Offertory Prayer

Each month's Offertory Prayers includes an "Invitation to the Offering" (see below) along with a digital image for those who might want to use it. We hope you will find this a helpful way to remind the people in your pews that their offering travels to many places to make a powerful difference in the lives of people they may never meet. You can find great stories of the difference our giving makes at http://umcgiving.org.

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 our connectional giving, we support the General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM) and missionaries around the world -- such as Alex andBrenda Awad, who serve Christians in East Jerusalem and the ministries of Bethlehem Bible College. So when you revive the story this season of the birth of the Son of God in Bethlehem, remember that United Methodists are still working to make the world a more welcoming place for the God of love and peace. 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 of GBGM Missionaries at: www.umcmission.org/Explore-Our-Work/Missionaries-in-Service

December 21, 2014 -- Fourth Sunday of Advent
Dear Lord, you are the only wise God! Thank you for your faithfulness through the ages. You spoke promises through the prophets. In time, you revealed your glory in Jesus Christ. Strengthen us in faith to follow your will today. Empower us to tell our neighbors about you. May these offerings support the ways our church exhibits your steadfast love for all generations. Amen. (Romans 16)

November Offertory Prayers were written by the Rev. Rosanna Anderson, Associate Director of Stewardship Ministries at Discipleship Ministries, The United Methodist Church.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Group Groaning, a Reflection on Romans 8:22-27

"We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now," Paul writes to the Romans.

In labor pains? Creation was not complete in a week? I'm making a connection between this verse and Psalm 104:30, "When you send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the ground."

A difference--in Psalm, the Spirit creates, but there's no mention of pain.

So, I'm back to the word "groaning." I looked up the word in my Aland dictionary and my Thayer's lexicon and learned that it implies not only groaning but groaning together.

All of creation is groaning. And, according to Paul, even we who have received fruits of the Spirit are also groaning. Groaning while we wait for adoption.

As I read this, I don't think Paul is talking about some life after death, but is talking about a life here on this earth, a life in which the Spirit lives in and through and around us--and we are aware of that presence.

More groaning--in verse 26, the Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. Allen & Williamson in Preaching the Letters expand on this verse by saying:
The Spirit helps our praying. That the Spirit (roughly interchangeable with God or Christ in Paul)"groans" indicates that God is affected by us as we are affected (and effected--created) by God. God's passions can become our prayers, and our prayers can become God's passions.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

How Manifold Are Your Works, a Reflection on Psalm 104:24-34, 35b

Don't fall into the error of modalism--that at different points of history, God appeared in different forms. That is, God was Father during the Old Testament times, then became the visible Son, then at Pentecost became manifest as the Spirit.

The lectionary choice of Psalm 104 for Pentecost Sunday reminds us that God as Spirit was present at creation. Verses 24 through 28 cite examples of what God as created--the earth, ships, Leviathan.

These created things need the Spirit:

When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust.
When you send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the ground (29-30).


We have been through Lent and through Eastertide. In the church calendar, we are now entering what is called Ordinary Time. We, in the Scriptures and in our lives, have seen and will seen pain and blessings. Verses 33-34 will be a good prayer for us this week and weeks to come:
I will sing to the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praise to my God while I have being.
May my meditation be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the Lord.
Bless the Lord, O my soul.
Praise the Lord!

Friday, May 29, 2009

What do Strangers Have to Say to Us? a Reflection on Acts 2:14-21

Here is part of the poem, "Pentecost," offered by Jan L. Richardson:
....
and I am not persuaded
that if we look alike
God will love us more.


I believe God loves the languages
of those struggling to speak
the words embedded in our flesh
of every shape and hue.

And I believe God blesses
every space where we are welcomed
to speak with tongues of fire
and hear with hearts aflame.


I found the poem in her book, In Wisdom's Path: Discovering the Sacred in Every Season.

Her thoughts have forced me to rethink the Pentecost message. Have I been too restrictive in my definition of language?

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Reactions to the Pentecost Surprise, a Reflection on Acts 2:1-13

The Holy Spirit appeared suddenly, loudly, and effectively. The reaction was mixed. Some were bewildered, amazed, astonished.

Even when they found themselves able to understand in their own languages what the recipients were saying, the first witnesses either didn't know what was happening or made up a reason that seemed reasonable--they must be drunk.

Miracles or any exciting phenomena do not necessarily generate faith.

Peter responded to the lack of understanding and the rude remark by preaching a sermon.

Nonbelievers will not agree with our explanations. At least right away. After all, why should they? Allowing experience to explain phenomena is not unexpected.

Be careful with those sermons. They don't always help the unbeliever. At least right away.

I'm wondering what fraction of the people listening to a sermon on any Sunday are unbelievers. I'm wondering what they think about what they see happening that we explain has come through the Lord.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Dry Bones, Reflection on Ezekiel 37:1-14

Here we are, a bunch of individuals grouped together, yet not accomplishing anything. Economic times are tough. Where will the money come from to satisfy our needs? our wants?

A bunch of bones lying in a field. Even when connected, they're not getting the job done.

God says, "I'll put my breath into you and you shall live again."

This Sunday on the Day of Pentecost, church congregations, fearful of their present and for their continued future, will celebrate receiving God's own breath into their midst.

O Lord, lift us from our fear.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Singing toward Pentecost

Sing toward Sunday with On the Day of Pentecost offered F. Richard Garland and Alan Brown

Reassurance and Warning, Reflection on John 16:12-15

Jesus tells his followers that he is going and the Advocate is coming. This Spirit will guide the followers into all truth, will declare to them the things that are to come. We read this message as comfort--to them and to us, the continuation of the church.

I'm grateful to Fred Craddock for pointing out the implicit concern contained within this warning:
This text has been used to bless every fad and notion, but the fear of the new and different must not cause the church to abandon the promise.
When the church becomes protective and defensive, ... preachers become curators. The Spirit continually presses the question, What is the meaning of Jesus Christ today?
....
The apostolic and biblical witness remains as a canon for testing the spirits, for the Holy Spirit does not speak apart from or contrary to the historical Jesus....


If you want to read more, see Preaching through the Christian Year B.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Praying toward Pentecost

Begin praying toward Sunday with Pentecost Fire offered by Safiyah Fosua.

Testimony of the Spirit, a Reflection on John 15:25-27; 16:4b-11

Before his death, Jesus prepared his disciples. "I'm going away," he told them, "but, I am sending you the Advocate."

"This helper will testify to the world and to you."

In Preaching through the Christian Year B, the always-excellent Fred Craddock says:
The Spirit will bear witness to Jesus just as the apostles who shared his earthly life bear witness.... The church is not left with only the promptings of the Spirit, opening wide the door to ... all sorts of nonverifiable claims by inspired speakers. Neither is it the case that the church is left with just the reports of men of antiquity. Rather, the church has both the Spirit and the tradition, and the gospel is located where these two intersect.


The Spirit came to the original disiples and continues to come to disciples. We are left with this reassurance and the implied problem of discerning which spirits come from Christ.

Helps for Pentecost

The UMC offers several helps for Planning Worship on Pentecost.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Big and Little Trees, a Reflection on Psalm 1

I'm living now in a place with lots of rain, thus, lots of trees, big trees. It's quite a contrast from where I grew up, a place without much rain, not many trees, and the trees we had, even those decades old, were short and sparse.

Driving down the highway, you could easily tell where the creeks were because you would see that curving line of trees.

I'm thinking about those trees and the trees I see now when I read how Psalm 1 describes the benefit of God's instruction. "They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper."

Like water for trees, God's law protects and enriches us.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Believing is Knowing, a Reflection on 1 John 5:9-13

We don't have to wait until after we die for eternal life to begin. Eternal life promises more than by-and-by. Eternal life begins now. Here.

The first witnesses saw this promise fulfilled in the Son.

We are asked to share this eternal life. We are asked to know that we share this eternal life.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Sent into the World, a Reflection on John 17:6-19

Kate Huey writes the commentary of this week's Weekly Seeds.

As she imagines what it was like for those disciples sitting around Jesus hearing him give them assurances and instructions, she ponders the question that is still applicable to disciples: What are your top priorities? Does your way of life contradict or express those priorities?

I am struck by those questions (and the rest of her article--go read it for yourself). He has said that we are in the world but that we don't belong to it. The world will hate us for that, but it is to that same world we are being sent.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

40 days of prayer

The UMC Young Clergy is offering 40 days of Prayer.

Don't Get Stuck, a Reflection on Luke 24:44-53

The Gospel reading on the 3rd Sunday of Easter this year was Luke 24:36b-48. Here's what I offered for that reading:
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."


For Ascension, the lectionary adds verses 49-53.

Commission--I am sending upon you what my Father promised. Stay here in this city until that power comes.

While they are waiting, they gather in the temple.

I'm thinking that many of us Christians have gotten stuck in that period between Ascension and Pentecost. We have known the presence of Christ. We have heard and believed the promised made to us. We're expecting something great to come among us. We are gathered together in great joy to continue our worship of the Lord. We love church and we love the Lord and we love each other. But....

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Power to the Church, a Reflection on Ephesians 1:15-23

"I pray that God will send you the Spirit," Paul writes to the Ephesians.

Here's what the Spirit does for the church: enlightens the eyes of your heart
--that is, helps you to catch on to what God intends for you to be doing and what God has already done for you.

To these early Christians as they began to form congregations and missions, he is emphasizing power and what power is to be used for.

To these Christians adjusting to their life after the crucifixion of Jesus, he writes of the power available to them through God. God put this power to work in Christ and has made him the head of the church. The church is the body of Christ, "the fullness of him who fills all in all."

As I regularly do, I have been reading Boring & Craddock's People's New Testament Commentary. And, as I regularly am, I am glad that I do. For example,here's their discussion of the phrase, "glorious inheritance":

The phrase refers to God's inheritance, not the believers'. In Old Testament theology, Israel as God's chosen people is often called God's inheritance (Deut 4:20; 9:26, 29; 2 Sam 21:3; 1 Kings 8:51, 53; Ps 28:9; 33:12; 68:9; 78:62, 71; 94:14; 106:5, 4-; Isa 19:25; 47:6; 63:17; Jer 10:16; 51:19). For the author of Ephesians, to be in the church is to be incorporated into the continuing people of God, Israel (2:11-12).

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Successor, a Reflection on Acts 1:15-17, 21-26

Some of the readings I have listed for this week are preparing us for the Ascension of the Lord; others, including today's, are in the lectionary for the seventh Sunday of Easter.

During Eastertide, the seven weeks after Easter, we have been focusing on the early church during the period after the first Easter. The readings from Acts have told of unlimited sharing of resources among the believers (4:32-35), a call for repentance (3:12-19), a pushback against religious leaders (4:5-12), acceptance of an outsider (8:26-40), and acceptance of a lot more outsiders (Acts 10:44-48).

This week's reading from Acts goes back to the first chapter soon after Jesus had told the disciples that they would receive power when the Holy Spirit came upon them. And he was lifted up. Heavenly messengers told them that he was to return.

In order for the church (yes, I realize that it wasn't called that yet)to continue, they are going to have to tell what Jesus had done and they're going to have to do the work he was doing.

Witnesses are essential to knowing what has happened and then telling about it. In that the church continues to live, continues to do the work that it was created to do. The question that the Ethiopian convert asked Peter remains a good question, "How can I understand what the scripture says unless someone is willing to explain it." I would add, "or live by its teachings right in front of me."

Matthias is chosen to replace Judas. The team is complete, again.

Yet, I am troubled that we never hear any more about Matthias. We're left to wonder whether he did a good job preaching and healing and teaching or not. Or, maybe, I should be reassured by the omission of Matthias success or lack of it. After all, the job did get done even if we don't know all the details of who did what work or how well.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Departure, Acts 1:1-11

He was a man who taught and worked and died. He appeared to travelers and disciples. We don't experience him in the way that they did. Yet, we continue to experience him. In the Christian calendar, we mark the 40th day after Easter as the day of the Ascension of the Lord.

They had listened to his teaching. They had asked him when things would be the way they wanted them to be.

He told them that the Holy Spirit would visit them and bestow power upon them.

He vanished from their sight.

But not from their lives.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

What Disciples Do, a Reflection on 1 John 5:3-6

"For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, for whatever is born of God conquers the word. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith" (1 John 5:3-5).

Love is obeying commandments. Following commandments is the victory that conquers the world. We aren't talking Alexander the Great kind of conquering. We talking Christ conquering.

I've been thinking about these verses from 1 John, and I've been reading about the ministry focus of the UMC for the next quadrennium. Here's an excerpt from Four Areas of Ministry Focus.
The Four Areas of Focus express the vision and yearnings of the people of The United Methodist Church. Over the next quadrennium, the church will seek to focus the work of making disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world around these areas of ministry:

* Combating the diseases of poverty by improving health globally.
* Creating new places for new people and revitalizing existing congregations.
* Developing principled Christian leaders for the church and the world.
* Engaging in ministry with the poor.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Chocolate and Spam

Feeling worried about bad economic times? According to this article, you may well be buying tanning lotion, chocolate, spam, and cheaper wine.

Read more about what is Hot in recession.

Looking Words up in a Greek Dictionary, Reflection on 1 John 5:1-2

Vocabulary Drill: believe, born, love, know, commandments.

believe, pisteuo, believe (in), have faith (in), have confidence (in), entrust.

born, passive voice of gennao, be fathered by, borne by, having been conceived by.

love, agapao, love, proof of love, placing first in one's affections.

know, ginosko, know, have knowledge of, learn, understand, perceive, discern, recognize.

commandments,plural of entole, commandment, order, instruction

Source: The Greek New Testament, 3rd ed., ed. by (among others) Kurt Aland

Friday, May 15, 2009

Make a Joyful Noise, Reflection on Psalm 98

I'm reading Psalm 48 with its call to praise the Lord, for the whole world to praise the Lord.

And I thought about those worshipers. How does having God in their lives change those lives?

Robert Putnam has written a book about how religion is shaping our lives ("our" being American because that's what I am). Here's a review of it by Michael Gerson in the New Republic.

Gerson writes:
Putnam asserts, "religious Americans are nicer, happier and better citizens." They are more generous with their time and money, not only in giving to religious causes but to secular ones. They join more voluntary associations, attend more public meetings, even let people cut in line in front of them more readily. Religious Americans are three to four times more socially engaged than the unaffiliated. Ned Flanders is a better neighbor.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Can anyone withhold baptism? Reflection on Acts 10:47-48

In this passage from Acts, baptism is preceded by the receiving of the Holy Spirit. But, in Acts 8:14-24, the Samaritans were baptized before receiving the Holy Spirit.

I don't think that which came first is as important to Luke as that they both do, and, even more important, that they both come to people that the rest of us might not have thought likely or even worthy.

To read the United Methodist understanding of baptism, look at Overview.

Here are a couple of excerpts:
We also believe that in baptism God initiates a covenant with us, announced with the words, “The Holy Spirit works within you, that being born through water and the Spirit, you may be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ.” This is followed by the sign-act of laying hands on the head, or the signing of the cross on the forehead with oil. The word covenant is a biblical word describing God’s initiative in choosing Israel to be a people with a special mission in the world, and Israel’s response in a life of faithfulness. The baptismal covenant calls us to a similar vocation.
From the earliest times, children and infants were baptized and included in the church. As scriptural authority for this ancient tradition, some scholars cite Jesus’ words, “Let the little children come to me…for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs” (Mark 10:14). However, a more consistent argument is that baptism, as a means of grace, signifies God’s initiative in the process of salvation. John Wesley preached “prevenient grace,” the grace that works in our lives before we are aware of it, bringing us to faith. The baptism of children and their inclusion in the church before they can respond with their own confirmation of faith is a vivid and compelling witness to prevenient grace.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Astonishment about the other recipients, Reflection on Acts 10:44-4

In Acts 9, Paul learned that Jews could be Christians. In Acts 8, last week's lesson, Philip learned that Gentiles could be Christians.

In Acts 10, Peter, too, learned that Gentiles could be Christians. A messenger from God came to Cornelius, a Roman centurion. A Gentile, an enforcer of the occupation of Israel. Prompted by the Spirit, Peter was willing to break the law and eat with him.

In this week's passage, Peter's sermon to Gentiles is interrupted. We are told that the Holy Spirit fell on all who were listening to him.

All. The ones who had already belonged. And the ones who had not. The old-timers were astounded that the newbys would be included.

How does your congregation react to the notion that the Holy Spirit may be reaching out to people who were raised with different beliefs from yours? Or, how would they react to the notion that the Holy Spirit speaks?

In Acts 2, The Holy Spirit fell on Jews from all lands (We'll read about this week after next). In Acts 8, the Holy Spirit fell on Samaritans (not-quite insiders but not completely different, either).

In this week's reading from Acts 10, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. The insiders were astounded that outsiders were recipients.

Questions: Wouldn't the Holy Spirit fallen on them whether they had heard the word or not? Or, is hearing the word necessary for someone to be able to recognize the presence of the Holy Spirit? How did the believers know that the Holy Spirit had been poured out on them--that is, was proof necessary?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

First Anniversary

I began Sunday's Child one year ago today. Here is one of the postings that I made that day:

Psalms for when you have been treated poorly

When we have been mistreated by other people, we can turn to the psalms for help in expressing our pain. Here's a listing of some of the psalms of lament. I've included the opening verse of some of them, but don't stop with the first verse.

3, O Lord, how many are my foes! Many are rising against me.
4, Answer me when I call, O God of my right! You gave me room when I was in distress. Be gracious to me, and hear my prayer.
7, O Lord my God, in you I take refuge; save me from all my pursuers, and deliver me.
31, In you, O Lord, I seek refuge; do not let me ever be put to shame; in your righteousness deliver me.
35, Contend, O Lord, with those who contend with me; fight against those who fight against me!
37, Do not fret because of the wicked; do not be envious of wrongdoers.
43, Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause against an ungodly people; from those who are deceitful and unjust deliver me!
54, Save me, O God, by your name, and vindicate me by your might!
56, 69, 70, 71, 140, 142

Reflection on John 15

During Lent and through Eastertide, I have been reading the essays in Bread and Wine. Here's an excerpt from John Howard Yoder that discusses the love of Christ:
Christians whose loyalty to the Prince of Peace puts the out of step with today's nationalistic world, because they are willing to love their nation's friends but not to hate their nation's enemies, are not unrealistic dreamers who think that by their objections they will end all wars. On the contrary, it is the soldiers who think they can put an end to wars by preparing for just one more.
Christians love their enemies because God does so, and commands his followers to do so. That is the only reason, and that is enough.
No one created in God's image and for whom Christ died can be for me an enemy, whose life I am willing to threaten or to take, unless I am more devoted to something else--to a political theory, to a nation, to the defense of certain privileges, or to my own personal welfare--than I am to God's cause: his loving invasion of this world in his prophets, his Son, and his church.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Love Them as I Have Loved You, Reflection on John 15:9-17

"This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you."

Michaella Bruezella points out in Sojourner's Commentary the challenge in this command:

Indeed, our hardest task is not loving one another, but doing so as Jesus did—recognizing each person’s ability to receive God’s grace, and then serve as its ambassador to the world.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

How we know that we abide in God, Reflection on 1 John 4:7-21

If the author of this epistle were writing to your congregation today, would he need to include this section? Does your congregation need to be reminded to love? to love each other? to love our brothers and sisters? to love people we don't even know? And which is harder for us, anyway, to love people we have to be around all the time or people that we don't?

Consider for a while today what verse 7 means to you. How does loving someone help you to know God? Or, how does knowing God help you to love someone?

The Father has sent his Son to save the world, verse 14. The world. God hasn't sent the Son to take us away from the world, to live separately from it, but to save it.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

All the Ends of the Earth Shall Remember, a Reflection on Psalm 22:25-31

I'm more familiar with the opening verse of this Psalm, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" The lament continues in the next verse, "O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night and find no rest." And because I am old, I remember when our communion liturgy quoted from verse 6, "But I am a worm, and not human; scorned by others, and despised by the people."

This psalm is read on Good Friday because it contains phrases that are remembered in the gospel accounts of the trial and crucifixion. See 7-8 and 14-18.

The mood shifts in verse 22 from lament to assurance, "I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you."

The portion of the psalm that we are reading this week is the fulfillment of that vow--both parts of it, the praise and that the praise is not silent but before the congregation.

Philip didn't keep his gratefulness to God just between himself and God. I'm assuming that neither did the Ethiopian keep his rejoicing private.

The people that hear their praise directly will benefit from knowing about God. But not only the first hearers. They will tell what they have heard. And those hearers will tell. And so today, we continue to praise God and to praise aloud and widely.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Who Is Eligible for Baptism? a Reflection on Acts 8:36-40

He is not like them. He's from a different place. He lives a different life. But, he asks "What is to prevent me from being baptized?"

Philip sees no reason why not.

This spring, Annual Conferences of the United Methodist Church will be voting on an amendment to the membership paragraph.

Some oppose the change; see Inclusiveness of the Church.

Some favor it; see The Kindred Connection.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Ready Response, a Reflection on Acts 8:32-35

The Ethiopian had been reading from Isaiah (53:7-8), a passage first heard by a weak nation in tribulation caused by a powerful invader, a passage about suffering. Who is the Ethiopian talking about--himself or somebody else?

Philip responded by telling him about Jesus.

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

Lectio Divina: Psalm 22:31 Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord, and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

A guide is needed, Reflection on Acts 8:26-31

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some points to consider:

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

May Sunday School Lessons

The Mississippi Advocate has the May Sunday School lessons. Go to page 4.

Fruitless, A Reflection on John 15:6-8

Continuing the metaphor of the vine, Jesus has just said that those who abide in him will bear much fruit. He then points out what happens to branches that do not bear fruit.

He is reminding us of the futility of the church trying to make it without adhering to the life and commands of Christ.

We do not always follow Christ. Bryan Hooper's Overstatement gives us a current example: A Sign of the Church's Failure.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Pruning, A Reflection on John 15:1-5

Go back and read Isaiah 5: The farmer worked very hard to make things right for that vineyard. Yet, the vineyard was a disappointment. The farmer responded.

Here in John's Gospel, the vineyard again is used as a metaphor: The branches that don't produce fruit are removed from the vine. The branches that do produce fruit are pruned so that they will produce more.

Consider the effect on your community from what your church congregation is doing.
Would that community be better or worse off if your congregation were pruned from the vine?
If the answer is "better off," then what further pruning would make the effect even better?

BTW, according to the notes in the New Interpreter's Study Bible, the other "I am" sayings include: bread of life, (6:35, 48, 51; light of the world (8:12; 9:5); gate for the sheep (10:7, 9); good shepherd (10:11, 14); resurrection and the life (11:25-26); the way, and the truth, and the life (14:6).

Sunday, May 3, 2009

It's time to move, Reflection on Psalm 23

Gary Sims, when he used to write the Reflections each week for First United Methodist, Albuquerque, asked these questions:
Do you dwell in the house of the Lord?
If not, when are you planning to move in?
Will it be after you take care of a few things in your life?
Do you have an agenda or plan that you want to follow before turning your life over to God?
Are you putting God's goodness and mercy on hold?
Are you counting your blessings to see if your cup is overflowing?
Are you looking for a bigger cup?
Do you see that now is the time to move into God's house so that these promises of life can begin?

Saturday, May 2, 2009

How the church should respond to the flu outbreak

The United Methodist Church recommends a response to flu outbreak.

By Whose Authority? a Reflection on Acts 4:5-12

Peter, a religious man, has been acted on his religious training and experience, is now called to account by religious authorities.

"Who gave you the authority to do this?"

Holly Hearon asks:
When have you experienced a life-giving event in your life that has been viewed with suspicion by others? When have you found yourself suspicious of what someone else has identified as a life-giving event? What criteria should be used in assessing such moments?

Faith in Flux

A New York Times Op Ed writer reports on the findings of the Pew Study that people raised by nonreligious parents have become affiliated with organized religion. Read why in Defecting to Faith

To read the Pew Study, go to Faith in Flux.

Friday, May 1, 2009

One Flock, One Shepherd, a Reflection on John 10:16-18

Who is the other for us? Who are these sheep that Jesus cares for that aren't in our fold? People of our community who have a different level of income or ethnicity or religious affiliation? People in another country? How hard is it for us to imagine that someone different from us in many important ways can also hear Jesus' voice?