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 atwww.umcom.org and www.rethinkchurch.org.
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)
Friday, October 31, 2008
See what love God has given us, that we should be called children of God' and that is what we are.
- Ephesians 3:1
Today, on All Saints, November 1, it is good to remember who we are. We are God's children, given new birth through the Holy Spirit and given new life in community with all others who share faith in Christ.
In the Hector Peterson Museum in Soweto, South Africa, there is a life-size photograph of a youth carrying the lifeless body of Hector Peterson. Hector Peterson was the first child killed in the violent response to the peaceful demonstration of school children in Soweto. Hector's sister is running along side the bearer of her brother's body.
Beside the photograph is the response of the family of the youth who risked his life to carry Hector away. "Our brother is not a hero. This is what we do."
Saints are not heroes. To be a hero is to be a champion, standing taller and stronger than those around. To be a saint is to be one of God's children, doing what God's children do, standing no taller or stronger than others but moving faithfully together, doing what God's children do.
On this day of All Saints, I am grateful for the life we share. What a great gift - to be a child of God! We proclaim not ourselves, nor one another, but the strong work of God in us for good. To God be the glory on this day as we celebrate the family of all God's saints.
With gratitude for sharing with you in Christ's ministry,
All Saints (November 1 or the first Sunday in November) is a day of remembrance for the saints, with the New Testament meaning of all Christian people of every time and place. We celebrate the communion of saints as we remember the dead, both of the Church universal and of our local congregations.
Revelation, written to Christians in dire circumstances, still speaks to us when we are in our own troubles. "How long will it be before you fix these problems on earth?" The Lamb reveals what the earth will look like after the apocalypse.
Lectio Divina: Psalm 34:4
Thursday, October 30, 2008
And the words continue to fit the situation of God's people through the ages. We can remind ourselves and witness to others that God's steadfast love does endure, that we have felt God's presence lead us through and out of troubles.
As I read verses 33-37, I am struck that although they can be read quite literally, they don't have to be. That is, God is the creator of our earth, the source of the rain necessary for life to continue. But, God is the source of what Jesus called living water. God works through us turning our parched lives into fruitful ones.
Lectio Divina: Psalm 107:33-37
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
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.
In Mississippi this year, we have been remembering what it was like 40 years ago. We remember how important our leaders were during those crises. Today we continue to face hardships, demands, animosities. Today, we need to continue to consider how the Lord is sending help and helpers to us.
They had the ark to hold. What are we holding to remind us of God's commands and help?
Lectio Divina: Psalm 107:1-2, 6
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Here's a description:
Who is to blame for the worst of all crimes? Facing extermination at Auschwitz, prisoners weigh the case against God in God on Trial. Anthony Sher (Primo), Rupert Graves (The Forsyte Saga), Dominic Cooper (Sense and Sensibility, Mamma Mia!) and Stellan Skårsgard (The Pirates of the Caribbean, Mamma Mia!) headline the cast of believers and non believers coming to terms with faith and suffering.
He's talking about the religious leaders of his time, as was Jesus in Matthew's gospel.
Similar complaints continue to be made about prophets and priests of every generation. We see compromises to what congregations want to hear. We see failures in their behavior.
It's impossible for me not to apply this criticism of ancient prophets to our current situation with its current prophets. Candidates for political office, their supporters, and the voters trying to choose among them need to remember Micah's words.
Lectio Divina: Psalm 45:3
Monday, October 27, 2008
In this passage, Jesus has two audiences: the crowds and his disciples. The crowds are potential converts; the disciples are those who have been following him. He is warning them against the Pharisees,who are the religious leaders, insiders.
We too often read this passage and others as conflicts between Christians and Jews. Jesus is not saying that Jews are wrong because they are Jews. He is saying that these particular Jews are wrong because they are not good Jews. Jesus is not rejecting the Torah, but is insisting that these insiders should not only preach the law, they should practice it, as well. (Look back at Psalm 119 for a view of the law as a joy and delight).
"Get over yourself," Jesus tells the leaders. Start carrying your share of the burdens."
Lectio Divina: Matthew 23:11-12
Sunday, October 26, 2008
All Saints Day provides an opportunity for all of us to remember that all who are in Christ, both living and deceased, are part of the family of God. We have much to learn from the stories of the saints of old. May I encourage you to also remember the "everyday saints" who have crossed your path as well as those who have lived in your neighborhoods or served with you in churches?
For more go to Helps for All Saints Day, November 1, 2008
Moses died. He was mourned for thirty days. 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?
Lectio Divina: Psalm 90:13, 17
Saturday, October 25, 2008
This week's reading from Deuteronomy is a leap past the 40-year long journey through the wilderness. The Lord has told Moses that neither he nor Aaron will be able to enter the land promised to their people (Deuteronomy 32:48-52).
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.
Lectio Divina: Psalm 90:1-2
Friday, October 24, 2008
This first psalm, the opening of this wisdom book, has at its center the image of trees. Fruitful--their leaves do not wither, in all they do they prosper.
A tree in an arid land can prosper only if it is planted near a water source.
The teaching of the Lord provides what is necessary for us to grow, to prosper, to bear fruit. Ignoring that teaching is what the wicked do, the ones who become like chaff, driven by the wind.
Look back at Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18.
Lectio Divina: Psalm 1:3
Thursday, October 23, 2008
And, knowing this, we need to face that these Christian communities are often not very Christian.
Paul stresses the need to please God, not mortals. Then he describes how he declared the Gospel to them: no flattery, no motive of greed, not seeking praise; rather, gentleness and self-giving.
Boring and Craddock, in their The People's New Testament Commentary, sum it up well:
For Paul, joining the church was not adding on another worthy cause to our list of obligations, but incorporation into the family of God....Paul is not only the father as head of the household, but mother and nurse, baby, brother and orphan...Paul's understanding of church leadership is mutuality rather than hierarchy.
Look over this list that Paul suggests to the Thessalonians. How many of these characteristics does the Nominating Committee of a church today consider when choosing officers? when considering pastors?
Lectio Divina: 1 Thessalonians 2:4, 8
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Note: the Greek word translated here as Messiah is christos, which meant "the Anointed One," and is the source of the English word, Christ.
Some examples from the Psalms that the Pharisees could be using: from Psalm 2. The anointed of the Lord is the King of Zion and the son of the Lord; from Psalm 89, David is my anointed one. I will make him the firstborn; from Psalm 132: One of David's sons will be set on the throne. The Lord will reside in ion forever. David is the anointed one.
Jesus then quotes Psalm 110 and asks them, "How can David both be Lord and be son to the Lord?"
They couldn't answer his question. They wouldn't dare to ask him anymore.
We, by our lives, are continuing to answer Jesus question, "Who do you think is the Anointed One of God?"
Lectio Divina: Psalm 1:1-2
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
In a passage omitted by the lectionary, the Saducees, another group opposing Jesus, also failed in their tactic of asking a trick question.
When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Saducees, they decided to make yet another attempt. They addressed him as "Teacher," (were they being sarcastic? surely, they didn't think Jesus could teach them anything?) They asked him "Which commandment of the law is most important?"
Were they trying to get him to say that some of the law was less important than the others? Do we believe that? What distinctions do we make? What the difference between naming what's most important and summarizing the law? When prophets summarized the law (see Micah 6:8; Isaiah 33:15-16; 56:1; Amos 5:14-15), were they saying that the rest of the instruction is unimportant?
Jesus responds to them by quoting scripture (Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18). Is he saying the rest of the instruction is unimportant? Or, is he saying all the instructions that the Scripture gives us is intended to help us do these things: Love God and love neighbor?
Lectio Divina: Matthew 22:37-40
Monday, October 20, 2008
Yet, the people who were able to recognize and acknowledge that they were beneficiaries of God's care and concern did not see the laws as an onerous burden. Rather, they received them as a gracious gift from God intended to make their lives better.
verse 2: The OT gives us many stories about many people, but it does not ask us to model ourselves after these often-flawed folks. Rather, we are commanded to imitate God. The Gospel writers later were to reinforce this command. See Matthew 5:48 and Luke 6:36.
The lectionary passage this weeks omits verses 3 through 14. Read them for yourselves anyway. Take care of the elderly. Provide sustenance for the poor. Don't steal. Don't lie. Don't cheat. This passage even requires equal-access rules for the blind and deaf. To be holy is to care for other people's lives and needs.
Verses 15 through 18 continue this philosophy. Be fair. Be kind.
In other words, those who love God love their neighbors as themselves.
(with help from Allen & Williamson).
Lectio Divina: Leviticus 19:15-18
Sunday, October 19, 2008
God's people continue to need God and to know that they need God. Psalm 99 calls for praise of the Lord our God.
The psalm reminds us of the journey through the wilderness--references to Moses and Aaron, the speaking from a pillar of cloud, and how God forgave them and that God had exacted retribution.
This psalm addresses God, as a mighty king and tells what kind of king God is: one who loves justice, establishes equity, and works righteous judgment.
Saturday, October 18, 2008
Psalm 96 also has a universal note. In verse 3, we are directed to tell of the Lord's glory among the nations, the Lord's wonderful deeds among all peoples. In verse 7, all families are directed to acclaim the glory and strength of the Lord.
Are we able to recognize the work of God in our own lives? Do we see God's will working through the hands of other people?
Are we able to recognize the work of God in other people's lives? Do we see God's will to be the hands that carry out God's will?
Lectio Divina: Psalm 96:4-9
Friday, October 17, 2008
His audience lived a long way away from Jerusalem--not only in miles. They were Greek and they were Gentile. Paul begins his letter, as was the practice of the time, with a greeting. But, he changes the greeting from what they would have been accustomed to.
The Graeco-Roman practice of the time was to begin letters with the Greek word, chairein, which meant "Greetings." Paul instead used the Greek word, charis, which sounds similar but mean "peace." This term would thus echo the term customarily used as greeting by the Jews, shalom, which meant "peace."
Thus, in his greeting, Paul has combined the traditonal Graeco-Roman form of greeting with the religious one. He's speaking to people who have accepted the faith and have been incorporated into God's family.
In verse 3, Paul expresses thanks to God for the way that the Thessalonians are living their lives. They have faith--not just an attitude, but the God-given power to do Christian work. They have love--not just an emotion, but the means by which they carry out this work. They have hope--not just optimism, but a confident expectation that God will triumph.
Hear the echo, in verses 9-10, as Paul describes the Christian experience. Because of your faith, you turned to God. Because of your love, you served God. Because of your hope, you are waiting for his Son, our rescuer.
(Note: my source for this explanation comes from The People's New Testament Commentary, by Boring and Craddock. I hope you have access to a copy yourself.)
Lectio Divina: 1 Thessalonians 1:2-3.
Thursday, October 16, 2008
Isaiah tells us that this Cyrus, king of a foreign people, is anointed by God to fulfill God's purpose. And, unlike David, Cyrus doesn't know God at the time of appointment.
This Persian leader will defeat Babylon thus releasing Israel from its exile.
God has saved these people once more. Saved them for their sake and for the sake of Cyrus and for the sake of all people who learn about God through Cyrus' victory.
Our blessings may come to us from what seems unlikely sources. People may do good things for us even if we don't consider them appropriately religious, v. 4. Our blessings are not to be hoarded, vs.3 and 6.
Lectio Divina: Isaiah 45:4-5
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
Coins were the form of currency. They carried the image of the emperor along with an assurance of his divinity.
Those who were plotting against Jesus tried to entrap him by asking if he thought it was legal to pay tribute to the emperor--that is, to use such a coin to support such an occupier.
Is his answer clear? Is he ending the discussion or is he starting one? After all, in Matthew's gospel, the Kingdom of God is not walled off in some other lifetime, it is a promise of what is happening here among us.
(with thanks to Preaching the Gospels without Blaming the Jews, Allen & Williamson)
Lectio Divina: Psalm 96:4
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
In Chapter 33, they have another feast--but not one ordained by the Lord. Rather, they form their own god and celebrate with an orgy.
The Lord then gives them one more do-over. "I'll be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy."
This is the God who gave clothes to Adam and Eve after they disobeyed the command to leave that tree alone, who protected Cain after he killed his own brother, who provided an ark to save Noah's family, and called Abraham and then Moses to lead a people to their new home.
Sometimes, we cannot see God's glory until it has passed by us. Sometimes, we don't recognize God's face. But, we continue to depend on God's grace and God's mercy.
Lectio Divina: Exodus 33:19
Monday, October 13, 2008
Bishop Hope Ward leads the Mississippi Methodists. In an article in today's Jackson Clarion Ledger, she reviews David Eggar's What is the What, a story of a lost child of Sudan.
She then reminds us that the annual observance of Children's Sabbath is Oct. 17-19. Centered in faith, let us reach out to those who are living on the edge.
Here is a portion of her article:
Faith communities are invited to celebrate children and to find ways to undergird all children in Mississippi with all that is needed for fullness of life. This is a time for each of us to look beyond "our" children and embrace all children.
Heavy rains have devastated families in the Greenville area. This is a time for each of us to connect with our impacted neighbors in Washington County.
This is the season of harvest, a time to volunteer to gather food for those who are hungry. The Society of St. Andrew invites gleaners. Your effort will deliver wholesome fresh food to families in Mississippi.
Children of those detained after the Laurel Immigration and Customs Enforcement raid are left without means for shelter, food and the simple necessities of life. Your effort will make a difference in their lives.
You can add to this list places at the edge waiting for the resources of those safe and secure in the center. In this season of harvest, let us draw the resources at the center to the circumference. As we do this, God is glorified, and givers and receivers are blessed.
While Moses traveled to the mountaintop to visit the Lord and receive the tablets, the people misbehaved badly.
Now, the Lord has said to Moses that the trip will continue and announces, "My presence will accompany you."
Moses is unhappy with this news. What does presence mean to him? Does he think that the Lord is going to go back to the mountaintop and send only an assistant to accompany the people?
Lectio Divina: Psalm 99:1-4
Sunday, October 12, 2008
Then he gives directions to that congregation that are helpful to us all these centuries later.
I'm used to making a to-do list. Paul is asking us to make a to-think list. Look at verse 8. Think about these things: whatever is honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable. Think about any excellence you witness, anything worthy of praise.
If our minds are full of such thoughts, how hard can the rest be? Couldn't a church that is thinking about the items on this list be able to keep of doing the things that we have learned to do, the things that we have seen in people like Paul?
Couldn't a church that is thinking about these things be able to rejoice in the Lord?
Lectio Divina: Philippians 4:4-6
Saturday, October 11, 2008
What’s that, you say? They were friends? Why didn’t anyone tell us?
Well, David Sorkin has. A professor of history and Jewish studies at the University of Wisconsin, he argues in a new study that religion and the Enlightenment were even more than friends.
“In the academic as well as the popular imagination,” Dr. Sorkin writes, “the Enlightenment figures as a quintessentially secular phenomenon — indeed, as the very source of modern secular culture.”
But contrary to this “secular master narrative,” he argues, “the Enlightenment was not only compatible with religious belief,” it actually generated new formulations of that belief.
Read more of this review by Peter Steinfeld in today's New York Times: Exploring Religion, Shaped by the Enlightenment.
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 NT allusions to this promise in 1 Corinthians 15:54 and Revelation 21:4 (Isaiah 1-39, WestminsterJohnKnoxPress).
Lectio Divina: Isaiah 25:9
Friday, October 10, 2008
The king responded by sending his troops to destroy the city.
Centuries earlier, Isaiah spoke of the destruction of another city. Although we think he might have been referring to the defeat of Babylon by Cyrus, we can listen to his words as they apply to the time of Matthew and the time of us.
Isaiah says, "Now that the city has been destroyed, your God will be a refuge for the poor, a refuge to the needy, a shelter from harm.
Questions to ponder: If we had a choice, would we rather be strong than needy? If we do find ourselves among the strong, what does the Lord expect us to do?
Lectio Divina: Isaiah 25:4-5
Thursday, October 9, 2008
One guy was so unprepared that he showed up in the wrong outfit. The king was furious, "Throw him out right now."
I am comfortable with the interpretation of the beginning of this parable as describing how some people refused God's invitation and about how God would reach out to people that might not seem to important by worldly standards. I am much less comfortable with the king's reaction to the guest who is dressed inappropriately.
Grace can get us in, but we will still be judged on what we do with that gift. Those on the first list were too smug or too busy to even show up. At least one on the second list couldn't do what the host required.
Some commentators suggest that Matthew is describing the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans. This could be seen as an echo of Jeremiah's prophecy of the oncoming destruction by the Babylonians (Jeremiah 25:8-14). (thanks as always to the NISB.)
Lectio Divina: Matthew 22:14
Wednesday, October 8, 2008
Some refused because they had something more important to do. They had to go to work.
Others didn't just refuse to go--they attacked the messengers.
Jesus began this parable by explicitly saying it was a description of the kingdom of heaven. We read this parable and look at our own reaction on God's invitation to us to celebrate the kingdom of heaven.
Are we too busy with our daily lives to take time out to celebrate with God? Do we even have that good of an excuse? Why did some choose to mistreat or even kill the king's servants? Why wasn't a simple refusal enough for them?
Lectio Divina: Matthew 22:2-3
Tuesday, October 7, 2008
Moses intercedes once more. He makes two arguments:
What would the Egyptians say if they hear that you have given up on these people?
Remember your promise to Abraham.
God does not destroy these unfaithful people. But, there are consequences. Read the rest of the chapter.
Lectio Divina: Exodus 32:11
Monday, October 6, 2008
Moses is not around at the moment. Without him, they seem to think God is gone, as well. "Let's make some gods for ourselves," they say to Aaron. We are not told what Aaron thinks or what Aaron fears, but we are told that he complies with their wish. Or does he? When he formed the golden calf and built an altar, he then proclaimed that the festival would be to the Lord. What was he thinking? How easy or difficult is it for us to distinguish between what looks like Lord-worship and what is actually something-else-worship?
Who or what is Moses to us? What substitutes are necessary? Are we capable of remembering what God has already done for us?
Lectio Divina: Psalm 106:1-6
Sunday, October 5, 2008
The psalmist is attributing all good and bad to the Lord. Everything that happens through human actions begins with God. We are being punished because we deserve to be. Even after our sins, we can expect God to care for us and to restore us to well-being.
The Dallas Morning News has a section, Texas Faith, that each week discusses matters of religion, politics, and culture. They take a break from politics this week. The past seven days have been notable for examples of human suffering large and small: Hurricane Ike affects millions. And a 17-month-old boy whose family escaped the storm in Dallas is killed in an accident. Trains collide in California, killing dozens. Suicide bombers in Yemen, Pakistan and Iraq murder innocent bystanders. The genocide in Darfur continues unabated. Etc etc etc.
Here's the panel's discussion: How faith explains suffering
Lectio Divina: Psalm 80:14-15
Saturday, October 4, 2008
He's not through growing. He's not through working.
Lectio Divina: Philippians 3:12-13
Friday, October 3, 2008
Paul recounts his achievements and his status. Yet he is giving up those because they are no longer valuable to him. Knowing Christ Jesus is better than any thing else he has achieved.
Moreover, this achievement is not restricted to Jews only.
Lectio Divina: Philippians 3:8
Thursday, October 2, 2008
Eight of the ten words begin: "you shall not." People often speak of negative commandments as off-putting "do nots" that constrict life....But that misconstrues the negative instructions in the Torah. First, we can keep all of them while taking a nap. ...Second, negative mitzvoth deal with the parameters of behavior. They do not specify what we should do, simply what we should not do. They name the actions that cancel all possibility of living with others a life of well-being (which can only be lived with others.)
Lectio Divina: Psalm 19:14
Wednesday, October 1, 2008
Look particularly at We are second and you are first that begins:
Before our well-being, there was your graciousness,
before our delight, there was your generosity,
before our joy, there was your good will.
Lectio Divina: Exodus 20:3