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.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Need to get rid of stuff? Need more stuff?

The Freecycle Network is made up of 4,731 groups with 6,667,000 members across the globe. It's a grassroots and entirely nonprofit movement of people who are giving (& getting) stuff for free in their own towns. It's all about reuse and keeping good stuff out of landfills.

The Altogether Christian, a Reflection on 1 John 3:19-24

Questions addressed in this passage:

How do we receive reassurance that we are from the truth? That is, can we give examples of how God's love is demonstrated through our actions?

Believing in Jesus Christ and loving one another. Have we tried to do the first without doing the second? It's one command, not two.

How do we know that Jesus abides in us? We know because we are obeying his commands.

John Wesley preached against what he called the "Almost Christian." The Almost Christian does nothing that the Bible forbids. He avoids murder, theft, adultery, and fornication. He keeps the Sabbath. He does to church, he prays, and so on. But, according to Wesley, he is missing something necessary. He's missing the command to love his neighbor a himself.

How do we become the "Altogether Christian"? We love God and those whom God love--including people we don't even like. After all, this is his commandment:
that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Knowing love, showing love, Reflection on 1 John 3:16-18

We know that God loved us because of what Christ has done for us. God's love came to us before we had done anything to deserve it. Because God loved us, we are supposed to help those in need.

Because God loved us. Not in order to get God to love us. That's already happened.

And love is not just that warm emotion. The love in this letter is acted out in deed.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Debate on Amendments in the UMC

Here's a collection of links to get you started thinking about the Debate on Amendments that United Methodists are experiencing.

Caring for the sheep, Reflection on John 10:11-15

Important distinction: attributes of the good shepherd with that of the hired hand. A good shepherd is willing to give up his own life to protect the sheep in his care. A hired man is willing to give up the sheep in order to protect himself.

Sometimes we can read these words as reassuring. When I am in trouble, Christ was protect me. Surely, the first Christian communities would have needed such reassurance.

But, we can also read them as prescriptive. We who are the body of Christ, we who are the church, have in our care many who need protection. Or, we should have them in our care.

Look around you. How are the sheep doing in your town? When trouble comes to them, do you run toward them or away?

Another distinction--that may not be important: sheep in my fold and sheep that do not belong to my fold. Who are the other sheep? Do you consider them to be the responsibility of your congregation?

Monday, April 27, 2009

Shepherd in the Scriptures

To help us understand the term "shepherd" and its meaning to the first hearers of John's Gospel, here are some references to the term, "shepherd" from the Old Testament.

Sometimes, "shepherd" refers to God. For example,
He blessed Joseph, and said, "The God before whom my ancestors Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day (Genesis 48:15).

Joseph is a fruitful bough, a fruitful bough by a spring; his branches run over the wall. The archers fiercely attacked him; they shot at him and pressed him hard. Yet his bow remained taut, and his arms were made agile by the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob, by the name of the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel, by the God of your father, who will help you, by the Almighty who will bless you with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that lies beneath, blessings of the breasts and of the womb (Gen 49:22-25)

Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock! You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth (Psalm 80:1).

Psalm 78:1 O save your people, and bless your heritage; be their shepherd, and carry them forever.

And sometimes, "shepherd" refers to a king or other human leader:

For some time, while Saul was king over us, it was you who led out Israel and brought it in. The Lord said to you: It is you who shall be shepherd of my people Israel, you who shall be ruler over Israel.” In accordance with all these words and with all this vision, Nathan spoke to David (2 Samuel 5:2).

Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?” (2 Samuel 7:17)
Then Micaiah said, “I saw all Israel scattered on the mountains, like sheep that have no shepherd; and the Lord said, ‘These have no master; let each one go home in peace (1 Kings 22:17, 19).
He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep (Isaiah 40:11)

who says of Cyrus, “He is my shepherd, and he shall carry out all my purpose”; and who says of Jerusalem, “It shall be rebuilt,” and of the temple, “Your foundation shall be laid.” (Isaiah 44: 28)

Note: I'm having format problems--I'll go on to perfection later.

Jeremiah 3:15; 23:4; 31:10

I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding. I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the Lord.

Hear the word of the Lord, O nations, and declare it in the coastlands far away; say, “He who scattered Israel will gather him, and will keep him as a shepherd a flock.”

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Praying at bedtime, a Reflection on Psalm 4

Psalm 4 is a traditional choice for night prayer. The next time you are kept awake from anxiety, try praying it yourself.

This psalm begins with a direct address to God:
Imperative--what the psalmist wants God to do.
Answer me when I call, O God of my right!
Reminder--what God has already done.
You gave me room when I was in distress.
Imperative--an echo of what the psalmist wants.
Be gracious to me, and hear my prayer.

Then the psalm addresses adversaries
Accusation--Read this portion as God speaking to us:
How long, you people, shall my honor suffer shame?
How long will you love vain words, and seek after lies?
Imperative--call for their (our? my?)repentance
But know that the Lord has set apart the faithful for himself.
the Lord hears when I call to him.
When you are disturbed, do not sin;
ponder it on your beds, and be silent.
Offer right sacrifices,
and put your trust in the Lord.

Then the psalm returns to an address to God:
There are many who say, "O that we might see some good!
Let the light of your face shine on us, O Lord!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

After a Miracle, Reflection on Acts 3:12-19

Even seeing the healing first hand, they all were astonished that the beggar was now able to walk. Even after hearing Peter invoke the name of Jesus, they couldn't understand what had just happened.

In response to their lack of understanding, Peter preaches to them. "Did you think that we did this? Have you forgotten the God of Israel? You may have rejected Jesus, the one that God chose, but God has not rejected him."

We today are living among people who also have heard about God, about God's gifts, and God's faithfulness. Yet, they don't expect God to do anything good for them, and they don't recognize when God does. They may have neglected God or they may have corroborated in acts that were in opposition to what God wished.

What now?

Peter preaches, "Repent. Even your sins can be forgiven.

Tangent: Verse 16 says that Peter was able to heal the man through faith, but is not explicit whether Peter is talking about his own faith. Nothing is said about the beggar's faith before the healing (1-10).

Friday, April 24, 2009

Lawlessness/Righteousness, a Reflection on 1 John 3:4-7

After the reminder, "You know that he was revealed to take away sin and that in him there is no sin." John issues an indictment (a warning?)," No one who abides in him sins. Anybody who sins doesn't even know him."

But John does not allow us to give up or in. "Do what is right."

Here is the commentary by William Loader:

This then enables us to see 3:1-7 in perspective. It is not about how many morality boxes we can tick to qualify ourselves as righteous or as a child of God. It is about whether love flows. Here, too, it is not about how many acts of love we summon up our energies to perform - ticking the goodness boxes, but how much we open ourselves to receive the love which God gives, which in turn flows through us to others. Love gives birth to love. Later the writer will speak of our loving because we were first of all loved by God (4:19). The author might say today: no amount of doing good deeds and no amount of having impressive spiritual experiences will count for anything if it is not connected to a real change that is relational. It may be cosmetic goodness and religion, but without that love it is nothing much. Paul made much the same point in 1 Corinthians 13.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Children of God, Reflection on 1 John 3:1-3

John writes, "Even the world realizes that we are children of God." We are accustomed to recognizing that Christ is the Son. How do we think of ourselves as sons and daughters? How does the world know that we are? What does the world think that being children of God means? Who else do we think is eligible to be children of God?

"We will be like him." In what ways? Will we love? Will we suffer? Will we overcome suffering? Will we reach out to the unlovable? Other ways? Any or all of these?

John is both reassuring us and challenging us. Hope for what we may become helps us to make the effort now.

(with thanks to William Loader, First Thoughts.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Fulfillment and Commission, Reflection on Luke 24:44-48

After the meal, he reminded them of words that he had spoken to them before--that he is the fulfillment of the promises of the law, the prophets, and the psalms. We Christians need to get both the before and after of this reminder. What we call the Old Testament, they thought of as Scripture. Old is still good. And Jews are still included in God's care. We haven't ousted them.

And not just Christians and Jews. Jesus reminds them, "The Scriptures foretold my death and resurrection. They tell that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed to all nations."

And then to this group of disciples who have been huddled together in fear and, even in the joy of recognition, have been disbelieving, he now commissions them, "You are witnesses that the Scriptures have been fulfilled."

Offertory Prayers for May

The United Methodist Church has posted Offertory Prayers for May

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Sharing a Meal, Reflection on Luke 24:40-43

They've heard first-hand from eye-witnesses. Yet, they're startled and terrified. They think they're seeing a ghost. To reassure them, Jesus speaks to him.

And he shows them his hands and feet--the wounds inflicted by his enemies.

Off on a tangent--I'm pondering the question of whether they would have found it easier to recognize a returning leader who had left them in triumph rather than in an ignominious death.

Their reaction is a mixture of joy and disbelief.

His reaction is to suggest that they share a meal. And as in Emmaus (and earlier, in Bethsaida, Luke 9:10-17), he eats with them.

He eats with them. In Preaching through the Christian Year, Fred Craddock writes:
Luke is also saying no to those doctrines of resurrection that were really pagan notions of the immortality of the spirit. Christians believe in the resurrection of the dead, not escape into a spirit world.

And Luke is saying no to those notions of spirituality that view the body and all things physical as inherently inferior or evil. Those who view themselves as just passing through this evil world tend to neglect the physical, economic, and political needs of other human beings. Luke reminds us that the risen Christ said, "Look at my wounds," and, "Do you have anything to eat?"

No one can follow this Christ and say that discipleship means only concerned with "souls."

Monday, April 20, 2009

Surprise and Fear, Reflection on Luke 24:36-39

In the verses just before this passage, Luke tells us that after his resurrection, Jesus appeared to them and shared a meal with them at Emmaus. It took them a while, but they were able to recognize him. Then he vanished from their sight. They returned to Jerusalem to tell the eleven disciples and their companions.

While they were talking about this, Jesus appeared and spoke to them. Their reaction is surprise and fear.

He's back, and they are startled, and they are afraid.

What does it take for a disciple to expect the appearance of the Lord? What does it take for a disciple to get over being afraid? What doubts do they have? What doubts do disciples of our time have?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Blessings of Unity, A reflection on Psalm 133

Commentators tell us that Psalm 133 is one of the group called "Pilgrim Psalms," that were sung as pilgrims traveled toward Jerusalem to worship. "How very good and pleasant is it when kindred live in unity!"

Good and pleasant and necessary. As necessary as for life as water--Mount Hermon was the source of the Jordan River. As good and necessary as their goal--Zion, the place that God had blessed, the place where blessings were bestowed. (with thanks to John H. Hayes' contribution to Preaching through the Christian Year, Trinity Press International.)

Christians in the time of Paul also recognized the value of unity. And we moderns need to.

Recommended reading for today is "One World, Under God," from last month's Atlantic magazine. Here's an excerpt:

Other features of Paul’s business model pushed even more powerfully toward interethnic bonding. They revolve around the traits Paul sought in his most important recruits, whether Jews or Gentiles, and his strategy of recruitment. And they explain how he wound up preaching not just interethnic tolerance or even amity, but interethnic brotherhood, interethnic love.


In ancient times, as now, one prerequisite for setting up a franchising operation was finding people to run the franchises. Not just anyone would do. Christianity is famous for welcoming the poor and powerless into its congregations, but to run the congregations, Paul needed people of higher social position. For one thing, these people needed to provide a meeting place. Though historians speak of early “churches” in various cities, there seem to have been no buildings dedicated to Christian worship. Borrowed homes and meeting halls were the initial infrastructure. The book of Acts suggests that Paul’s founding of Christian congregations depended heavily on, as Wayne Meeks put it in The First Urban Christians, “the patronage of officials and well-to-do householders.”

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Loving your neighbor, Reflection on Acts 4:32-35

It's odd reading this passage in the same week that Americans' Income Tax is due. Now, the government wants a lot. Then the church wanted it all.

Remember, no social security, no medicare, no unemployment insurance. How were people who needed help to be cared for?

Giving everything seems hard--and it seemed hard to them, too. Keep reading in this chapter.

But, back to this lesson: Luke has emphasized that discipleship to Jesus involves one's possessions. See Luke 6:20-26; 12:13-21; Acts 11:27-29, among others.

Is there a conflict between being of one heart and one mind (v.32) and having private ownership? Even if we cannot imagine common ownership, is there any way we can accept a modification of this principle?

How do you find a connection between verses 33 and 34? What is our responsibility toward the needy (v.34)? Does this responsibility leap across national borders?

Friday, April 17, 2009

In the Light of Victory

As I reflect on the passage from 1 John, I was thinking about life for those early Christians. And, of course, what we 21st can apply their knowledge to our experiences.

For several days, I have been planning to write an entry outlining the various atonement explanations, but then I came across this article by Alister E. McGrath. And resurrection trumped atonement for me today.

Easter Day has shown us the care and power of God. We wake up today and sin still thrives in the world. McGrath reminds us that many distinguished writers trying to explain this for us used the situation during WWII. Occupying power. Life lived under the shadow of a foreign presence. Then comes the news of a far-off battle that has turned the tide of the war.
In one sense, the situation has not changed, but in another, more important sense, the situation has changed totally.
I remember once meeting a man who had been held prisoner in a Japanese prisoner-ow-war camp in Singapore. He told me of the astonishing change in the camp atmosphere which came about when one of the prisoners (who owned a shortwave radio) learned of the collapse of the Japanese war effort in the middle of 1945. Although all in the camp still remained prisoners, they knew that their enemy had been beaten. It would only be a matter of time before they were released. And those prisoners, I was told, began to laugh and cry, as if they were free already.
In one sense, victory has not come; in another, it has. The resurrection declares in advance of the event God's total victory over all evil and oppressive forces--such as death, evil and sin. Their backbone has been broken, and we may begin to live now in the light of that victory, knowing that the long night of their oppression will end.

Read "In the Light of Victory" and many other excellent essays in Bread and Wine.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

From the beginning, Reflection on 1 John 1:1-5

There cannot be a solitary Christian.

Christianity is fellowship. And has been from the beginning.

In this epistle, the writer is saying to a community: We could see the visible Jesus. We could touch him. In him we were able to visualize life with the Father. And in our fellowship, we continue to see and to touch and to know.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

So that you may believe, Reflection on John 20:24-31

The disciples who had seen Jesus believed, but Thomas hadn't been there the day Jesus had shown up. "I need to see for myself. I've got to put my finger on the spot where the nails were," he told them.

A week later, Jesus appeared to Thomas. "Touch me. Do not doubt but believe."

Thomas believed. Read the passage carefully. We are not told that Thomas, despite what he had thought earlier, had to touch Jesus in order to believe.

Keep reading. Look at verse 31. John's gospel is written so that we can believe. Thomas and the other first generation Christians saw Jesus and believed. They knew the presence of God through the seeing of Jesus. We later Christians are able to know the presence of God through their witness.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Imperfect Church, Reflection on John 20:22-23

Will Willimon describes what can happen to a frightened church when they receive the Holy Spirit. Read his sermon You Call This a Church?.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Through locked doors, Reflection on John 20:19-21

Mary had told them that she has seen the risen Jesus, but they are afraid anyway.

A sermon was not enough to liberate them from their fears.

Jesus came to them, anyway.

We may still not be willing to start our lives anew. Jesus may come to us, anyway.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Recognizing the Resurrected Christ, a reflection on John 20:1-18

Reading for Easter Day: Acts 10:34-43; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; John 20:1-18 or Mark 16:1-8

The alternate gospel readings for today differ in the details. I am certainly not going to try to iron over those differences. Rather, today, I'm reflecting on John's message.

Mary Magdalene, one of the women who had stood near the cross (John 20:25) has come before daybreak to the tomb. When she sees that the stone has been rolled away, she runs to tell the disciples. Peter and the other disciple (we assume John) race each other to get there.

John gets there first, looks in, and see the burial wrappings left behind. Peter then goes in and also sees the wrappings and realizes that the cloth that has been on Jesus' head has been rolled up. Then John goes in, and we are told that he saw and believed.

What does he believe? What does belief do for him?

After the disciples left, Mary stayed. As she is weeping, angels come to her--to comfort? She sees Jesus but does not recognize him immediately.

She has a short conversation with him but is able to recognize him only when he speaks her name.

Jesus tells her to go tell. She obeys. She is the first witness to the resurrection.

Yet, as we read in the next verse, the disciples are so afraid that they lock themselves in. What do we believe? What does belief do for us?

Mary finally did recognize Jesus and did do what he told her. Yet, she was not immediately able to convince the disciples.

I remember a story that someone told me years ago. Although I can't remember the source, I want to repeat it anyway:
When the National Zoo in Washington D.c. moved to a spacious new area, the rhinoceros was confused. It now had a wide-open living space, but it had lived in a cage too long. Even though it now had more room, it quickly made a boundary the exact dimensions of its old cage. it wore an oval path in the grass that corresponded to the old iron bars.

The resurrected Christ can appear in our ordinary lives. We may be able to recognize his presence. Or, like the rhinoceros, we may restrict ourselves to our old path. I ask again, what does belief do for us?

Friday, April 10, 2009

Why was Jesus crucified?

On the Slate website, Larry Hurtado discusses the question from a historical perspecitive.

Lesson learned

Readings for Good Friday: Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Psalm 22; Hebrews 10:16-25; John 18:1-19:42

In an essay about Good Friday, Virginia Stem Owens talks about how beautiful the spring trees are in her native Texas. But, one year, she found herself offended by them:
...I was driving to work in College Station on Good Friday through a miasma of dogwood and redbud and not feeling good about it at all. It was a sparkling, resplendent day. Thickets ofwil plum thew up their dark arms in dreamy clouds of white. Primroses, tenderly pink and gold, filled up the ditches along the road.
I was not pleased. This was not a penitential landscape. Good Friday is not the time for beauty.
I drove along, vaguely offended by the fields of flowers in full cry and the hillsides spangled with Easter white. This is the week, I thought, the Savior of the world dies. This is the day when all that is good and true goes down to suffer death at the hands of the arrogant, those swollen with the pride of power. And what is the world doing? What is the earth, its own life threatened by those same enemies doing? Did it care? Was it grieving? No. It was shouldering aside the clouds and the husks of its dead self in order to break into life....
All week I had been reading the penitential Psalms and examining my sins. .... But now it was Good Friday. What did you do after you'd confessed all your sins and cleaned out all your closets? I took one last look around the bare cell of my heart for some forgotten fault, at the same time being careful to avoid the danger of manufacturing contrition for its own sake....
But what else was there to do on Good Friday? Already, on this spring morning, as I was descending the hills toward the river, Jesus was beginning his climb to Golgotha. What else was there to do? For the women who followed him, "Looking on arar off" (Mark 15:40KJV), for those standing beneath the cross, what was there left to do?
Nothing. Quite obviously just nothing....Because Good Friday is the day when you can do nothing. Bewailing and lamenting your manifold sins does not in itself make up for them. Scouring your soul in a frenzy of spring cleaning only sterilizes it; it does not give it life. On Good Friday, finally, we are all mourners and mockers alike.....Good Friday is the day when we can do nothing at all.
Our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness. His blood and his righteousness.
I passed the intersection at carlos with its one blinking, yellow light and crossed the bridge over the pipeling that carries the coal slurry to the plant a few miles further on. From there the road bent northward to cross the river.
As I broke out of the ines and into the fertile bottomand, the spring again assaulted me. The land below, emerging from the tendrils of morning fog, was a tangle of luxuriant fertility.
Clouds of pink and white, effulgent enough to inebriate the soberest soul, lured one's live of vision into the darkest trees. Acres of bluebonnets streaked up the red clay banks of the river. The earth, on this Good Friday, cast forth its life, heedless of the sacrifice that sustained it. Its callous, regardless life, sucked from the source it can never repay, never replenish. Continually drawing on the death of its Savior to live. Just like me.

Read the entire essay and many others in Epiphanies, edited by Eugene Peterson and Emilie Griffin, published by Baker Books.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Preparation. Sacrifice. Redemption. Memory.

They're preparing to share the Passover meal.

The passage from Exodus reminds of the directions for the first Passover. The Lord had told them that on the night before they were to escape slavery in Egypt, the entire congregation of Israel was to assemble in order to slaughter lambs for a meal. Each household would have a lamb and include neighbors whose household was too small for its own lamb.

And the passage reminds of what is remembered as they continue to gather--their rescue. After the supper, a plague had come through Egypt striking down the first-borns. Only Israel had been saved.

Jesus knows that on this Passover, his hour has come. He knows of his upcoming death and of the betrayal by one close to him.

On this last Passover, with the memory of what happened on the first one and what has happened to his people since, Jesus chooses to wash the feet of his disciples.

Peter considers this unseemly, but Jesus insists, "You'll understand later."

We, the church, are living in the later. I'm wondering which is harder to understand--that I am to allow Jesus to stoop down and perform the work of a lowly servant, or, that Jesus is asking me to emulate him, that I'm expected to stoop down and perform servant work.

Jesus tells them how his disciples will be recognized. They will be the ones who have love for one another.

The worship page for the UMC offers this new hymn for Maundy Thursday written by the British methodist pastor Gareth Hill: What Quality of Worship is This?

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

If you need a good excuse to buy chocolate

Check out UMCOR's page to see how you can Buy Chocolate, Help Farmers

Betrayal by one very close

Readings for Wednesday of Holy Week: Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 70; Hebrews 12:1-3; John 13:21-32

Here we are in Lent, that time set aside on the Christian calendar for reflection and repentance. Today, we read about the last meal that Jesus shared with his closest disciples before his crucifixion. His people, sharing a table, eating together. And one will betray him.

Jesus knows about the upcoming betrayal and knows the identity of the one who is to betray him. The others don't seem to have a clue. Jesus knows and he allows the betrayal to take place.

As you contemplate your own failings and the failings of your fellow Christians, consider the selection from the Epistle to the Hebrews:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that wa set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. consider him who endured such hostility aainst himself from sinners, so that you may not grow wear or lose heart.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

A Light to the Nations, Reflection on Isaiah 49:1-7

How is your evangelism project doing? How has the world changed for the better because you are living your life according to principles that you have learned from God's Word?

Isaiah had been a prophet long enough to have learned disappointment. God did not let him give up. Instead, God expanded his job description: "You've been trying to do too little to too few."

Use Psalm 71 to help you pray in times of disappointment:
In you, O Lord, I take refuge; let me never be put to shame.

In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me; incline your ear to me and save me.

Be to me a rock of refuge, a strong fortress, to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress.

Rescue me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked, from the grasp of the unjust and cruel.

For you, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O Lord, from my youth.

Upon you I have leaned from my birth; it was you who took me from my mother’s womb. My praise is continually of you.

I have been like a portent to many, but you are my strong refuge.

My mouth is filled with your praise, and with your glory all day long.

Do not cast me off in the time of old age; do not forsake me when my strength is spent.

For my enemies speak concerning me, and those who watch for my life consult together.

They say, “Pursue and seize that person whom God has forsaken, for there is no one to deliver.”

O God, do not be far from me; O my God, make haste to help me!

Let my accusers be put to shame and consumed; let those who seek to hurt me be covered with scorn and disgrace.

But I will hope continually, and will praise you yet more and more.

Monday, April 6, 2009

A Light to Nations, Reflection on Isaiah 42:1-9

Reading for Monday of Holy Week: Isaiah 42:1-9; Psalm 36:5-11; Hebrews 9:11-15; John 12:1-11

As we move through this week that began with the triumphant entry into Jerusalem, we remember Isaiah's words to a people who needed saving, as do all people who need saving.

He described their savior and reminded them what God is like.

God created heaven and earth
and gave life to the people who walked on it.

And Isaiah reminded them that this salvation was not restricted to a small group of persons; rather, these who were to be saved would be a message for the whole world.

We need to continue to remember that God is our source, our provider, and our rescuer. Use as a prayer today this excerpt from Psalms:

Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds.
Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains, your judgments are like the great deep; you save humans and animals alike, O Lord.
How precious is your steadfast love, O God! All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings.

They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights.

For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.

O continue your steadfast love to those who know you, and your salvation to the upright of heart!

Do not let the foot of the arrogant tread on me, or the hand of the wicked drive me away.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Source of Help, Reflection on Isaiah 50:4-9

Isaiah tells Israel about the one chosen by God to teach, to sustain. This chosen one has listened to God and has accepted punishment by the enemy.
The Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced.

The one who vindicates me is near.

Christians read back into this and the other suffering servant songs as we contemplate the crucifixion and the resurrection. The servants' people did not accept him, but God sustained him through it all.

Read Psalm 31:9-16 in response to the words from Isaiah:
Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress; my eye wastes away from grief, my soul and body also.

For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing; my strength fails because of my misery, and my bones waste away.

I am the scorn of all my adversaries, a horror to my neighbors, an object of dread to my acquaintances; those who see me in the street flee from me.

I have passed out of mind like one who is dead; I have become like a broken vessel.

For I hear the whispering of many— terror all around!— as they scheme together against me, as they plot to take my life.

But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, “You are my God.”

My times are in your hand; deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors.

Let your face shine upon your servant; save me in your steadfast love.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

If he's the Messiah, Reflection on Mark 15:24-47

The first reaction to the crucifixion of Jesus was mockery. Mockery by passers-by and by the chief priests and the scribes. "If he's the Messiah, why doesn't he do some Messiah-like thing?" Even the two bandits being crucified next to him taunted him.

Mark is making an important point. What does Messiah-behavior look like? What do we expect of a savior, of an anointed one chosen as our leader? What does it mean for us that our Christ has suffered and died? What does it mean for us that our Christ was rejected by religious experts and deserted by his closest followers?

And what does it mean for us that a centurion, an officer of the occupying Roman army, recognized that this man was God's Son?

What does it mean for us to remember that Jesus had women disciples? ones who were not hiding away at this frightening time but were witnesses to the crucifixion?

Crucified, A Wordle Version of Mark 15:24-47


Friday, April 3, 2009

Facing Pilate, Wordle version of Mark 15:1-23

Have you used Wordle yet? It generates “word clouds” from a text that you provide. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text.

To see what words are used most often in Mark 15:1-23, go to Wordle version.

Motives, Reflection on Mark 15:1-23

In Mark's gospel, the Jewish council violated several of their own laws. Luke's gospel deletes many of these violations. John's gospel leaves out the trial before the council. We're left to ponder the decisions each of the gospel writers made.

In the passage we're looking at today, Mark continues to show the Jewish leaders trying to silence Jesus. They press the crowd to call for Pilate to release a murderer rather than Jesus.

Mark tells us their motive was envy.

Pilate's motive was to satisfy the crowd.

As we move toward Palm/Passion Sunday, we might well reflect on the motives that underlie our own decisions. What effect does envy have on what we do? Whom are we most ready to satisfy? Whose approval means the most to us?

Thursday, April 2, 2009

More Hungry Sheep

Food stamp list swells to record 32.2 million

Rejection of Jesus, Reflection on Mark 14:51-72

As you read about Jesus on trial, consider the responses of two different persons:

The high priest.

The disciple.

The Sanhedrin consisted of 71 members who were charged with the responsibility of keeping their religious community safe--and sometimes safe meant accommodating the needs of the ruling authorities, the occupying force, the Romans. And, sometimes, safe meant protecting from internal heresy.

They have rules but don't follow them. Instead, they offer false testimony, and can't even agree on which falsities to swear to.

Frustrated, the High Priest addresses Jesus directly, "Are you the Messiah?"

Jesus responds, "I am."

The Council condemns Jesus to death.

Peter has been one of the disciples closest to Jesus. And he has failed him before. While he was supposed to be keeping watch at Gethsemane, he fell asleep three times.

Now, while Jesus is being condemned to death, Peter is nearby. One of the high priest's servants sees him and recognizes him, "You're with that guy that's on trial." Peter denies it. She tells some bystanders, and he denies it. Some of the bystanders say the same thing, and he once more denies it. Three times.

Peter broke down and wept.

The High Priest would not recognize that this man brought before him was the Anointed One of Israel. Did Peter? Do we?

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Deserters, Reflection on Mark 14:26-50

In Mark's Gospel, the last words that Jesus speaks to his disciples are, "Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Enough! The hour has come; the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand"(14:41-42).

When I was an accounting professor, I would warn my students that the persons likely to embezzle would be trusted employees--after all, they would be the ones most likely to have access.

This phenomenon is not new. Read Zechariah 13:1-7.

The men that Jesus chose as guards were three of his closest associates. They went to the sleep on the job. The one who sold him out to the Romans was also one of the twelve.

The work of the resurrected Christ continues. Who's sleeping on the job? Who is betraying the message?