need to be happy about his return. He was lost to us and now has been found."

Psalm 81:1-16 

The psalm begins with a command to sing joyously to God then lists some reasons why we should.

Verses 10-16 are in the voice of God, saying what I, God, did, and what you, the not-always-grateful people did next. God had rescued the people from slavery in Egypt and provided them with the necessary food to keep them going on their journey. And God provided them with something else necessary for their journey--instruction in a way of life.

What response what we expect from people who had received such gifts? What God got was a people who refused to listen, who refused to obey. God's response to that recalcitrance was to just let them do what they wanted to do.

But God is not abandoning these abandoning people. "If only they would listen," God says.

Off on a tangent part: The psalm ends with this verse: I would feed you with the finest of the wheat and with honey from the rock I would satisfy you. I immediately was reminded of the singing group Sweet Honey in the Rock. Take some time today to listen to them.

Proverbs 13:1

Prayer for Today: Choose a prayer from Joan Stott's website The Timeless Psalms.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Reflections on readings for April 11

Restore us, O God;
let your face shine,
that we may be saved.
(Psalm 80:3)

Joshua 3:1-4:24
They are poised to cross over the Jordan into the land promised by them. Compare this crossing with the one that took them from captivity in Egypt into their long testing in the wilderness (Exodus 14).

As Pharaoh's army had drawn near, the people had been afraid. The Lord instructed Moses what to do. The Lord sent a strong wind to make a path through the sea so the Israelites could cross over on dry ground.

Now, forty years later, Moses has died, and Joshua is their appointed leader. He also receives instructions from the Lord. Once again the waters are divided, and the people can cross.

What is different is that on this crossing, the priests and the ark of the covenant are part of the story. Also different is that this time is that they are not just one group; they are twelve tribes.

The priests go first with the ark. As their feet enter the river, the waters begin to separate.

Imagine being one of the priests and stepping into the rushing water. When the people saw the water piling up, they then stepped into the path. Imagine being able to trust that the danger would wait for you to make your way across.

They had the ark to hold. What are we holding to remind us of God's commands and help?

Luke 14:7-35
How many poor people did you invite to share a meal with you at your church? Could a crippled person easily get into your building? Could a blind person find the sanctuary, the Sunday School room, the bathroom?

As we answer these questions, let us remember what else Jesus said that day: You will be blessed because they cannot repay you.

Those of us who are used to thinking of the term "Family Values" to be synonymous with Christian Values may have struggled with this particular passage. Is Jesus really telling us that we have to hate our families and to leave them behind if we want to join the church? Not a message I see being lived out by the churches I am familiar with.

Just about as troubling is the requirement to halt needed work like foundation building or to begin projects without considering what resources are necessary.

So, once again I am grateful to Ronald Allen & Clark Williamson who wrote a lectionary commentary called Preaching the Gospel without Blaming the Jews.

Early Christians would have found these commands difficult as well since rabbinic Judaism has no instructions to hate family. To help us to interpret what Jesus is saying to us, Allen & Williamson suggest we need to put the passage in context. Jesus had just told a parable about a man who invited a lot of people to dinner and they were too busy with their own lives to show up.

The banquet is the kingdom. The excuses represent the kinds of ties that people have--to real estate, to work, and to family--ties that keep us from giving our ultimate commitment to the work of God in the world. .... Jesus' teaching about hating our loved ones is not recommending that we feel hatred for them....It is about choices, decisions.

More from Allen & Williamson:
The language is hyperbolic. We are to have a relative love for the relative and an ultimate love ... for God and God's kingdom.... We are to assess critically whether we can finish what we start, whether we can stay the course of discipleship. Can we make the commitment to peace, justice, economic sufficiency for all, and respect for the well-being of the stranger that commitment to the kingdom and following Jesus entail?
Psalm 80:1-19

Proverbs 12:27-28

Prayer for Today: Lord, forgive us for those times that we have not followed you, those times that we have forgotten what we are capable of doing for you, those times that we were distracted from your will. Amen.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Reflections on readings for April 10

Help us, O God of our salvation,
for the glory of your name'
deliver us, and forgive our sins, 
for your name's sake.
(Psalm 79:9)

Deuteronomy 34:1-Joshua 2:24
Moses was allowed to see the prize but not hold it. Moses had devoted his life to people who often did not appreciate him. After his death, they wept for him for thirty days, the mourning period for a parent.

His burial place is not known. His mourners could not make it a shrine or a place of pilgrimage. They had to move on.

Although his burial place has been forgotten, his leadership is not. The book of Deuteronomy ends with a eulogy, but these words of praise are not contemporaneous with his burial. Rather, they are written much after that time. These words reflect an assessment of Moses' place in the history of God's relationship with humans: No prophet after him was known to the Lord face to face. He was unequaled for all the signs and wonders he performed, all his mighty deeds, and terrifying displays of power.

They need a leader, and Joshua is chosen. We have two versions of his commissioning. In Numbers 27:18, God tells Moses to choose Joshua. In Deuteronomy 32:23, the Lord speaks directly to Joshua. Two versions, but not necessary contradictory ones.

How did the people themselves discern that Joshua was to be the appropriate successor to Moses? How is God's will ever discerned?

In preparation for their entry into that land beyond the Jordan, Joshua sent two spies to view the land. The only part of the land they saw for themselves was the house of Rahab, a prostitute, where they spent one night. The king of Jericho, having found out that spies were there, ordered Rahab to turn them over. She didn't.

After the soldiers left, she spoke to the spies that she had hidden, giving a speech that sounds like she had been reading Deuteronomy.  She helped them escape.

Why did they go to that particular house? Why was she willing to protect invaders into her country? How had she learned the history of the Israelites?

Luke 13:22-14:6

Psalm 79:1-13
We can read this psalm and be able to put ourselves into the thoughts of those ancient people in Judah who suffered when the Babylon army invaded. "Foreigners have come in," they lament. "They have defiled the temple. They have laid Jerusalem in ruins." Both the center of worship and of government have been lost.

And lives were lost, too. So many were killed, that there weren't enough survivors left to bury them.

The lament does not stop with the listing of their losses. It includes what happens after that. Rather than wanting to support them or at least be sympathetic to them, their neighbors mock and deride.

I'm pausing to think about what would be the expected reaction by anyone to somebody else's suffering. How often do we think something like, "Well, what could you expect? After all, they really deserve what they got"?

And I'm thinking about how I feel when I suspect, or know, that onlookers are judging me. Now, since the psalm is a community lament, I should reword that to how I as an America feel when other nations mock my country for getting what they judge that we deserve. Suffering makes us feel bad. Being mocked rather than being sympathized with can make us feel worse.

What are we supposed to do when we have been hurt badly? We don't have to pretend that we like it. This psalm complains to God about what has happened and how long it has taken with no improvement in sight, "How long, O Lord? Will you be angry forever?"

The psalm suggests that it is not up to us to seek vengeance, but, rather, that we are to turn to God to take care of it for us, "Pour out your anger on them. They have laid waste to the land you have given us."

How willing are we moderns to allow God to handle the vengeance that we can so clearly see is really overdue?

Proverbs 12:26

Prayer for Today: Choose a prayer from Joan Stott's website The Timeless Psalms.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Reflections on readings for April 9

There is none like God,
who rides through the heavens to our help.
(adapted from Deuteronomy 33:26)

Deuteronomy 33:1-29
At the end of his life, at the end of their journey through the wilderness, Moses bids farewell. He reminds them of all that God has done for them and tells them what to expect in their new home.

Luke 13:1-21
The religious leader was indignant that this person would openly violate an essential requirement. The accused, the one we call Lord, pointed out the hypocrisy.

Notice that Jesus isn't saying that the sabbath is unimportant. Rather, he's pointing out its importance adds to the significance of healing the woman who has been crippled for almost two decades. As Sharon Ringe puts it in her commentary on Luke: "The core question is not whether to keep the sabbath, but rather how to keep it, and specifically, how keeping the day "holy" to God...."

Also note that the woman did not approach Jesus asking him for help. Rather, he saw her, called her over, healed her.

Which religious rules are we keeping but in the wrong way? Do we wait for people to come to us for help, or are we watching for opportunities to give help?

Further note the woman's reaction. As soon as she was healed, she began praising God. Do we remember to be grateful to the source of our gifts?

Psalm 78:65-72

Proverbs 12:25

Prayer for Today: O Lord, as we remember Jesus' healing the crippled woman on the Sabbath, help us to discren which commandments we are able to keep by braking. Amem

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Reflections on readings for April 8

Where are their gods,
the rock in which they took refuge?
There is no god besides me.
(taken from Deuteronomy 32:37, 39)

Deuteronomy 32:28-52
Moses reminds them what God has done for them and that no other object of worship can do. Troubling to some is that God promises vengeance. To others, this promise is a reminder that we ourselves are not supposed to do the avenging but instead leave it in God's capable hands.

Luke 12:35-59
"Do not worry," Jesus had said. Then he tells them what to do instead: Get ready.

Don't worry doesn't mean don't care.

Jesus has just told them that God is the source of their gifts (12:22-34), that God's kingdom is what they should strive for (31) and what will be given to them (32).

Continuing with the image of kingdom then, Jesus discusses their role--they are to God the king as earthly servants are to earthly masters.

What worthy servants do is be ready at any moment for any need of the master. If the master tells you exactly what time he's going to show up, then you could take off work until that time came. But, if you don't know when he's going to get home, then you have to stay ready.

But, something unexpected occurs in Jesus' parable: when the master gets there, he will serve the meal to the servants.

Staying ready to open the door, keeping those lamps lit--only insiders can do that. (Allen & Williamson's Preaching the Gospel)

Perhaps I shouldn't continue to be surprised that church people often don't get along with each other, that they squabble, engage in backbiting and, often frontbiting. The arguments may be over which Sunday School class gets which classroom, what kind of music or musical instruments are allowed at the morning worship service, and, even theological disputes at times.

After all, didn't Jesus warn us?

Well, okay, he probably wasn't talking about the kinds of disputes I have noticed, but he did say that peace was not the ultimate good. He didn't intend to paper over disagreement over essential matters or to ignore what was wrong.

In my own lifetime, church congregations have been split over civil rights and the Vietnam War. Many churches today have internal disputes about ordination of women and inclusion of gays and lesbians.

He did not come to bring peace. He lived a life that brought him to crucifixion. Taking him seriously, taking his message seriously, taking the decisions he made seriously will disrupt our lives. We don't join the church for the same reason we would join some kind of social club. We join the church to continue his work in the world. And sometimes, that work is scary.

Why do we have so much trouble discerning what it is that we are supposed to do? It's not because we are incapable of recognizing clues.

Jesus demonstrated this truth by reminding them that they knew that clouds in the west meant impending rain (from the Mediterranean Sea) and wind from the south (from the Negev desert) meant the temperatures were going to rise. They had the capability to recognize and interpret weather signs.

And they had the capability to recognize and interpret other signs, as well. Only a hypocrite would pretend that he didn't have enough information to know what was just in the circumstances.

Psalm 78:56-64

Proverbs 12:24

Prayer for Today: Lord, keep us watchful, keep us prepared, keep us ready, keep us faithful. You have told us over and over what you expect of us. Help us now to respond. Amen.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Reflections on readings for April 7

Bring us to your holy hill.
(adapted from Psalm 78:52-54)

Deuteronomy 31:1-32:27
Moses makes his farewell and assures them that the Lord will continue to go with them. Moses wrote down and told them that everyone was supposed to assemble every seven years to hear the law read. Everyone included everyone--not only men but also women and children; not only the people of Israel but also aliens. Everyone.

The Lord told Moses to appoint Joshua as successor. "They're going to violate my instructions," the Lord told Moses. "I will be angry with them. They will need reminding of what I have already done for them."

Luke 12:8-34
What makes us feel safe? What is worth worrying about? What is important enough to us to be included in our prayers?

There was Jesus right there in front of him and what he wanted was some support in getting what seemed like to him a fair share of the family money. Well, he may not have realized yet exactly who this Jesus was. What's our excuse for the prayers we make?

One person asked the question, but Jesus gave the answer to the crowd. Yes, we all need to hear the caution, "Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions."

I'm hoping that I can rest on the term "abundance" and that Jesus is giving me an o.k. to pray for a sufficiency of possessions. What does make us feel safe? What is worth worrying about? What do I pray for?

Jesus answered the man that day, as he often did, by telling a parable. A man spent a lot of effort accumulating possessions, so many that he needed more space to put them in (I'm a little concerned here because I am rather constantly complaining about not having enough closet space.) Anyway, the man in the parable was all ready to celebrate having so much stuff when God pointed out that none of the stuff would be available to him for very long, "You're dying tonight. Tomorrow, it'll be your heirs that will be enjoying those things that you were so concerned with."

Jesus said, "You've been worrying about the wrong thing. Instead of focusing on your own financial situation, think about how you can serve God."

"Do not be afraid," Jesus tells them. I looked at the preceding verses in Luke and found some specifics in what not to afraid of--what you will eat or wear or how long you will live. Just glancing at the headlines in this morning paper or the letters to the editor remind me that we, despite Jesus' words, still worry a lot. We worry about somebody else getting our share of things, encroachments on our lives in some ways, and our physical security. "Do not be afraid," Jesus tells us.

He goes on, "Sell your possessions, and give alms." Not worrying is hard enough, but giving up that very thing that I was worrying about not being enough?

Jesus reminds us that what is important for us is what we worry about. If my concern is my own security, then I will protect that security against all encroachment--real or not. But, what if my concern could somehow be how God's will would be acted out on earth, how God's love and care could be extended and expressed through my efforts--wouldn't that change my actions and thoughts and prayers? Can I trust God?

The notes to the Wesley Study Bible remind us that Methodists have a history of being concerned about the deleterious effects of riches--or worrying about having and keeping riches:
Both Jesus and Wesley had much to say about wealth and poverty. Wesley feared that riches were a sign of self-indulgence and frequently warned his Methodists to practice generosity rather than self-indulgence (see Sermons 87: "The Danger of Riches"; 108: "On Riches"; 126: "On the Danger of Increasing Riches")....
Psalm 78:32-55

Proverbs 12:21-23

Prayer for Today: O Lord continue to lead us, to guide us through the wildernesses that surround us. Bring us to safety on your mountain. Amen

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Reflections on the readings for April 6

Give ear, O my people, to my teaching;
incline your ears to the words of my mouth.
(Psalm 78:1)

Deuteronomy 29:1-30:20
Returning from the exile, they could look back at how they had acted when they had first gotten there. Deuteronomy looks back and reviews, thus is also a look forward into how they should do it this time.

And not just them. And not just then. As we move through Lent, we also can review the gifts we have received from God, God's expectations of us, and how we responded.

God said to that ancient people, "I've told you the ways that will lead to a good life for all of you. If you don't do what works, you'll find yourself in trouble."

God summed it up in a way that may seem reassuring or it may seem ominous, "It's your choice."

Luke 11:37-12:7
He's speaking to religious people who had studied the scripture diligently--and still missed the point. Jesus told them (and through them, tells us): "God has told you what is important, but you either ignore it or interpret in a way that is beneficial to you."

Psalm 78:1-32
The psalmist asks the people to listen: I will tell you things that I heard from my ancestors. I'll tell children about what the Lord can do and has done. The Lord led them through dangerous places, showed them clear guidance of the right way to go, and made sure that their needs were taken care of.

Not only history, not only the glorious deeds and wonders that the Lord did for them then. But also, how the Lord intended for them to respond. They are to remember the teaching and make sure that their children know about what God has done and what they are supposed to do.

What do we tell the children in our congregation about our own experiences with God? Do we notice when God notices us? How have we gotten through dangerous places? How did we know which way was the right way to go? Are our needs being satisfied?

Proverbs 12:19-20

Prayer for Today: Choose a prayer from Joan Stott's website The Timeless Psalms.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Reflection on the readings for April 5

I will call to mind the deeds of the Lord;
I will remember your wonders of old.
I will meditate on all your work,
and muse on your mighty deeds.
(Psalm 77:11-12)

Deuteronomy 28:1-68
They had heard what God wanted them to do, how God wanted them to live their lives. If they would only obey, then blessings would abound. But, if they did things their own way instead of God's, woes would befall them.

When the descendants of this generation were defeated and taken into exile, they could remember the consequences. Walter Breuggemann on the Abingdon Old Testament Commentary on Deuteronomy points out that:
The depth of despair is expressed in two rhetorical flourishes. First, Israel will find the day unbearable and will wish for the night, and the night unbearable and wish for the day--no rest, no respite, no comfort. Second, the final humiliation is to be offered as slaves once more, as in long ago Egypt, and to find no buyer. Israel now has become useless and worthless, not even suitable for menial tasks, not wanted for state slave projects, beyond any notice.
Luke 11:14-36
Yes, bad things do happen, evil exists in the world. Sharon Ringe in her commentary of Luke writes:
What is present in Jesus is not simply the absence of evil, but a positive power for good....Only that presence can finally safeguard [creation] from becoming the unholy inhabitations of the forces of evil.
Psalm 77:1-20
This psalm gives us words to express those times when we are in need--times when we cried aloud to God, but didn't get the help we needed when we wanted or expected it, those times when God didn't act or we didn't recognize God's act as something that was needed for our plight: soul refused to be comforted....

Verses 9-10 remind us what God has already done. Yet, this reminder carries a tone of resentment--God has done so much for so many, what reason does God have for not helping me right now?

The tone changes in verse 11. The psalmist turns from talking about God to talking to God, "I will remember your wonders of old when the waters saw you, the very deep trembled."

I'm suggesting that we take the reference to waters as literal--the memory of the rescue of the people led by Moses as they escaping through the river from slavery in Egypt--or as a metaphor for any time that the situation seems as hopeless as facing a river with an army coming right at us.

This psalm allows us to say in words that when we face a troubling, scary situation, one in which we feel controlled by forces that no human being could possibly handle alone, then we turn for help to the One who has protected them and us before.

The Jewish Study Bible commentary suggests that we also look at Isaiah 51:9-11; Psalms 18:8-16; 114:3-6.

Proverbs 12:18

Prayer for Today: Choose a prayer from Joan Stott's website The Timeless Psalms.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Reflection on readings for April 4

But you indeed are awesome!
Who can stand before you
when once your anger is aroused
From the heavens you uttered judgment;
the earth feared and was still
when God rose up to establish judgment
to save all the oppressed of the earth.
(Psalm 76:7-9)

Deuteronomy 26:1-27:26
The book of Deuteronomy as we have it is a reshaping of Moses' words in light of the later experience of exile. We read of the hope that Moses was sharing and realize that, even after failure and loss, we are still offered hope.

The passage begins, "When you have come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you..." We aren't where we want to be, but Moses says that we're going to be.

A second point that was true for Moses' first audience, for the readers of the compiled Deuteronomy, and then for us as well: we won't get there by ourselves--we are going as a congregation, and the achievement is not due solely to our own efforts; rather, the Lord God is making a gift.

Now, what are we supposed to do with this gift? Not hide it or hoard it. Rather than ownership, we have assumed something more like trusteeship. We are supposed to use this gift to continue God's work.

In Moses' time, the distribution was through the priests. We still use the church as one of our conduits.

And not just do it--Moses commands us to say what we are doing, and why.

I'm trying to imagine a church service at offering time when all of us sitting in the pews might say something--either individually or together--as we put our money in the plate. Once again, I am grateful for the choir who takes care of this part for us. Yet, I can't quit wondering what I would say to help me remember that it is God's gift to me that I am sharing with others that day.

And who are these others? Moses reminds them that they themselves were immigrants in somebody else's country and that now that they are at home they need to celebrate with the immigrants who are now living among them. How do we celebrate our gifts with people we might consider to be not like us?

Imagine the exiles finally being able to return to the temple for worship. Remembering their hard times and celebrating their release, they could also remember the generation who had escaped from enslavement and had been given a home.

Now, imagine the journey of your own congregation. Remember your history. What traps have you fallen into? What powers have you been obedient to?

Still thinking about your church, consider the reminder that the Lord not only brought them there but also provided them with abundant resources--a land flowing with milk and honey. What are the good things that you have had available for your nourishment and enjoyment? Do you think you got them because you deserved them or do you think the Lord had a hand in them?

Moses told the people to present their first fruits to the Lord. How willing is your congregation to give anything, to give a lot, to give their best to God's work?

Moses then describes the group gathered at the altar that day--not only family but also aliens. Look around your congregation. How many aliens worship with you?

Luke 10:38-11:13
I was amazed when as an adult I learned that a traditional interpretation of the roles of Mary and Martha was that Martha depicted service and Mary contemplation. Therefore, whereas good works are good, they aren't as good as listening.

Mary had been my model for a different reason. I had interpreted the distinction between their actions as doing unseen work back in the kitchen or getting to sit in the room where people are discussing important things. I really liked the idea that Jesus thought this was the better part.

Shelly Cochran, in The Pastor's Underground Guide to the Revised Common Lectionary stresses that we shouldn't use it to make women like Martha fell inferior to others. I concur with her and can say that I have heard words of discomfort about this passage from several women whose call has been to work in the kitchen so the other church folks--including a happy-to-be-fed me and enjoy good meals and companionship.

A further point--is Jesus saying silent listening is the only best thing a follower can do? No, go back and read about the good Samaritan again.

Psalm 76:1-12

Proverbs 12:15-17

Prayer for Today: O Lord our God, we give you thanks for the many gifts that you have given us. Help us discern how best to use those gifts in order that we can be part of forwarding your kingdom. Amen.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Reflections on readings for April 3

We give thanks to you, O God;
we give thanks; 
your name is near.
People tell of your wondrous deeds.
(Psalm 75:1)

Deuteronomy 23:1-25:19
Many of these laws are difficult to translate into our modern life, but some seem applicable. Modern society still needs ways to protect the poor and the powerless.

Luke 10:13-37
Jesus told them if a town and its people didn't welcome them then they were to confront their resistance but not silently. "Let them know that the kingdom of God has come near."

Woes will come to the towns that reject them. Note that although the missionaries are to tell about the judgment and punishment, it's not their function to enact it.

The mission of these seventy turns out well. They report with joy, "Even the demons submit to us!"

"Satan is dead," he tells them. "I saw him fall like a flash of lightning." Why do we still fear Satan if Jesus has already seen him die? Why are we afraid of anything?

Jesus tells them that they can expect continued accomplishments--and why. They have been given authority--and that authority has been given by him. He then adds that they shouldn't rejoice as much over their power but rather over the source of any power that they are able to see or use.

Psalm 75:1-10

Proverbs 12:12-14

Prayer for Today: O Lord, help us to continue to care for the poor and the powerless. Encourage us to reach out to people that need to hear your word. Help us to do your will and focus much less on what benefits ourselves. Amen.