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

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Book rec

Jana Reiss tweets Galatians 3 in her you-really-should-buy-this-book, "The Twible": "You idiot Galatians! What part of 'saved-by-grace-and-not-by works' did you not understand?" Oh. Pretty much all of it.

https://twitter.com/janariess/status/678746858777366529

One Family, a Reflection on Galatians 3:23-29

Paul is writing to Gentile Christians who have been told that they must become Jews in order to qualify for being part of God's family. He tells them, and through them, us, that they who are not Jews are still children of God.

Faith is the criterion--not citizenship, status, gender.

Jews are in God's family. Those with faith in Christ are, as well.

The first Christians had to learn to accept non-Jews. Modern day Christians may still be having some difficulties in including people who are different. What are the modern day equivalents in verse 28?

Monday, May 22, 2017

Questions to ask myself as I read Galatians 3:1-9

When I listen to the opinions of some Christians then to some different opinions from other Christians, how should I decide which are right?

How do I grade myself on being Christian--by what I do or by what Christ has done?

Just how broad is that acceptance that Paul describes in the account of blessing Abraham and some other groups that didn't practice the rules that Abraham followed?

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Justified, a Reflection on Galatians 2:15-21

To whom is Paul speaking in these verses? We may well assume that since he is writing this letter to the Galatians, this section is addressed to them. But, if we read this week's portion in context, we may not be so sure.

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."

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Gospel of Jesus Christ, a Reflection on Galatians 1:8-12

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.

Monday, May 15, 2017

It's in the Bible, a Reflection on Galatians 1:11-24

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.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Assertion or Pretense, a Reflection on Acts 15:1-18

Do you have to be heterosexual to be a Christian? For Methodists, the answer may be no if you're talking about joining the church. Many Methodist churches have accepted non-heteroes into membership--even if they admit who they are.

Does somebody have to be heterosexual to be ordained as a minster to the church? Obviously, or maybe not so obviously, the answer is No as long as you keep quiet about your sexual proclivities. But, Yes, if we modify the question to Can you be ordained in the church if you are unwilling to keep quiet about your same-sex relationship?

Christians have long been in disagreement, sometimes in torment, over the public acknowledgment of minister's sexual behavior. For example, married men (or any women--married or unmarried) cannot be ordained as a priest in the Catholic church (except for those situations in which an exception is made; e.g., an already married Episcopal priest moves converts to Catholicism).

Monday, May 8, 2017

What is Necessary to be a Christian? a Reflection on Acts 15:1-18

Back in the beginning of Christianity was a debate whether somebody who didn't follow all the Jewish laws could be a Christian. Some who held the strict view asserted you couldn't be saved unless you were circumcised (I don't know how this rule was interpreted for women).

Then Paul and Barnabas accepted some Gentiles into the church. Some Christians, quoting scripture, said that nobody who didn't follow the Jewish law could be Christian (Check Genesis 17:14, "Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant").

A church trial resulted. After hearing both sides, Peter asked, "Why are you challenging God by placing a burden on the shoulders of these disciples? On the contrary, we believe that we and they are the saved in the same way, by the grace of the Lord."


Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Another reflection on Acts 8:26-39

The Ethiopian had been reading from Isaiah (53:7-8), a passage first heard by a weak nation in tribulation caused by a powerful invader, a passage about suffering.

Who is the Ethiopian talking about--himself or somebody else?

Philip responded by telling him about Jesus.

Christians continue to appropriate the stories of Israel in exile. Some of us think all the prophets were talking about Jesus. Some of us think that we can understand the meaning of Jesus better as we learn the history of God's dealing with suffering through the millennia that preceded Jesus' time on earth.

Monday, May 1, 2017

A guide to guiding, Reflection on Acts 8:26-31

Through the first seven chapters of Acts, Peter and the other apostles have been preaching in Jerusalem. Successes and setbacks. Steven was condemned to death. Saul (more about him later) watched the stoning.

The persecution became so severe that the apostles scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. (Go back and read again Acts 1:8.)

Philip is preaching in Samaria where crowds are listening eagerly to him and seeing the signs that he did (8:4-8). Peter and John returned to Jerusalem. And Philip is directed by a messenger from God to go to Gaza.

He is performing signs, drawing crowds, being praised, and baptizing. Philip is in a productive mission field. And God tells him to travel the wilderness road.

On the trip, Philip came across a court official of the Ethiopian queen who was returning from a trip to Jerusalem. He had gone there to worship, and when Philip saw him, he was reading from the prophet Isaiah.

We can speculate whether he had already read the part of Isaiah where eunuchs and foreigners are included in Israel's promise (56:1-8). [Tangent: We can further speculate on whether we ourselves have spent much time with that passage and whether we talk and act as if we believed it.]

The Spirit sent Philip over to speak to this foreigner. Philip responded to this command by running over to his chariot.

He asked him if he understood what he was reading. The Ethiopian replied, "How can I, unless someone guides me?" And he asked Philip to join him.

Some points to consider:

People who don't look like or who haven't been brought up like us may be sensing the call of God. God may be talking to us, and we ought to be listening.

If someone wants to understand scripture, and we're standing right there, we need to be prepared to step up to the need.

OTOH, scripture may not be transparent even to someone who has studied a lot. We need to look at the Ethiopian as a good example of someone who knew he needed instruction and was willing to admit it.