Merciful God, you have filled our lives with a deluge of love and grace. Yet we are too often stingy with forgiveness for others. While Christ’s sacrifice on the cross removed the weight of our sin, we continue to blend in with a world that is intent on keeping score and settling debts. May the gifts we give this morning, small in comparison with all we’ve received, help strengthen the church’s ministry of love and compassion. In our giving, may we make a witness as those who have been forgiven much and who seek to have Christlike grace shine through our lives. We pray this in his name. Amen. (Matthew 18:21-35)"Prayers by Ken Sloan. Copyright General Board of Discipleship. www.GBOD.org Used by permission."
Saturday, January 31, 2009
Luke tells us: As a human child, born to Jews in that part of the world, he was taken to the temple in Jerusalem. This ritual was in response to the law that the first born belonged to the Lord. Note that the law intended for the parents to offer a substitutional sacrifice, e.g., a pair of turtledoves or pigeons.
This reading in Hebrews focuses on the temple and the High Priest in the temple. Jesus is both the sacrifice and the priest. Jesus suffers. Jesus intercedes for those who are suffering.
Friday, January 30, 2009
A traditional canticle in Evening Prayer is the Nunc Dimitis, Simeon's prayer of praise to God when he sees the infant Jesus brought into the temple. YouTube has many, many videos of this canticle; e.g., Stanford Nunc Dimittis.
Notice how Luke blends into his account both law and the Spirit. The family are religiously scrupulous--in ways that may no longer be applicable in their specifics but are admirable in their attentiveness. They come to the temple because their religious practices require it. Simeon comes to the temple because he has been led by the Spirit. Look around you at church Sunday. The people you will see there have come because they think it is the right thing to do, the expected thing. And you will see people who have been led there by the Spirit. And for some, both apply.
Another blending in this passage--the salvation promised by the prophets is not just for the traditional religious insiders. As you pray Simeon's prayer, consider who are the Gentiles in our world.
Read about Anna's response, and think about your own.
Here are some excuses that will not work:
I'm too old.At least, they didn't work for Anna. Why is it that we don't speak about what we know?
I'm not important.
I don't have family support.
I'm not able to get around very far.
Thursday, January 29, 2009
In his time, if you wanted to eat meat, you got it from the meat place, and the meat place didn't stamp it "not from idol sacrifice." If you accepted an invitation for supper, you would not know whether that meat fit your religious scruples.
Should you refuse to eat with people who had different standards?
On the other hand, if your own religion is strong enough not to be hampered in any way by some practice that you consider a scruple, shouldn't you just go ahead and to what's easiest on everybody?
It's not just the unbelievers that see what you do; the believers are watching, too.
Paul says to them (to us?): It's not only your conscience; think about how what you do will affect someone else's conscience.
How this passage intrudes on my own life: I stay out of casinos. I am opposed to state lotteries.
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
We are halfway to Lent or halfway between Epiphany (the end of Christmastide) and Ash Wednesday (the beginning of Lent). This is not startling or significant, except to see where we are on the path between the conclusion of one major cycle of the Christian practice of observing time (the cycle of light — Christmas/Season after Epiphany) and the prime cycle of the year (the cycle of life — Easter or the Pasch).
Experientially, a lot of the Christian journey is living between this and that — between memory and hope, between what we know and what we long for, between the summons of the kingdoms of this world and the call of the kingdom of God. Israel knew Moses and longed for another leader-prophet to speak with God's authority to them. The Corinthians were living between ongoing connections to their pagan and idolatrous culture and the new reality of the one God and the "one Lord, Jesus Christ." The villagers in Capernaum found themselves between the (predictable? boring?) teaching of the scribes and the astounding and authoritative teaching of Jesus, whom the demons hidden in their midst confronted but obeyed!
Candlemas picks up this sense of "betweenness" in its perpetuation of pagan rites marking mid-winter — given new interpretation through the story of the purification ritual of Mary and the presentation of Jesus in the Temple. In our American experience, we are between fear of terrorism and nuclear proliferation and hope for a more peaceful, compassionate, democratic world order.
How in the prayer and liturgy of this day could the experience of being on the path between what we are moving away from and what we long for be enacted?
Play with the images and opposites in shaping prayer: memory and hope, captivity and freedom, separation/segregation and embrace, war and peace, violence and tenderness, defensiveness and compassion, self-focused ("I" songs) and God-focused ("Thou" songs).
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
- Host a “Jeopardy” game night with all the questions relating to Lent
- Encourage people to focus on what they are going to take on in order to strengthen their walk with Christ to the cross. This may mean that they have to give up something in order to add something more meaningful.
- Consider purchasing a butterfly kit. Buy it now! Send off for the live caterpillar larvae and watch caterpillars transform into beautiful butterflies. Release the butterflies on Easter morning.
- Do a reverse Advent wreath. In Advent the light grows stronger each week. In Lent the light grows darker each week as we anticipate the death of Jesus Christ. Begin Lent with 6 (if no Good Friday service) or 7 (if you are having a Good Friday service) fully lit candles. Each week as the scriptures are read, extinguish a candle. The last candle would be extinguished on Palm/ Passion Sunday or your Good Friday service.
As we read in Exodus and Numbers about their wilderness travels toward the land promised to them, we saw again and again a pattern. God would speak to Moses and Moses would convey the message to the people. Now, Moses is about to leave them. How will they hear the voice of the Lord without Moses?
The editors of Deuteronomy had known defeat and exile and were looking toward resettlement. How would the Lord speak to them in their new circumstance?
The need to hear God's message remains our concern. How do we recognize God's voice? (Remember last week's reading from 1 Samuel.) Who can be trusted to interpret God's will for us?
Monday, January 26, 2009
How come it was an unclean man who first recognized Jesus? BTW, how common was it for people with unclean spirits to attend the synagogue?
We are told that the people were amazed by his evidencing authority and by his ability to get unclean spirits to obey him. What amazes us today?
Or if celebrating The Presentation of the Lord/Candlemas: Color, White. Lectionary texts:
Mal 3:1-4; Ps 24 (UMH 755); Heb 2:14-18; Lk 2:22-40.
Also, in either choice, consider that February is Black History Month
Sunday, January 25, 2009
Being a Christian means being interested in what Christ is interested.
Saturday, January 24, 2009
How about for us? How inclusive do we want God's care to be? Here's a reminder of my posting from September 19, 2008
Jonah was unhappy not only about the forgiveness but also because the forgiveness was of foreigners. We are still wrestling with this notion. Here are two opposing views:
Pro Immigration Amnesty
Against Amnesty for Illegal Aliens
Friday, January 23, 2009
How comfortable--or uncomfortable--are you with the idea that these people in Nineveh, who didn't know anything about God, responded immediately and positively when Jonah, who did know about God, had also responded immediately, but, in his case, negatively?
Who can recognize God? In Chapter 1, sailors; in this chapter, the king and citizens of Nineveh. What they have in common is despair and fear. Is it harder to recognize God (or to feel a need to) when our lives are running smooth?
The lectionary omits verses 6-9. Read them anyway. They repent because they believe that it will change God's mind. Remember they hadn't had the opportunity to study Jeremiah 18:1-11. How comfortable--or uncomfortable--are you with the idea that God's mind can be changed, that human response can affect God?
Thursday, January 22, 2009
Now, that Jonah's life is in danger, he finally does pray, "I called to you when I was in distress, and you answered. When I was dying, I remembered you; I prayed to you."
He appends to his prayer of gratitude a slam against false worshipers: "They forsake their true loyalty, but I will know and remember and announce by word and action that deliverance belongs to the Lord."
After his prayer, the Lord delivers Jonah from his plight. We're not sure whether Jonah's prayer was in response to things that God had done for him over and over in the past, or whether Jonah is anticipating this particular rescue, or whether the editors of the book were worried about chronology.
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
As far way as Nineveh is, God cares anyway.
The Lord calls Jonah: Go right now to Nineveh. Tell them how wicked they are.
Jonah responds immediately to God's call--by jumping on a ship traveling in the opposite direction.
The Lord does not give up. The ship is caught in a big storm. Everybody on b0ard is praying--to many different gods. They have not had the opportunity to know about the Lord our God.
Jonah sleeps through the disturbance until the captain wakes him up. He demands of Jonah, "Start praying to your God. It might work." The crew has a different solution, "One of us on board must be to blame. Let's cast lots to see who is the cause of this storm."
The lot falls on Jonah. In response to their query, Jonah tells them about the God of heaven, sea, and dry land. And he tells them that he, Jonah, has been fleeing from the Lord.
After some deliberation, they finally consent to sacrifice Jonah in hopes that this act will pacify the Lord. They throw Jonah overboard, but God is not ready to give up on this reluctant prophet.
Questions to consider:
Have you slept through challenges?
Are there groups to whom you are unwilling to approach?
How far are you willing to go--literally or figuratively--to avoid answering the call of the Lord?
Considering how ready the sailors were to believe Jonah, why did it take a disaster for him to speak out? Would they have been ready to believe him without the emergency?
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Questions to consider: Had they heard of him before he showed up at work that day?
Was he looking for them specifically, or would anybody he chose have been able to be his disciple, merely because he chose them?
What does "come after" mean--do you interpret the term literally, metaphorically, or both?
Same question about "followed."
Does discipleship have to mean leaving what we're doing, or can we be disciples in place?
Why did Jesus not mention any rewards?
Mark says that they left their father behind--is that implied in discipleship?
Monday, January 19, 2009
How have our lives changed? For example, how have our places of worship changed? The New York Times has a front-page story, 2 Washington Churches Try to Cross an Old Racial Divide.
Points to ponder:
John preached baptism and repentance (1:4). Is this message part of, precedent to, or included in "good news:?
The word translated as time is "kairos," meaning not just time, but a particular, significant moment in time.
Repent--don't just be sorry about what you used to do; rather, change the way you live your life.
As you read through Mark's gospel, you will find other references to the kingdom of God. He's not talking just about some place we go after we die. God king-dom is beginning here and now.
Those of you familar with her work can see that I have referred closely to Morna D. Hooker's The Gospel according to Saint Mark
Sunday, January 18, 2009
The specific topic here is association with prostitutes, but the advice should not be restricted to this alone. Paul is urging Christians to take seriously, very seriously, their membership in Christ's body.
"Don't you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit?"
Lectio Divina: 1 Corinthians 6:19-20.
Saturday, January 17, 2009
Not uncommon was the situation that the deceased was not a church-goer but the mourners were.
I often relied on this psalm for the core of the funeral homily.
Read again verses 1-6: God knows where we are. God is paying attention. God is caring for us.
Although verses 7-12 are not included in this week's reading, they were important to the message I needed to convey to the family and friends. "No matter where we go, God knows where we are. No matter where we are, God is with us there."
Not everyone comes to realize the presence of God. But, the Psalmist does and offers words that we can use to express the knowledge and gratitude for God's presence.
Verses 13-18 emphasize the intimacy we have with God. And the response that is appropriate:
I acclaim You. I may not be able to figure out what you are thinking, but I know that I am with you.
Friday, January 16, 2009
Or, should we be influenced by the context of this memory? Eli heard the hard word from God transmitted through the young Samuel. And Eli accepted the word. "Don't hide anything from me," he commanded Samuel. So Samuel did what Eli was willing to have done.
What would have happened to God's word if Eli had told Samuel to be quiet, quit running into his room, and go back to sleep?
Can you imagine being Eli?
Thursday, January 15, 2009
Eli knew God, but it didn't occur to him that God would want to talk to Samuel.
It took three tries, but Eli finally caught on.
Would Samuel have ever known that God was intruding on his life if Eli hadn't told him?
When we are Samuel, we need Eli.
When we are Eli, we need to help Samuel.
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
Had God really withdrawn from Israel? Historians can stack up the reasons why God might well have decided to ignore those people at that time. They certainly were not behaving in a way that indicated that they had been listening anyway.
Or, had God continued to be reaching out, and they just were too busy listening to their own voices and desires to pay attention?
When we feel lonely, abandoned, stuck in a situation without solution, can we hear God's voice? Or, when we feel complete, secure, satisfied, do we bother to listen?
Whose voice do we listen to when we are trying to make a decision?
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
In the fourth gospel we see, repeatedly, people brought to Jesus by a disciple and coming to full faith in him on the basis of Jesus' own word to them. John the Baptist (1:35-39) testified to Jesus; two of this disciples followed Jesus and remained with him that day; and they came to believe in him on the basis of that interchange. One of them, Andrew 1:41-42) brought his brother Simon to Jesus. When Jesus recognized Simon and renamed him, Simon (now Peter) became a disciple. Philip (1:44-51) brought a reluctant Nathaniel to Jesus, and again Jesus' word converted his hearer into a follower. even after the resurrection it was the testimony of Mary Magdalen that prepared the disciples to recognize Jesus when he appeared in their midst on Eater night....
In each case the pattern is the same: someone is brought to Jesus through the word of another but comes to believe in him definitely because of Jesus' own word. In a sense, there are no "second-generation disciples" in John, because all are bound to Jesus by his own word...
Monday, January 12, 2009
What changes Nathanael's life isn't Philip's persuasive description of Jesus; it's not even Nathanael's observation of Jesus. It is not what Nathanael sees about Jesus that changes things, but what Jesus sees about Nathanael.
Being seen and known by Jesus turns this ordinary encounter into a life-changing experience that opens Nathanael to the light that's come into the world to reveal heaven itself.
Philip was important in this process. Watch out for opportunities to be Philip. And pay attention to the Philips in your life.
They are poised to cross over the Jordan into the land promised by them. Compare this crossing with the one that took them from captivity in Egypt into their long testing in the wilderness (Exodus 14).
As Pharaoh's army had drawn near, the people had been afraid. The Lord instructed Moses what to do. The Lord sent a strong wind to make a path through the sea so the Israelites could cross over on dry ground.
Now, forty years later, Moses has died, and Joshua is their appointed leader. He also receives instructions from the Lord. Once again the waters are divided, and the people can cross.
What is different is that on this crossing, the priests and the ark of the covenant are part of the story. Also different is that this time is that they are not just one group; they are twelve tribes.
The priests go first with the ark. As their feet enter the river, the waters begin to separate.
Imagine being one of the priests and stepping into the rushing water. When the people saw the water piling up, they then stepped into the path. Imagine being able to trust that the danger would wait for you to make your way across.
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?
Sunday, January 11, 2009
This Sunday is the day that we call Baptism of the Lord and on which we remember our own baptism. Paul's first question was one of precedence: Do you receive the Holy Spirit first, or must you believe first before the Spirit settles on you?" Their answer was either truthful or clever or disappointing: "We didn't even know there was a Spirit."
Christian educators, do the people you serve even know there is a Spirit?
I don't know what to do with verse 6.
Saturday, January 10, 2009
The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness;
the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.
Several evenings ago, I was watching television while sitting in my well-padded recliner. Comfortable, head leaning back, feet propped up. All was well. Then, through the window next to me, I saw a flash of lightning . Almost immediately, I heard a loud crash of thunder. The TV show lost my attention.
Since I spent my formative years in Texas, I have the Texas attitude toward storms. As soon as we hear thunder, we're outside looking at the sky. Thunder gets our attention.
You don't have to be a Texan to notice thunder.
A thunderstorm will interrupt your life.
You'll turn your attention from what you're doing to this interruption.
The Psalmist's life was interrupted by God (Psalm 29:9).
The voice of the Lord causes the oaks to whirl, and strips the forest bare;and in his temple all say, "Glory!"
Read again this week's passage from Mark, and consider the effect of God's voice on the newly baptized Jesus. Consider the effect of God's voice as you remember that you are baptized by water and the Spirit.
Friday, January 9, 2009
Thursday, January 8, 2009
from A Walking Paradox
Kevin Watson at deeplycommitted has started an experiment to see how much social capital Methodist bloggers have. This experiment was prompted by the feeling among some Methodist bloggers that United Methodism does not always do as good of a job as it could at getting the Wesleyan message out there, particularly on-line. So, he wants to see how many views a YouTube video can get if Methodist bloggers work together to promote it. The experiment is to see how many hits the video will receive in two weeks.
If you want to participate you can: First, watch the video below. Second, copy and paste this entire post into a new post on your blog and post it. Third, remind people about this experiment in one week.
Based on the results of the experiment, Kevin will get in touch with the folks at Discipleship Resources and let them know the ways in which Methodist bloggers are often an underused resource.
Here is a link to the video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ISKTrScpzQ
Surely, Mark was familiar with this passage. In the beginning of Jesus' public life, he comes to the wilderness, a formless place away from the city where Herod presided. He comes to this place during a time in which his world was chaotic, a world that seemed to be ruled by Caesar.
As Jesus came out of the water, God's Spirit descends on him. God speaks, "You are my Son."
Questions: In Mark's gospel, did John know that Jesus was the Christ? In Mark's gospel, did anyone other than Jesus hear this voice?
Wednesday, January 7, 2009
Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.The lectionary this week gives us two texts that discuss the baptism of Jesus by John.
2Ascribe to the Lord the glory of his name; worship the Lord in holy splendor.
In Mark, we read how John was attracting a large audience as he preached in the wilderness. People from throughout the countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were were coming to hear him.
(All the people? Non-Jews, too? )
They came because they wanted a new life. They wanted to be forgiven for their sins.
As their ancestors had crossed the Jordan into their new life, they entered this river for their new beginning.
Yet, John was not their goal, "The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me."
Lectio Divina: Mark 1:7-8
Tuesday, January 6, 2009
The presence of God is revealed. God's light draws us to Christ, and radiates in us and through us.
As we think about Christ as the perfect leader, we can also think about how us humans are supposed to do our leading. Look at Psalm 72.
A leader is supposed to judge with righteousness, to judge the poor with justice. Keep reading.
A leader is supposed to care for the needy, the poor, and those without a helper. A leader is supposed to redeem the the weak and the needy from oppression and violence.
Consider working some more on your New Year's Resolutions.
Monday, January 5, 2009
We're reading these words as we are still reeling from the economic shocks that have hit our world. We read them as we contemplate the continuing violence among peoples and nations.
Arise and shine for your light has come.
How are we to believe in this great reversal? How do we recognize God's power that has come into our lives? And how do we transmit that great power?
Isaiah explained that when God shares wealth and power, there's a reason: Nations shall come to your light. They all gather together and come to you.
Sunday, January 4, 2009
For us, epiphany is demonstrated by the wise men guided by the star as they travel toward Bethlehem. There they, outsiders that they are, recognize the new King. The old king can't find the child by himself. Refer to Matthew 2:1-12 for details.
So, epiphany is the occasion for us to remember that outsiders recognized the Christ child.
Paul says to the Ephesians, and through them to us: People that we religious types did not once think should be included, well, I've been sent to tell you that they, too, are indeed included. They share in the inheritance we claim, they are family; the good news is for them as well as for us.
Lectio Divina: Ephesians 3:8-12
Saturday, January 3, 2009
Friday, January 2, 2009
Briefly, the Eastern monasteries organized to protest and escape from the materialism of the Roman world and the corruption of the Church; the Celtic monasteries organized to penetrate the pagan world and to extend the church.He is suggesting that our churches might consider the Celtic monastery goals when designing our modern-day evangelism efforts.
God forgives us.
And God let us in on the plan--to be gathered together, for everything on earth gathered up.
We have been adopted through Jesus Christ.
God's wisdom is set forth in Jesus Christ.
In Christ, we have obtained an inheritance.
We who were the first to set our hope on Christ live for the praise of his glory.
These promises remind us that we are not alone. And they remind us that we should think of alone in two ways.
- We are not alone because God is and has always been and always will be with us.
- We can't go it alone because God intends for us to be a people, to be bound together in love and responsibility.
Lectio Divina: Psalm 147:12-20.
Thursday, January 1, 2009
It is interesting to compare what the crucial issues are to the different Christian groups discussing politics.
Another point: Many contemporary Christians do not spend much time discussing judgment. Matthew is writing something scary here. "You help the poor or you'll end up in hell."
Which were you today--a sheep or a goat?
Lectio Divina: Matthew 25:37-40