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.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Let Us Pray, a Reflection on Psalm 107:1-9, 43

Sometimes we are praying because ritual requires it--a kids' baseball game is about to start, a meeting is ready to begin, we're all sitting around the table to eat. And those prayers though routine can be heartfelt.

But, sometimes we pray because we really, really need God's help, and we really, really know it.

Psalm 107 is a reminder of how God has cared for a wayward people before--and often.

When our ancestors were wandering, literally wandering, lost and hungry, God showed them the way to go. When they were in trouble, God rescued them.

In our own wildernesses--actual and metaphoric, we can continue to ask God for comfort and direction.

Lectio Divina: Psalm 107:43

Friday, July 30, 2010

Consider the steadfast love of the Lord, a reflection on Psalm 107:1-9, 43

in this week's passage from Hosea, God reflects on all the people have received and how they behaved anyway. "I did everything for them, and now they turn away from me," God said. Yet, God did not give up on the ungrateful people.

The psalm chosen by the lectionary as a response is the prayer they should have said from the beginning and is a prayer that we can continue to use as a model for our own gratitude to gifts and lessons from God.

Give thank to the Lord.
God is good.
God's steadfast love endures forever.

The psalm uses as an example the exodus--Some wandered in desert wastes, hungry and thirsty. They cried to the Lord and the Lord delivered them from their distress. The later people suffering from the effects of the exile could remember this deliverance and anticipate and then be grateful for their own.

We can continue to use this psalm as a reminder and a model as we suffer through whatever is our kind of exile and suffering, for when hunger and thirst are real or metaphorical, when we need to be shown the straight path throughout the journey we are on.

Let those who are wise give heed to these things,
and consider the steadfast love of the Lord.

God's Compassion on the Undeserving, a Reflection on Hosea 11:1-11

Hosea speaks the words he heard from the Lord. God is visualized as a loving parent of a stubbornly disobedient child. "The more I did for him, the worse he behaved. I taught him how to walk but he walked to places he shouldn't have gone. I loved him, fed him, cradled him in my arms, and now he would rather be with someone else."

Yet, God can not give up this rebellious, ungrateful child. Although the child deserves punishment, God continues to offer compassion.

"They will give up their sins. They will return home."

The first hearers of this message were living at the time that the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Judah were in conflict and the powerful Assyria had successfully attacked Israel taking many of its citizens into exile. Hosea reminded his listeners that the people of Israel had received much from God but had not been appreciative, that their own behavior had been part of the cause of their downfall. He used the image of Egypt to remind them that their actions before had taken them into exile. The reference to Egypt also would remind them that God did not abandon them there but led them home again. But, in that home, they had not behaved very well.

It's an old story but still is a relevant one. We, their descendants, know of the gifts granted to us and also know how we have treated them. We can base our hope on the God that spoke through Hosea, the God of warm and tender compassion, the God who will not come in the wrath we deserve but will welcome us back home.

Lectio Divina: Psalm 107:1-3

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Rich or Poor, a Reflection on Psalm 49:1-12

Jesus told a parable about a rich man who worried about the wrong thing and relied for comfort on the wrong thing. He was possessed by his possessions--then learned that they had a short shelf life. Jesus reminded his hearers, "So it is with you if you try storing up treasures for yourself but are not rich toward God."

He might have been thinking about Psalm 49 when he told the parable and gave the caution.
Trusting in wealth and boasting of riches won't save your life.
Nobody lives forever.
Wise people die. Foolish people die.
None of them get to take their wealth with them.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Futility, a Reflection on Ecclesiastes 2:18-23

He has spent his life appraising wisdom and madness and folly. But what he has deduced is that the same fate awaits both the wise man and the fool.

He's talking about intellectual effort, but many have found that the results of physical effort may also be futile. In this week's lesson from Luke, Jesus echoes Ecclesiastes 2:18-19 when he says "One's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions. After all, when you die, you have to leave them behind."

Allen & Williamson in their Preaching the Old Testament suggest questions we might ponder: What is the point of my life? What can we expect of life? What sense can we make of life?

The passage from Luke is a warning for us not to go after the wrong things, but Ecclesiastes says all things are futile, that nothing lasts. I'm grateful to Gene Tucker who wrote about this in Preaching Through the Christian Year C:
So what is the Christian preacher to do with this preacher's work? If this book and the Book of Job were not in our canon, the powerful but also potentially destructive wisdom doctrine that all is fair could go unchallenged. And that voice of challenge--rather than the positive and pious additions or the attribution of the work to Solomon--probably explains why this book is a part of the Jewish and Christian Scriptures. At least some of our ancestors in the faith did not cringe before Koheleth's strong words If the preacher finds it impossible to agree with Koheleth's conclusions about the futility of life, he or she can be sure that there are those in the congregation who at least now and then--if not always--experience such profound futility. Those voices deserve to be expressed and understood, even--and especially--in the context of Christian worship.

Lectio Divina: Psalm 49:11-12

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

"Vanity, vanity, all is vanity," a Reflection on Ecclesiastes 1:12-14

A wise ruler is looking back over the task he had set for himself--to study and to probe with wisdom all that happens under the sun. He concludes that all the effort we expend is pretty useless--that we might as well have spent our time chasing the wind.

It's pretty disconcerting to some people to find the writings of Ecclesiastes in our Bible. We may be more accustomed to reading passages about hope and reward rather than this rather pessimistic collection. Much of it challenges much of what is written in the rest of the Bible. It's not pious. Well, sometimes some of us are in situations that aren't very good. Our troubles may or may not have been our fault, but we are in trouble, anyway. At those times, we can find ourselves reflected in the writings of Ecclesiastes. We aren't the first to know futility. Being in pain does not disallow us from being in God's family.

Lectio Divina: Psalm 49:6-7

Monday, July 26, 2010

Offertory Prayers August 2010

GBOD continues to deliver the full text of each month's offertory prayers via email. You may also find the Offertory Prayers online at

August 1, 2010 -- Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
Gracious God, we have become anesthetized to the amount of greed surrounding our everyday lives. Our identities often seem defined by our possessions and lifestyle. Yet, we are stripped bare of our worldly possessions and seen equally in your holy sight. Release those temporal bonds preventing us from living and giving in ways that honor your name. We prayerfully dedicate these gifts to the work of your eternal home, a place of faith where our souls will truly rest. Amen. (Luke 12:13-21)

August 8, 2010 -- Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
Faithful Father, you ask us to place you first in all that we do. You call us to surrender completely to your will and to be obedient to your word. However, letting go is such a great barrier to overcome. We fool ourselves into the premise of being in control. Lift this barrier! Increase our heart's desire to freely provide for others in our giving and our serving. In the name of your servant son, Jesus, the Christ, we bless these offerings to your glory. Amen. (Luke 12:32-40)

August 15, 2010 -- Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost
God of All, we are so thankful for this opportunity to give. Our joy is tempered by the knowledge that so many of your children suffer in war-ravaged countries and impoverished cities. Multiply these gifts so that those oppressed by injustice may experience your care. Awaken us so that our need to act faithfully against all injustice is reflected in how we speak and how we serve. In your holy name, we pray. Amen. (Psalm 82)

August 22, 2010 -- Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Holy One, we commit these offerings and tithes with prayerful minds and quiet hearts. As we give, we also receive. Like Jeremiah, we know that in the silence of prayer, you will enable us to listen to your commands. We are never too young or too old to seek your presence. This time of prayer wraps us in the comfort of your protection and care. Bless us as we seek to bless others in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. Amen. (Jeremiah 1: 4-10)

August 29, 2010 - Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Generous God, we humbly offer these gifts in response to your Living Word. You remind us that extending radical hospitality has all to do with your love and nothing to do with our social status. If we loved those outcast in our society like we have been loved by you, our world would be a place of true acceptance and abounding joy. May it be so today! In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen. (Luke 14:1, 7-14)

Written by David S. Bell, former Director of Stewardship with GBOD. He currently serves as Vice-President of Stewardship with the United Methodist Foundation of Michigan. You may contact him by visiting

Copyright © 2010 David S. Bell. Any local church, regardless of denominational affiliation, or any United Methodist organization may reprint any or all of these prayers provided that the author is cited.

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When Much is Not Enough, a Reflection on Luke 12:13-21

What makes us feel safe? What is worth worrying about? What is important enough to us to be included in our prayers?

There was Jesus right there in front of him and what he wanted was some support in getting what seemed like to him a fair share of the family money. Well, he may not have realized yet exactly who this Jesus was. What's our excuse for the prayers we make?

One person asked the question, but Jesus gave the answer to the crowd. Yes, we all need to hear the caution, "Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions."

I'm hoping that I can rest on the term "abundance" and that Jesus is giving me an o.k. to pray for a sufficiency of possessions. What does make us feel safe? What is worth worrying about? What do I pray for?

Jesus answered the man that day, as he often did, by telling a parable. A man spent a lot of effort accumulating possessions, so many that he needed more space to put them in (I'm a little concerned here because I am rather constantly complaining about not having enough closet space.) Anyway, the man in the parable was all ready to celebrate having so much stuff when God pointed out that none of the stuff would be available to him for very long, "You're dying tonight. Tomorrow, it'll be your heirs that will be enjoying those things that you were so concerned with."

Jesus said, "You've been worrying about the wrong thing. Instead of focusing on your own financial situation, think about how you can serve God."

Lectio Divina: Psalm 49:1-4

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Do Not Let Anyone Disqualify You, a Reflection on Colossians 2:16-19

Paul is cautioning that Christians don't allow themselves to be distracted by what may look good but is actually peripheral to the essence of what they should be doing, thinking, caring about. Moreover, he says not to pay attention to critics who themselves can't distinguish between shadow and substance--the core of Christianity and the patina we may exhibit instead.

From time to time, faithful Christians can somehow drift to faithfulness in something that call Christianity to someone that whom they call Christ. They, we, need periodically--constantly, even--to examine our beliefs and behavior in light of the actual Christ. As Paul put it:
Do not let anyone disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, dwelling on visions, puffed up without cause by a human way of thinking, and not holding fast to the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows with a growth that is from God.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Be thankful and don't be misled, a Reflection on Colossians 2:6-15

"As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith...." this week's passage begins.

Paul is writing to a congregation that has already received instruction in the way that Christ intends for us to live and has already begun to live that way.

"Be thankful for this way of living," he tells them "and don't be misled by any alternatives."

As a Jew, Paul had a visible reminder of his inclusion in God's covenant people. But, that particular requirement was not necessary for other Christians who were not also Jews. "You have a spiritual circumcision, baptism" he told them.

"When you were baptized," he told them, "you were buried with him, and you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God."

"For in him the whole fulness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fulness in him," Paul said.
Christ is the way that we can see God living in human form and Christ is the way we can see how humans ought to be living.

And for those times that we have already failed to live that way Paul reminds them that God has forgiven them.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Prayer Primer, a Reflection on Psalm 85

I'm looking at this psalm today as a primer on a kind of prayer--a prayer when we want our lives to be different and we admit that we may have had some responsibility in their not being what we would have been, what we want them to be.

1. Remind the Lord, "You have been favorable to us." List some specifics. Of course, the Lord already is quite aware of this. The reminder is really for you.

2. State plainly what you want, "Restore us, Of God of our salvation, and put away your indignation toward us." Probably implicit is that God's indignation will no longer be needed because you intend in the future to act like a person worthy of that salvation you're asking for.

3. State just as plainly how bad things are when you are not right with God. "Will you be angry with us forever?"

4. Now, that you have listed your wants, be ready to hear what God wants, "Let me hear what the Lord will speak."
Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him,
that his glory may dwell in our land.
Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet;
righteousness and peace will kiss each other.
Faithfulness will spring up from the ground,
and righteousness will look down from the sky.

5. Affirm God's gifts and your own promise to be worthy of receiving them "Righteousness will go before him, and will make a path for his steps."

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Unfaithfulness, a Reflection on Hosea 1:2-10

Hosea was speaking at a time of calamities--dangers from outside and disobedience and disloyalty within.

The Lord tells him to marry a prostitute. The Lord tells him what to name the children born to them. We are struck by the names that the Lord deems appropriate: Jezreel--God sows; Lo-ruhamah--Not pitied; Lo-ammi--I am not yours.

If we choose to read this chapter metaphorically (as many commentators do), we can see the history of Israel lived out through the life of Hosea. Israel has been unfaithful. The Lord has punished Israel. Israel feels abandoned.

Yet, disobedience and punishment are not the end of the story of the Lord and Israel. Pity, compassion, and love are continuing characteristics of the Lord. God tells Hosea, "When people say that you are not my people, just tell them you are the children of the living God."

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Save Me, a Reflection on Psalm 138

In Genesis 18, we are told that when Abraham became aware of a disaster, he spoke directly to God, pled with God to protect the righteous from harm.

Abraham's descendants continue to speak to God, asking for protection--and giving thanks for it.

Psalm 138 gives us words for please prayers and for thank you ones.

On the day I called, you answered me....
Though I walk in the midst of trouble,
you preserve me against the wrath of my enemies;
you stretch out your hand,
and your right hand delivers me.
The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me;
your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever.
Do not forsake the work of your hands.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Abraham Remained Standing before the Lord, a Reflection on Genesis 18:20-32

The Lord shares with Abraham what is going to be done to Sodom and Gomorrah. Instead of saying something like, "Well, that's the will of God," Abraham expressed dissent.

We are told "Abraham remained standing before the Lord." And he didn't stand there silently. He began arguing, bargaining. "Suppose there were fifty righteous men in the city; would you destroy them too?" Rather than engage in bargaining by offering a higher number, the Lord agree that fifty would be enough to save the city. Abraham countered by saying forty-five, then forty, thirty, twenty, ten.

Abraham keeps arguing justice; the Lord keeps demonstrating mercy (I've been reading the Wesley Study Bible).

The lectionary has paired this passage with the lesson from Luke about prayer. Jesus told his disciples to be persistent, to ask and to search. He reminded them what Abraham would have already known that we are to continue standing before the Lord, to continue to ask the Lord for care.

(Note: although we are accustomed to assuming the sin of Sodom was homosexuality, Bible scholars point out to us that the text actually presents inhospitality as what they were doing that deserved punishment.)

Monday, July 19, 2010

Ask, Knock, a Reflection on Luke 11:1-13

One of his disciples asked him to teach them how to pray.

The first request in the prayer is "Your kingdom come." I'm wondering now how much that request centers in my own prayers. Or, am I more likely to skip over to the what I need right now part?

Now I'm wondering what the rest of my prayers would be like if I and all those around me lived in a world run according to what God wanted. Would I need to ask for bread? Would I need to remember to ask for only the bread I really needed? If I in every way and in every day acknowledged God as the one in charge, would I still need forgiveness for sins or would I have been able finally to quit sinning?

After giving them the model prayer, Jesus then describes for them what lives ruled by God's rules could be like. We would want to satisfy friends needs rather than be more concerned with our own comfort. And, our friends would be more concerned with answering our needs.

We may have already begun to learn to live in the way God intends. Jesus reminds them of the care they have for their own children. He then says "If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to hose who ask him!"

Then, as the community that is the church, the gifts we have already received and continue to receive from the heavenly Father are the means by which we can assure that our neighbors receive whatver they need.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Provided that, a Reflection on Colossians 1:15-28

Last week's passage from Colossians ended with the reminder that God has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the beloved Son, in whom we have redemption and the forgiveness of sins. Let us recognize that in order to need either redemption or forgiveness, we have been spending some time in the wrong kingdom.

This week's passage says more about the Son of God--the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation, before all things and in him all things hold together.

[Tangent: I'm reading from the NRSV in which all of this is laid out in prose. Other translations present this passage as a hymn. I suppose the difference would affect whether I read this as Paul's original ideas or Paul's reminding the Colossians of something of which they were quite aware.]

In any case, we who came after them may read these lines as references to the Trinity. I had, anyway. Then, today, I read what was to me a new idea in Ronald Allen & Clark Williamson's Preaching the Letters without Dismissing the Law:
An example of a wisdom hymn or saying in Judaism regarding Woman Wisdom read, "She is a reflection of eternal light, a spotless mirror of the working of God, and an image of his goodness" (Wisdom 7:26); and Wisdom herself claims, "Before the ages, in the beginning, he created me" (Sirach 24:9)...The church expressed its faith in the language of Israel's Scriptures.

According to Allen & Williamson, the term translated as "image" is in Greek, "eikon" connotes agency. Christ is the way that an invisible God can be disclosed to us. Further, as the firstborn, Christ "reveals not only God to us but humankind as well..." (15-21)

Back to the "in him all things hold together": the reconciliation came through the blood of his cross. We have been made holy and blameless and irreproachable (22).

Yet, we need to live up to the image that Christ provides for us. Paul adds "provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you have heard...." (23).

Paul is writing to an ancient congregation reassuring them and warning them, and his words still apply to us. Our congregation have their origin in the gospel, we are living out the image of God in our communities, we are held together by Christ, and we also need to be reminded that if our congregation begins to neglect our faith's requirements, then we will inevitably start to dissolve. Shifting from Christ to anything else would change what we would do, what we would be capable of doing.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Gratitude not Boastfulness, a Reflection on Psalm 52

Amos has chastised the rich and powerful who take advantage of the poor. "The time is surely coming," the Lord God had told him, "when I will turn this extravagant display into a time of mourning."

Psalm 52 is the lectionary response to that passage.

The psalm addresses the powerful, "Why do you boast of the mischief you have done against the godly? God will see that you pay for what you have done."

And those who have been harmed but remained faithful to God will see the downfall of the mighty ones: "See, the one who would not take refuge in God, but trusted in abundant riches, and sought refuge in wealth!"

Rich sure seems good to us much of the time, but the Psalms remind us that being rich is not satisfactory as a total goal. For one thing, it doesn't last. For another, seeking that goal at the expense of all others results in our loss of everything important.

Rather, than trust money, this Psalm reminds us to trust in God forever and forever and to thank God--publicly.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Misuse of the Poor, a Reflection on Amos 8:1-12

Long ago, prophets of the Lord told the people to refrain from harming the poor and the inevitable consequences when they did.

The more things change...

A contemporary example is this warning from HUD on Predatory Lending

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Membership Requirements. a Reflection on Psalm 15

This psalm is given to us in the words of David but the concerns are ours as well.

It begins with the question, "Lord, who is welcome in your house?"

The answer given:
the one who lives without blame
who does what is right, who has never done wrong to anyone
who stands by his oath even if doing so hurts him
who has never lent money at interest
who has accepted a bribe.

I'm trying to imagine this list posted at the door of a church--or synagogue or mosque. How many of us would read that list and then go on in?

On the other hand, why is it so much easier for so many of us to imagine a quite different list of who should be allowed in our congregation? Furthermore, why is it so much easier for some of us Christians to think that our Jewish ancestors cared only about dietary restrictions?

Although I'm having a hard time imagining that anyone could live up to the requirements of Psalm 15 completely, I can recognize that I need to try. I need to live and speak in a way that does not harm those around me. I need to remember that any assets I am in possession of are being held by me in trust for the Lord. If I say I'll do something--and it's something I ought to do, then I should do it.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

After Lunch, a Reflection on Genesis 18:9-10a

Abraham serves them the food prepared for them. They ask him where his wife Sarah is. He doesn't seem surprised that strangers know the name of his wife and responds that she is in the tent.

Then one of the visitors tells him that Sarah will give birth to a son within a year.

If we keep reading, we learn that Sarah is listening and her response is laughter.

Two years ago, the lectionary also included passages about Abraham and Sarah. Here is a repeat from June 2008:
Until this point in the Abraham and Sarah saga, we have only two recorded speeches by him to her. On their way to Egypt, Abraham had said, "You are so beautiful that the Egyptians will kill me in order to obtain you. Let's spare them the effort. Say you are my sister; that should protect me." Sarah did as her husband told her. The Pharaoh took her, but the Lord rescued her and returned her to Abraham (Gen 12:10-20).

The next conversation between them in when the childless Sarai tries to solve her problem by having Abram impregnate her servant Hagar. We aren't told what he said--only that he listened to his wife. When Hagar conceived, Sarai concluded that she was contemptuous of her and complained to Abram. He responded by telling her, "She's your slave; do what you want with her," (Gen 16:1-6).

In the meantime, God has spoken to Abram several times. For example, "Go. You're going to have a lot of descendants. I'm going to give land to your offspring," (Gen 12:1-7; 13:14-17; and 15:1-6). When Abram was ninety-nine God told him once again that he was to be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. He changed his name to Abraham and his wife's to Sarah, and promised that a child was to be born to Sarah (Gen 17:1-22).

The Bible is silent on how much of this promise was communicated to Sarah. When she does overhear the messenger telling her husband that she is to become pregnant, Sarah laughs. Well, why not? She's right that it's unusual for a 100-year old man and a 90-year old woman to conceive a child.

How do we react when God lays out opportunities for us? Do we let our past failures determine our future efforts?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Hospitality, a Reflection on Genesis 18:1-8

A long time ago in a place far away, Abraham had been made promises. The Lord had come to him where he was and told him to leave his home and family and go to another place that would be identified for him later. The Lord promised him, "I will make you a great nation...."

Abraham made the move. A long time has passed. He's 99 years old. His wife Sarah who is 90 has not had a child, yet.

One day while Abraham is sitting at the entrance of his tent, he looks up and sees three visitors. He immediately offers them hospitality. He tells his wife Sarah to make some cakes with choice flour and he slaughters a tender calf so that they might have a good meal.

We have a picture of an obedient servant to the Lord. When he knows that it is the Lord speaking, he obeys. Moreover, when he doesn't recognize the Lord, he still is an hospitable as if he knew who his guests were.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Mary and Martha, a Reflection on Luke 10:38-42

I was amazed when as an adult I learned that a traditional interpretation of the roles of Mary and Martha was that Martha depicted service and Mary contemplation. Therefore, whereas good works are good, they aren't as good as listening.

Mary had been my model for a different reason. I had interpreted the distinction between their actions as doing unseen work back in the kitchen or getting to sit in the room where people are discussing important things. I really liked the idea that Jesus thought this was the better part.

Shelly Cochran, in The Pastor's Underground Guide to the Revised Common Lectionary stresses that we shouldn't use it to make women like Martha fell inferior to others. I concur with her and can say that I have heard words of discomfort about this passage from several women whose call has been to work in the kitchen so the other church folks--including a happy-to-be-fed me and enjoy good meals and companionship.

A further point--is Jesus saying silent listening is the only best thing a follower can do? No, go back and read about the good Samaritan again.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Prayer for Wisdom and Strength, a Reflection on Colossians 1:7-14

Paul and Timothy (or perhaps other apostles writing in their names) give words to prayers of gratitude and of hope for the Colossians. As we read the prayer, we can think about our own congregations--how we originated, what gifts we exhibit and share, and what problems we face.

Paul prays that they will be filled with the knowledge of God' will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And he adds to this request the reason for it--so that they may lead lives worthy of the Lord, so that they may bear fruit in every good work.

But, he explicitly includes the recognition that wisdom and work will not preclude pain. Not preclude but means to overcome.

God has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of Christ in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

A Prayer of Thanksgiving, a Reflection on Colossians 1:1-6

When Paul wrote to the Colossians, he told them that he had been praying prayers of thanksgiving for what he had heard about them. He said that he was thankful for their faith in Christ and for the love they had for the ones known as saints. He told them that they had heard the gospel and that what they had heard had changed them and through them was changing others.
3In our prayers for you we always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, 4for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, 5because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. You have heard of this hope before in the word of the truth, the gospel 6that has come to you. Just as it is bearing fruit and growing in the whole world, so it has been bearing fruit among yourselves from the day you heard it and truly comprehended the grace of God.

What they have heard, they are living out. How about your congregation? Could Paul write this letter to you?

Friday, July 9, 2010

Standards of Judgment, a Reflection on Psalm 82

One troubling aspect in this psalm is that God will judge our actions.

Something else troubling is the actions that we are going to be accountable for. God is going to judge whether we
give justice to the weak and the orphan
maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute
rescue the weak and the needy
deliver them from the hand of the wicked.

We need to review this checklist as we determine how our church congregation should be involved with our neighborhoods and we need to review it as we determine what each of us personally is called to do.

How far does this Bible stuff go? Should we also think about this list as we make decisions on who to vote for?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Plumb Line and Outside Agitator, a Reflection on Amos:7-17

repeat from 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?....

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?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

It's Not That We Don't Know What We're Supposed to Do, a Reflection on Deuteronomy 30:9-14 and Psalm 25:1-10

These are the words that Moses told the people: "You'll be prosperous. God will see to that. You'll be prosperous in everything--in your family and in your work. God will be delighted to give you gifts just as God was delighted to give gifts to the people before you."

But, to enjoy these gifts, to be able to use them, the people needed instructions. And God had provided the necessary instructions for them. Now it's up to the people to follow those instructions.

Scholars tell us that our version of the book of Deuteronomy is the result of editing after the Babylonian exile. In their opportunity to start over, they could reflect on their ancestors' return to the land after their escape from Egypt--and on what had gone wrong for them--and, consequently, on how to do it right this time.

We continue in the tradition of not getting it exactly right. Let us pray the words of Psalm 25:
Make me to know your ways, O Lord;
teach me your paths....
Be mindful of your mercy, O Lord, and of your steadfast love.
for they have been from of old.
Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions;
according to your steadfast love remember me,
for your goodness' sake, O Lord!
Good and upright is the Lord;
therefore he instructs sinners in the way.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

When you're in a ditch, a Reflection on Luke 10:29-37

The lawyer asks for more clarification. He knows that he is supposed to love his neighbor but asks who is his neighbor.

When Jesus doesn't answer a question with a question, he often answers with a parable (in effect, a longer form of a question). Here, he responds with what we are accustomed to call the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

You remember it--a traveller is attacked by robbers, left half dead on the road. Two different respectable religious professionals saw him but crossed over to the other side of the road to avoid him. Yet, a foreigner stopped to help him and helped him with great generosity.

Jesus asked the lawyer, "Which of these three is the neighbor?" The lawyer knew the right answer. Jesus told him to "go and do likewise."

We might translate Jesus' instruction to mean that if he (or we) came across someone in great need, he was supposed to offer help. But, read Jesus' question again, "Which of these three is the neighbor?" That is, from whom are we willing to accept help?

Can we get our heads around the idea that a foreigner of what seems to be us dubious religious outlook would be willing to do something that people we have always respected think is too difficult to do?

Monday, July 5, 2010

Love God and Neighbor, a Reflection on Luke 10:25-28

Jesus had just prayed "All things have been handed over to me by my Father" and "No one knows who the Father is except the Son chooses to reveal him." (10:21-24).

Then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. From the text, I'm not sure whether he has walked in among the group of seventy that have just returned joyously from their mission or whether we are being told about a totally different occurrence.

In either case, this expert asks a provocative question--we're assuming provocation over sincerity since Luke says he asked it to test Jesus. "What must I do to inherit eternal life?"

Tangent: Since I haven't bothered to look it up in my Greek texts, I don't know what the connotations of the word "inherit" is. I think I have usually read this question as if he asked what he had to do to deserve or merit eternal life.

If the expert had asked the question to see if Jesus could get the answer right, then I think he would have been reassured on that point anyway. Jesus told him that since the answer to his question was in the Bible, he could recite it himself.

And he could and he did, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your strength and with all your mind and your neighbor as yourself." (Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18)

He had asked about how to inherit eternal life and Jesus responded by asking him what the Bible said. He responded to Jesus' questions about the law by quoting passages about loving God and loving neighbor.

Leaving aside the concern about whether believing or doing is more important--or even if we can do one of those without the other--the lawyer answered the question about eternal life by talking about something that begins immediately. Eternal life does not have to wait until after we die. It can be now.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Independence Day, a Reflection on John 8:31-36

We in America celebrate today as our Independence Day, a remembrance and celebration of our ability to decide what our laws would be, to decide who would make those laws. Our founders declared us free. That is, our laws would no longer be decided by the British Parliament but rather right here on our side of the ocean.

But, that's not all there is to freedom--whether the legislature is local or distant.

Jesus says, "If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free."

He's not talking about who decides how much taxes somebody pays on what. He's talking about being free from the power of sin. "It's not your ancestry that determines your freedom," Jesus said. "If the Son makes you free, you will be freed indeed."

Saturday, July 3, 2010

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.

Friday, July 2, 2010

You Reap What You Sow, a Reflection on Galatians 6:1-6, 7-16

Tom Wright in his Paul for Everyone/Galatians and Thessalonians is a useful resource for this month's lectionary epistles in Galatians and this month's uniform Sunday School lessons from Galatians. (When N.T. Wright uses the name Tom, I assume he is intending to be more accessible. So, do paid Christians read N.T. and real people read Tom?)

Anyway, in his interpretation of the references to the harvest if you sow in flesh or in spirit (8), he says if you sow barley in your field, you will expect barley to grow there, and if you sow nettles, you won't be surprised to see nettles at harvest:
God has likewise descreed that those who "sow" behaviour [he's British] which relates to the flesh will reap the appropriate result which is ultimately death; and that those who sow to the spirit will reap eternal life, the life of the new age that has already broken in, in Christ, and will one day by complete.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Another Great Thanksgiving for Independence Day

The Open Source Liturgy Project Wiki (hosted by GBOD) offers a Great Thanksgiving for Independence Day written Nathan Decker and Jon Woodburn.

Lectionary Prayers for July 4, 2010

The Vanderbilt Divinity Library offers Prayers related to the Lectionary.

Contrasts of Need and Power, a Reflection on 2 Kings 5:1-14

Ironies: Naaman and the slave girl.

Naaman has power and has used it with success. He can defeat armies but he can't do anything about the disease that has afflicted him.

The young girl was captured in one of those wars that Naaman was so good at winning. She is now a slave to his wife. But, she knows how he can be cured.

Other surprising elements in the story.
Although she is being held captive by the enemies of her people, the young girl wants to help Naaman. She tells his wife that the prophet in Samaria can heal him. The commander's wife listens to the young girl.

The wife listens. And she passes on the information to her husband. He tells the king what the young girl has suggested. The king tells him to do as the captive girl has recommended and sends a letter to the foreign king and a generous compensation for the cure.

Another irony: The king of Israel doesn't have any idea who the healer is. The young girl knows more than the king.

However, when Elisha hears about his king's distress about not being able to help Naaman, he steps up. He tells the king to send the man in need to him.

Naaman came with his horses and chariots. But, he didn't get the welcome or advice that he thought his status required. Elisha didn't even bother to meet him personally, but, rather sent a servant out to give his advice. Naaman had not minded getting advice from his wife's servant but resented being met by Elisha's.

Further, he didn't like the prescription. Elisha had told him to go wash in the waters of the Jordan. Naaman didn't see how Israel's waters could be superior to Aram's.

Again, a servant intervened. One of Naaman's servants tells him to get over himself. He does. He becomes well again.

Questions begged by text:
1. Who can you trust?
2. Who are you willing to help?
3. How does your life change after you have been helped?