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.

Friday, July 31, 2009

David does recognize sin--a Reflection on 2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a

David had been much favored, had earned much success, had worked hard and achieved a lot. And he gave in to his desires for an attractive woman--and to cover up what he had done, had precipitated the death of her husband.

In today's reading, we learn that the Lord is not happy about this.

So, the Lord dispatches Nathan to convey the divine message.

Pause here. How do you think that God accomplishes things? Have you been asked to step in? Or, have you heard God's voice coming through someone willing to interfere in your business?

Back to David.

As soon as Nathan tells him the story about the poor man's lamb, David instantly recognizes the injustice. He still can tell right from wrong--at least, someone else's right from wrong.

Pause again. When we descry or disdain someone else's flaws, how do we catch sight of our own? The Lord sent Nathan. Watch out for the Nathan in your life.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

God's Response to Our Complaints, a Reflection on Psalm 78:23-29

"Why did you come?" Jesus had asked them. What did they expect to get from him?

Long before, the people on their way toward the promised land were complaining. They wanted food. Because their life right then was not the way they had wanted it to be, they had begun to mistrust God.

They had left their homes because they trusted God's word coming through Moses. But, they had lost their trust.

But, they had not lost their God. Although their faithfulness weakened, God provided them with the food and water they needed to be able to continue their journey, abundant food and water

It doesn't sound fair, and we can be grateful for that.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

True Bread, a Reflection on John 6:28-35

Jesus has told them that they need to work for a different goal.

Both are important--work and what they are supposed to work for.

Their work is to believe. Believe--how hard is that? Believe--is it possible? Believe--does he mean creed or something else?

The goal is bread. And they want it. They ask how they can get this true bread from heaven. Jesus says, "You've already got it. I am the bread of life."

This passage is raising a lot of uncomfortable questions for me today: Why do I go to church? What do I pray about? What am I working for? How do I know if I have passed the "believe" requirement. Am I looking for a sign? And most disturbing, what do I do with verse 35? I know that hunger and thirst exist, and I know that good, believing people are among the hungry and thirsty. And I know that I don't want to metaphorize the terms completely.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Menus, a Reflection on John 6:24-27

Why do we go to church? What do we expect to get out of it?

Or, what methods do we use to try to get other people to join our church? What do we think motivates them?

Jesus told the crowds that day, "You've come because I provided food for you."

He adds, "You're searching for the wrong kind of food. Church suppers are great, but you'll still want breakfast the next morning."

Yet, I don't think he is disparaging typical church evangelistic efforts. We do want to get people in the doors. But, once inside, they need to know more.

Monday, July 27, 2009

To consider before voicing a prayer of petition, a Reflection on Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15

When they were slaves, they had complaints. Now, that they are free, they have complaints. In other words, they were human. And humans complain. Listen to talk radio some time for an example of complaining.

Or, come listen to me sometime. Hear me talk about the good old days. Or, I'm guessing, listen to yourself.

The Lord had heard their outcry in Egypt and sent Moses to bring them out of captivity.

But freedom is tougher than they might have anticipated.

This text reminds us that we too are living somewhere between where things were really bad but are not yet perfect.

And as the Lord had heard them in Egypt, the Lord hears them now--and again responds to their complaint.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Power to the People, a reflection on Ephesians 3:14-21

I have trouble reading Ephesians. The sentences are longer and more complex than those in my usual reading. Today, I tried to break them down into components I could comprehend.

I started like this: "I pray that....1)the Spirit of the Father will strengthen your inner being; 2)Christ will dwell in your hearts; 3) you will be able to understand ..."

Then I realized I had left out the word "power" was used 3 times.

The power comes through God's Spirit. Paul wants us to have the power so that we can comprehend and to know Christ.

Paul then adds that the love of Christ surpasses knowledge.

Since the English translation is ambiguous, I pause here to wonder whether Paul means our love for Christ or Christ's love for us.

I've decided to settle on verse 20: God can accomplish more through us than we would have thought possible.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Waiting for Someday, a Reflection on Psalm 14

Most of the psalms are prayers addressed to God. Psalm 14, however, is a commentary on the sad state of humankind.
They are all fools.
They behave as if they don't believe that God exists.
None of them do what they should.
Shouldn't they be afraid?

Since the lectionary has paired this psalm with the reading about David's mistreatment of Bathsheba and of his loyal general Uriah, we may read it as a commentary on him. Even the king, even the one loved by the Lord, sins.

And, this psalm reminds us that David is not the only one who acts as if he doesn't believe in the Lord.

The psalmist cries out, "Don't they see? Aren't they afraid? Don't they realize whose side God is on?" and then reminds us that even if we neglect the poor, the Lord will not. Someday, things will be the way God wants them to be.

Friday, July 24, 2009

When the King Sins, a Reflection on 2 Samuel 11:1-15

Throughout the books of 1 and 2 Samuel, the story of David combines favorable aspects along with unfavorable aspects. Steven McKenzie discusses what he calls these conflicting versions in his King David, a biography.

This week's reading tells us of one of the unfavorable acts of David.

He has been an ardent warrior, bravely facing mighty foes. And now, while his army is fighting somewhere else, he is lounging at home.

He notices a beautiful woman, Bathsheba, and he desires her.

Bathsheba's husband Uriah is one of the soldiers now at battle.

When Uriah returns, David is not able to trick him into providing an alibi for Bathsheba's pregnancy. David sends him back to battle, to the forefront of the hardest fighting.

We can see in David's sin many echoes in our own time. People who have demonstrated great ability, devotion, and talent to getting to the top then misuse their gifts. They become willing to harm many people.

As you read this story, imagine yourself as each of the characters. As David, what gifts have you benefited from? Have you misused your status? How does a middle-aged person overcome temptation?

As Bathsheba, how do you resist the advances of someone much higher in status to you? To whom can you turn for support?

As Uriah, how do you measure your loyalty to someone you have deservedly respected at times when that person has behaved in such a way that he has damaged that respect?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Praise and Commitment, a Reflection on Psalm 145:10-18

The lectionary pairs this psalm with the reading from 2 Kings (and by extension, then, with the gospel lesson for this week).

It's a reminder, one that we may well need, that we're living in God's kingdom and that we should be living according to God's intentions for us. The Lord's desire is for all to be fed and attended to. Those who care what the Lord wants will work toward these goals.

Lectio Divina: Psalm 145:10-18

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Feeding the hungry, a Reflection on 2 Kings 4:42-44

Elisha is a prophet at a time and in a place where the wealthy are not concerned with the plight of the poor and of children. Elisha is. He rescues a widow from her creditors (4:1-5); saves the life of a wealthy woman's son (4:8-37) and ensures that the hungry no longer have to eat contaminated food (4:38-41).

In today's selection, hungry people are fed.

Note the steps:
A single person is compassionate enough to give up some of his resources.
He doesn't give a whole lot, only twenty loaves of bread and some grain.
He gives them first to Elisha's servant who doesn't think they are sufficient for the task.
Elisha does. He quotes what God wants.
They are: a hundred people are fed, and they have leftovers.

for further reading, Preaching the Old Testament, Ronald Allen & Williamson.

Lectio Divina: Psalm 145:13-15
Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
and your dominion endures throughout all generations.
The Lord is faithful in all his words,
and gracious in all his deeds.
The Lord upholds all who are falling,
and raises up all who are bowed down.
The eyes of all look to you,
and you give them their food in due season.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Post-prandrial boatride, a Reflection on John 6:15-21

The meal that Jesus provided, like that of the original Passover, was about more than food on one day. And it was about more than satisfying physical hunger.

When the Jews in Egypt needed rescue, the Lord had sent Moses. Hear the echoes of the Exodus story in this week's passage from John's gospel. A meal, shared. And rescue from the threatening waters.

Another echo--Jesus identifies himself to the disciples as "I am."

Another tangent: The disciples were at sea because it was dark and Jesus had not yet come to them. What responses have we made to darkness and loneliness? How has Jesus come to us even when we were in some boat in the dark? And, did he get in the boat then or not?

Lectio Divina: Psalm 145:17-18
The Lord is just in all his ways, and kind in all his doings. The Lord is near to all who call on him, to who who call on him in truth.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Well, do we have enough bread? a Reflection on John 6:1-14

Verses 1-9
Jesus asks Philip, "Where are you going to get enough bread to feed all these people?"

Since we can assume that Jesus knew the answer already, we can ponder instead why he asked it of Philip.

Jesus knew that they had sufficient resources to take care of the problem in front of them. He needed to know if Philip realized this, or, he needed to make sure that he did.

Andrew recognizes that they have access to some resources but he doesn't think they're enough to attack the problem.

Does any of this sound like modern-day discussions of how to work on society's problems? The need is great, really great. Our resources are limited, really limited.

Try to imagine yourself as Philip or Andrew. How would you respond to Jesus' question?

Verses 10-14
Allen & Williamson, in their excellent Preaching the Gospels, point out the importance of having the crowd sit down:
The Greek is anapesin, "to recline or sit down," not "sit." The point is important, for the rich and the royal lie down to eat. Jesus treats the crowds as royalty. They recline on "a great deal of grass" (an echo Of Psalm 23:2).

What's the message to us--are we not only supposed to feed the strangers but also to treat them well? How far does this go--do we have to include health care, as well?

Lectio Divina: Psalm 145:16
You open your hand, satisfying the desire of every living thing.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Surely you don't mean them, a Reflection on Ephesians 2:11-22

Here Paul is stressing that you can be a Christian even if you don't become a Jew first. We got over this hurdle so long ago that we have a hard time getting back into the mindset of the earliest congregations.

But, we need to.

We need to think about what groups we are excluding, and what basis we are using to exclude them.

Paul said to the people of his time struggling with the disputes of his time that Jesus had abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, so that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of two.

We are confident (pretty much so) that Paul didn't mean that anything goes. Should we be so confident that what we think is absolutely essential in belief or action is on Jesus' must-do list?

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Enduring Love, a Reflection on Psalm 89:20-37

This psalm is an assertion of the covenant God has made with David, and a reminder that this covenant is unconditional, "Forever I will keep my steadfast love for him, and my covenant with him will stand firm" (23).

Reading this psalm after the exile, the Jews could adopt God's promise to David as king to themselves as descendants of the people in David's kingdom. Christians have also appropriated this promise since we recognize Jesus as a direct descendant of David.

We might discuss who is included and if anyone is not.

And we need to think about what this unconditional covenant means.

Verses 30-33 remind us that sin has consequences. We may suffer because of wrong choices we have made. We may suffer because of wrong choices someone else has made.

Sin has consequences.

Yet, God doesn't give up on us so easily.

We need to remember both of those things.

Friday, July 17, 2009

House Builder, a Reflection on 2 Samuel 7:1-14a

Here's a repeat of my commentary on this text in Advent:

David had been victorious over his enemies--internal as well as external ones. He has been made king over all of Israel. He has brought back the ark of God from where it had been hidden during the battles. they put the ark in a tent and made offerings to the Lord.

David is living in a house and decides that the ark should have a house as well.

The Lord tells Nathan what to tell David about this idea.

The Lord is responsible for the beginning of David's story, his success against his enemies, and for David's future. David has it backwards if he thinks that it depends on him to provide a house for the Lord.

The Lord will build David's house.

The house and kingdom shall last forever.

A problem arises for us as we read these verses. David's son, Solomon, did build a temple--that was destroyed by the Babylonians. After the return of the exiles, a temple was built to replace it. Did the people think that God meant only for David not to build a temple? How did we discern that great houses of worship are appropriate and helpful?

We usually read the word "house" in this section to also mean "family." That is, we interpret God's promise to mean that David's descendants would rule Jerusalem forever. How long is forever? Foreign powers overtook their land. David's house was taken into captivity.

Another problem with the promise of forever. Would that mean that no matter what David or his children, grandchildren, and great (and so on) grandchildren did, that God would remain in relationship with them, provide for them? That is, does sin matter to God? Are we not being held responsible for our actions? See 1 Kings 9:4-7 for a statement of the conditional covenant.)

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Psalm 23 in Song and Film

I was wondering what I could say that was new about Psalm 23. So, as I often do, I went to Jenee Woodward's site

There I found this great article from the Society of Biblical Literature, The cultural appropriation of Psalm 23.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Expectancy of the shepherd, a Reflection on Jeremiah 23:1-6

The lectionary this week has paired the reading from Mark with this passage from Jeremiah. Both use the image of shepherd.

Jeremiah is addressing the kings of Judah. "The Lord gave you the responsibility to take care of the people of Judah. But, you have done a poor job. You were supposed to take care of the flock, but you didn't. You were supposed to keep them together, and you let them get scattered."

God will not leave the sheep hungry and scattered. Jeremiah reports that the Lord will send them a new shepherd, one that one reign over them wisely and will bring justice and righteousness to the land.

Mark could see parallels with the situation of his people in his time with so long-ago ancestors who needed protection, and who had not been getting it from their religious leaders.

How is the church today living out this prophecy? How is your congregation?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Offertory Prayers for August

The Center for Christian Stewardship of the UMC offers David Bell's Offertory Prayers for August.

Healing the sick, a Reflection on Mark 6:53-56

At the beginning of this chapter, Jesus is teaching in the synagogue in his home town. The response to him was mixed, but for the most part negative.

His response was to send out the twelve to preach, exorcise, and heal.

Herod executes John.

Jesus feeds 5,000, walks on water, and stills a storm.

Then, as now, the Jesus movement is met with differing reactions. Then, as now, great blessings accompany the movement, and some folks react with fear, with apathy, or with harm.

In today's lesson, Jesus and the apostles have changed geography but not mission. People recognize them and rush to them for help. Wherever he went, people begged for help and he gave it.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Crowds gather, a Reflection on Mark 6:30-34

Mark juxtaposes the banquet at which John is condemned with the banquet that Jesus provides for the 5000 (6:30-44). Herod is concerned with himself; Jesus, with the crowds. Herod had invited important people--courtiers, officers, and leaders of Galilee. The people who surrounded Jesus this day were not important--and they weren't rich.

He has just heard about the death of John. He asks his closest companions to come away with him for a while so they can talk about how their missions have gone (1-13). Their solitude doesn't last. People recognize them and want to be near to them.

Jesus had compassion on them because he could see that they were like sheep without a shepherd.

And from his compassion, he begins to teach them many things.

What are we supposed to do with this example? When does teaching take precedence over feeding?

They just showed up? Do we run our churches as if we believe that's the best way to get followers--go off somewhere by ourselves and they'll just show up?

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Including the formerly not included, a Reflection on Ephesians 1:3-14

I'm reading this passage and can see how a Calvinist reading it would find support for predestination; i.e., verse 4, God chose us even before the world was founded, and verse 5, God destined us to be Christians.

So, I'm suggesting that you read the Wesleyan view of grace. Here's an introduction to Our Wesleyan Theological Heritage.

In the early church, believers with one kind of background thought themselves superior to those they considered to have a lower background. For those of us moderns who also think of ourselves as superior--or for those of us who have been convinced that we are inferior, we need to remember that both the first to become Christians and the ones who came later are all marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit and are God's own people (11-13).

And we need to remember to praise God's glory (14).

After I wrote this, I came across Donald Hayne's excellent discussion of the Calvinist resurgence on the United Methodist Portal page.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Lift up your heads, O gates, a Reflection on Psalm 24

The lectionary suggests Psalm 24 as the response to this week's reading from 2 Samuel--Verses 7-10 echo for us the entrance of the ark into the tent at Jerusalem.

The ark--the resting place for the Lord, in later times would reside in the temple, but had also accompanied the army into battle. The Lord--the creator of the earth (vv 1-2), the holy one.

Who can approach the holy? Still a question for modern worshipers.
The clean hands and pure hearts--are these absolute requirements of who can get in, or are they strong suggestions for how worshipers should order their lives, or they necessary in order for us to receive blessing--or to recognize what is a blessing?

Friday, July 10, 2009

Bringing the ark to Jerusalem, a reflection on 2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19

Their fear of their armed neighbors led them to a desire for a king. They no longer trusted God; they wanted a powerful human being to lead a powerful army against their powerful foes. Samuel had tried to talk them out of it, but failed.

Saul was made king, but failed.

Now, David is king, and, so far, seems successful. The enemies are driven back. The northern and southern tribes have combined. They have a new capital--Jerusalem.

David decides to bring the ark to Jerusalem. The capital will then have the earthly king and the mark of the presence of the heavenly king both in the same city.

A great procession marks the occasion--everyone is dancing, including David.

Questions: 1. How are we to interpret the account of the death of Uzzah? Do we read this as a warning to be respectful in front of the Lord? Or, that the holiness of God is paramount? Or, that motives don't matter when we break the rules? (I'm not very happy with any of these)

2. What about David's conduct was so upsetting to Michal?

3. Was anyone upset that David took over the role of a priest?

4. What symbol or symbols remind us of the presence of God? In what ways are we reminded to mark our respect for them?

Thursday, July 9, 2009

To the Faithful, a Reflection on Psalm 85:8-13

God had showed Amos a fearful vision of sword and exile--and had commanded him to tell the people about this vision.

Psalm 85 is also concerned with hearing the voice of God--but this vision is one of peace and harmony.

When we meet the gift of God's love with the response of our faithfulness to the will of God, then we will have an abundance of what is good. The imagery is that of crops in the ground responding to rain from heaven--our land will yield its increase.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Outside Agitator, a Reflection on Amos 7:11-15

A priest complains to the king that he resents the message that the prophet Amos has been preaching. He tells Amos to go back home, that he doesn't belong in the temple.

Who does? Who should speak? What message? What is it that Amos has said that is so upsetting to those in authority?

Amos asserts that he speaks because the Lord has told him to. His speech has been full of radical social justice (oppressing the poor and crushing the needy (4:1); mistaking ceremony and offerings as a substitute for doing justice (5:21-27); and even more disturbing to us modern readers, living comfortable lives (6:4-8).

Do we get too comfortable in our lives to be able to hear God's call? Who gets our attention? Who does Amaziah think is his real boss? Who do we think is ours?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Plumb line, a Reflection on Amos 7:7-10

The Lord God has shown Amos a vision of locusts and one of fire. "Can we survive?" Amos asks.

Then the Lord shows him a plumb line--a way of measuring if a wall has been built straight. It hasn't been.

This vision in some ways is more ominous than the ones of locusts and of fire. We plant crops but we can't keep the locusts away. Some steps for fire prevention are possible, but some fires can't be stopped.

But, we could have built a better wall.

How much of the pain we suffer is due to our not following God's way for us?

The lectionary pairs this reading with the one from Mark about how upset Herod was with Jesus and John the Baptist. Could Herod have been eying the walls he was responsible for and fearing that God was about to show up with a plumb line?

Monday, July 6, 2009

Responding to a threat against his safety, Reflection on Mark 6:14-29

Herod was a powerful man whose comfort depended on things going pretty much the way they had been going. This Jesus was a threat to the status quo as had been John (before Herod took care of the threat).

Herod watched out for threats to his safety and took care of them. And John certainly appeared to be a threat. Some people thought he was the great prophet Elijah, who was said to be the forerunner of the Messiah
See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight--indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of Hosts.....
then I will draw near to you for judgment; I will be swift to bear witness against ... those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired workers in their wages, the widow and the orphan, against those who thrust aside the alien...(Malachi 3:1-5. Also see 4:5-6).

I'm assuming that the well being of hired workers, widows, orphans, and aliens was not high up on Herod's priority list.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Reflection on 2 Corinthians 12:2-10

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

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

Carl R. Holladay, in Preaching through the Christian Year B, reminds us that Paul's rival evangelists had used their skills to prove that they were more powerful than Paul. He's saying that they may be winning a game but that it's not the right game.
What he knew only well was that "weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities...were more frequent and typical of his apostolic life than were visions....In this respect, his life was analogous to that of Christ. Indeed, the crucifixion of Christ came to symbolize human suffering experienced in response to a divine calling....

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Freedom, a Reflection on Galatians 5:13-26

Here's a repeat of last year's July 4 entry:
"Do not use your freedom for self-indulgence," Paul says. What a paradox freedom is. We're supposed to love our neighbors, and even more than that, be slaves to one another.

The freedom that Paul is talking about is freedom from the wrong kind of freedom. Forget those things that seem like a lot of fun while you are doing them but are destructive--destructive to you and those around you.

Instead of those harmful acts and attitudes, Paul reminds us the gifts we give by receiving: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Friday, July 3, 2009

The Responsibility of Freedom, Reflection on Deuteronomy 10:12-13, 17-21 and Psalm 72

Here's a repeat of my entry from last year:

As we Americans prepare to celebrate our freedom, let us remember how God intends for us to use freedom:

* from Deuteronomy: Love the stranger. Worship only God. Remember that God executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing.

* from Psalms: May our rulers deliver the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Who the people want as king, a reflection on 2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10

Saul is dead. His son Jonathon is dead. Although he was initially kept from battle, David turned a defeat into a victory.

Eventually, the tribes of Israel conclude that David should be their king.

Or, am I supposed to be reading this as finally the people of Israel catch on to what the Lord has long planned?

The lectionary has skipped over a lot of intrigue. Are differences between factions no longer important after the leadership is decided? (If we read ahead, we see that the tribes will split apart after Solomon's reign).

Back to the king part. When the people had first wanted a king, the Lord had forecast for them what life with a human king would be like (see 1 Samuel 8), but they wanted one anyway. They just weren't able to trust the rule of the Lord unmediated by a human king.

Psalm 48 is an assertion of the greatness of the Lord. Even kings submit themselves to God. If only.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Called, a Reflection on Ezekiel 2:1-5

the Gospel lesson this week reminds us that not everyone recognized whose work Jesus was doing--but that some did. Disciples heard Jesus' call and were able to help many people who needed it.

The lectionary pairs this reading from the prophet Ezekiel. God sends him to serve people who have rebelled against God.

Stop here and think about this a while. Who deserves help is not at issue here; rather, it is who needs help.

And how is it that Ezekiel can help? Although he was in exile, he was able to experience the presence of God (1:3). He paid attention (1:4-28). A spirit entered into him (2:2).

Most of this I find reassuring and inspiring. But, I get stuck on the part where he is called to speak to people whether they pay attention or not.