It took a year to read the Bible, then almost 9 months to read the Apocrypha. Now, I'm going to try to offer reflections on the Narrative Lectionary. But, I won't be posting daily--at least, for a while.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Distress, a Reflection on Lamentations 1:1-6

The lectionary interrupts the readings from Jeremiah for this selection from Lamentations. Interrupts is too strong a word because this reading like the ones from Jeremiah is dealing with the same situation--the invasion of the capital city by the powerful enemy army.

Grief at what has been lost--status, friendship, and family. Now, loneliness, abandonment, sorrow.

They can remember the celebrations of the past, but now they are being ruled by their enemies.

For modern readers who live in countries that have been attacked, we can read these words as reminder of the losses we had and how we felt. And we can read them as a model for how we can admit our own wrongdoing.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Fret Not Thyself Because of Evildoers, a Reflection on Psalm 37:1-9

Yes, bad things do happen, and, yes, bad people exist. Even if we do what we're supposed to do, we may still have to face the consequences of somebody else's doing what we don't want them to do.

This psalm counsels us on how to get through those bad times.

First, Don't let yourself be tied up in reacting to the person who is trying to hurt you.

After all, they aren't going to be able to sustain themselves forever.

Second, Instead of paying a lot of attention to the person who is trying to upset you, turn that attention to what does last, the Lord.

Paying attention to the Lord, trusting the Lord, will change us.

Vindication may take a while, but leave it up to the Lord.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Waiting, a Reflection on Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4

"O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen?"

The prophet laments that he sees destruction and violence all around him. The law is not protecting the righteous from the wicked. And he wants to know why the Lord isn't fixing things right now.

We continue to see injustice. We turn to God both because we think that God would not approve of anyone causing injustice and because we think that God has the power and the willingness to change the situation.

So, we have this reading from Habakkuk that gives us permission to complain, to cry out, and to question God, that gives us words that were said long ago for a specific situation but fit our own specific troubles in our lives.

Habakkuk was willing to wait for an answer and did receive one. The Lord told him to tell others that they, too, would have a vision, but that they too should be prepared to wait.

Good news or hard message? The proud do not see the need for God's help. The righteous, however, live their lives faithfully.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Offertory Prayers, October 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

October 3, 2010 -- Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Holy One, you guide our lives with truth and love. You invite us to accept you with joy. Yet challenges to live as your disciples come with this acceptance. Servant leadership can seem tedious. We struggle to balance our desire to serve ourselves first and your call to serve others first. We prayerfully present these tithes and offerings. May they symbolize our renewed commitment to holding you as the guiding leader of our lives. In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen. (Luke 17:5-10.)

October 10, 2010 -- Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost
God of healing, we thankfully acknowledge your infinite ability to reach out to those in need. You intimately know our personal storms and private challenges. You sent your Holy Son to restore and to mend our broken faith. We entrust these gifts to your care so that your reconciling love may be a beacon of hope for those in despair. In your Holy Name, we pray. Amen. (Luke 15:1-10)

October 17, 2010 -- Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost
Gracious God, as described in the Book of Jeremiah, you pour out your new covenant for your people. We rejoice in unison by sharing the messages you have written on our hearts. Salvation in Jesus Christ is the prosperity we need to proclaim to those searching for your mercy and love. Multiply these gifts so that ministries are provided with your people today who seek to be in a faithful relationship with you. Amen. (Jeremiah 31:27-34.)

October 24, 2010 -- Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost
Caring God, we humble ourselves today by returning the bounty you first shared with us back to your care. Without pretension or self-righteousness, we resolve to be slow to judge and ready to provide aid. We strive to increase our commitment to being thoughtful, generous people. Help us to be unassuming in our service, but bold in our witness. We pray in the name of the one who served you here on Earth, Jesus the Living Christ. Amen. (Luke 18:9-14.)

October 31, 2010 -- Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost
Precious Lord, you remind us through Scripture that we, like Zacchaeus, are descendants of Abraham. We, too, are sinners in need of the redemptive love provided by Jesus. Yet we take comfort as we are embraced in your arms and feel the warmth of your love radiating through this place of worship. We prayerfully ask that these gifts benefit your children who need to be blanketed in the safety and security of your tender care. In love and gratitude, we pray. Amen. (Luke 19:1-10.)

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.

GBOD | 1908 Grand Avenue | Nashville, TN 37212 | 1-877-899-2780

Faith and Faithfulness, a Reflection on Luke 17:5-10

Jesus had been instructing the apostles, and, at times, the crowds, in discourse and with parables what life with him would be like and what is expected of those who follow in his way.

They may have needed to have their confidence bolstered. They asked to have their faith increased. Jesus replied, "If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could get a mulberry tree to jump in the ocean just by telling it to."

When I was in the 5th grade, somebody gave me a necklace with a mustard seed encased in a plastic ball. I used to look at that tiny seed and wonder why the trees around me weren't listening to me. And I lived in a place where the trees weren't very big.

Other Bible readers, like me, have been troubled by this passage. Is Jesus promising us that we will be able to perform superhuman actions or great magic tricks? Or, is Luke using hyperbole or even metaphoric talk?

So, today, I turned, as I often do, to Fred Craddock in Preaching through the Christian Year C. He points out that the "if" in Jesus' statement can be translated in two ways, The word "if" could be describing a condition contrary to fact. Or, "if" could be describing a condition according to fact.

Try substituting "since" for "if" to see how this would sound in English. Craddock says Jesus is giving them "an indirect affirmation of the faith they have and an invitation to live and act out in that faith. They ask for an increase in their faith. He says that the faith you already have is effective and powerful beyond your present realization."

Do we deserve any special praise for following Christ? for accomplishing what he has required of us? Or, as Christ's servants, aren't we when we think of ourselves as doing good as dramatic as getting a tree to jump in the lake, aren't we even then just doing our job, just doing what Christ's servants are to do?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Advice for the Rich, a Reflection on 1 Timothy 6:13-19

Verses 17-19
Paul's advice to Timothy is not only to him as an individual Christian but also to him as a leader of a Christian community. He tells him, "Live it and teach it. In your congregation are those that are rich. Tell them not to be so proud of their achievements. After all, none of us have any guarantee that our wealth will last. What we can be sure of is that God is eternal and that God will continue to provide us with what we really need. Rather than spending your effort building up your personal wealth, instead be generous with your time and money."

Paul said that we bring nothing into the world and take nothing out of it. He also said that what we do between that coming in and that going out of the world matters: Doing good, being rich in good works, will provide us with a treasure surpassing what money could have bought for us. This treasure will be "a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life."

Verses 13-14
Here's a quote from Preaching the Letters without Dismissing the Law, by Ronald Allen and Clark Williamson:
Sandwiched between the discussions of money in 6-10 and 17-19 are Paul's other instructions to Timothy in verses 11-16. The center of the discussion is in verses 13-14: "I charge you to keep the commandment without spot or blame until the manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ." The commandment is the content of the entire letter--Paul's instruction that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and sincere faith" (1:5)....

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Reminders for a Leader, a Reflection on 1 Timothy 6:6-12

If only I could somehow be content with food and clothing..... That's not even realistic for me because I can so easily imagine better tasting or more appealing looking food and even more easily imagine newer clothes. I'm trying to understand Paul's comment in context of my life and I'm afraid that I do understand it quite well.

Loving money, striving for riches, takes my focus away from what should be attracting my attention and effort. And it can be even worse than that, Paul reminds us. We may be willing to do many unkind or wrong things to ensure that we can accumulate some financial security.

Paul lists for Timothy what goals a Christian should be striving for: righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness.

Striving for these goals is done publicly not privately. The evidence of righteousness, godliness, and love will be noticeable -- as would be their absence. We have promised to pursue these qualities always but gently. And we have promised publicly to do so by joining the church.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Refuge and Deliverer, a Reflection on Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16

taken from a longer entry on February 20, 2010:

.... the promise that God makes, "I will deliver those who love me, protect those who know me," should not be read to mean that "Those who aren't delivered and protected deserve not to be."

Yet, I can pray quite honestly the opening verses. I do experience God as a refuge and a fortress. I do trust God.

Here's my compromise (I don't like that word, but I can't come up with the term that better expresses my thoughts): Verse 15 is an assertion that I can agree with. I can depend on God to be present with me whenever I am in trouble. That presence is in itself rescue--I am not suffering alone, and I am not suffering without possibility of salvation.

That selection came from a week when Psalm 91 had been chosen as a response for a passage in Deuteronomy in which Moses gives them instructions for how they should recognize and remember who made it possible for them to live in the promised land. This week, the psalm is in response to the passage from Jeremiah when he's speaking to a people who did not follow God's ordinances and are being threatened by a powerful army. Jeremiah tells them what he has heard from the Lord, that, even in the face of disruption and loss, they are to look toward a future.

We moderns can pray this psalm as we face our own disruptions and losses. And, in praying it, we can remind ourselves of just who is in charge of our rescue, our honor, and our salvation,

Thursday, September 23, 2010

All Is Lost--Yet ..., a Reflection on Jeremiah 32:6-25

The Babylonian army is besieging Jerusalem. Because he had prophesied that Babylon would conquer Jerusalem, Jeremiah is being held in confinement by King Zedekiah.

He personally is imprisoned. His nation is under siege. What should he do now? What future can he expect? Should he just give up? Should he just give in to despair? What should he do?

Jeremiah receives a message from the Lord. He is told to use his right of redemption to buy his uncle's field.

The whole country is soon going to be under the control of Babylon. Yet, the Lord directs him to actions that assume that there will be a future. The future won't be there right away. "Buy the field and put the deeds in a place where they'll be safe for a long time.

Jeremiah is sustained by the history of what already has happened to his people, how the Lord had led them out of slavery in Egypt and protected them through their long journey to the promised land. He also remembers that the people responded with disobedience and concludes that they deserve the bad thing that is happening to them now.

But the Lord who has delivered them before will once again be their deliverer. Jeremiah prays:
Yet you, O Lord God, have said to me, "Buy the field for money and get witnesses"--through the city has been given into the hands of the Chaldeans."

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Reflection on Psalm 146

Repeat from June:
A Checklist for the Church
Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord, O my soul!

We are to praise God, the psalmist tells us, because God is trustworthy and eternal.

Then the psalmist reminds us that God gives care to the oppressed, the hungry, prisoners, the blind, the burdened, immigrants, those without financial resources.

This is the Old Testament God.

And this is what followers of God are called to do. God acts on earth through the people who are gathered to worship and to demonstrate God's power and love.

Psalm 146 provides a checklist for each church congregation: What have we done to ensure that prisoners can be released? What have we done to prevent blindness--have we opened a eye-clinic in a poor community, have we helped to distribute glasses to people who can't afford them? What are we doing about immigrants? What attention are we paying to people whose families aren't able to care for them, or to people without family?

Repeat from June, 2009:
Who do you trust?
Every once in a while I hear someone say to somebody who has just gotten something great, "That shows that God really loves you." And, sometimes, I read Psalm 146 and wonder.

This psalm begins by acclaiming praise for God and disdaining trust in powerful men. They won't last. God will.

According to this psalm, God cares about the oppressed, the hungry, prisoners, the blind, immigrants, orphans, and widows.

Jesus lived out this psalm. How is the church doing?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Woe to the Comfortable, a Reflection on Amos 6:1a, 4-7

For those of us who assume that having wealth is evidence that God loves somebody, these verses can be disturbing.

Woe to you who are at ease. Woe for you who are rich, you who have time for leisure, you who can afford to eat lavish meals, you who can listen to music on your ipods or go to concerts.

Woe to you when you have money to spend on your own pleasure and ignore the poor.

Amos was addressing people who were comfortable and felt secure.

Amos tells them that their comfort and security are about to be taken away from them. Their taking care of themselves rather than the poor will result in their nation being destroyed.

The rich man in the parable in Luke had ignored this prophet, and he feared his brothers wouldn't pay any attention, either. Are we listening yet?

Monday, September 20, 2010

How Was I Supposed to Know? a Reflection on Luke 16:19-31

When alive, the rich man enjoyed being rich. He dressed well and ate well. He used his money to satisfy himself well beyond need although he might have shared some of it with that poor, sore-covered man who was right there by his front door.

We know that the rich man was aware of the poor guy--he even knew his name. I'm pausing here to wonder why I think that ignoring the needs of people whose names we know is different from ignoring those of strangers.

He not only knows the name of Lazarus; he wants to be waited on by him. "I need something. Send Lazarus to help me."

Abraham informs him that the situation is now reversed: the one who had good things now doesn't, and the one who had suffered in his lifetime is now comforted. Moreover, the time to change that is past. The rich man has lost the opportunity to use anything that he once controlled.

The rich man reacts by wanting to ensure that his relatives don't end up the way he has. He begs Abraham, "Send Lazarus to warn my brothers so they won't have to end up the way I have." Abraham reminds the rich man that those brothers have already received sufficient warning because they have access to the Bible. Abraham says that he doesn't think the Bible works for everyone, but that a visitation from someone who has died would.

I would be willing to interpret this remark as a reference to the resurrected Christ, but Abraham's next remark limits that willingness. He says, "If they don't believe the Old Testament, they won't believe the New one either."

Believing in Christ does not mean that we are to cut up and throw away the front part of our Bibles. And if we were to do that, we would miss a whole lot about the necessity of helping the poor. Just saying.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

What, For Whom, and Why, a Reflection on 1 Timothy 2:1-7

For everyone. Yes, everyone. Even political leaders.
Pray for everyone so that everyone will have a peaceful, dignified life.

Ways we can do it now include using twitter to pray the Daily Office along with @Virtual_Abbey
They described themselves as a monastery for the 21st century that believes spiritual life transcends boundaries of time and place. Here, we offer insights and resources for living as a modern monastic in the Benedictine tradition. They are also on Facebook or you may sign up for e-mails.

Also on twitter, but with a humorous bent is @UnvirtuousAbbey. An example of their prayers is "We pray for people who want to date your avatar. Lord, have mercy," and "We pray for people who physically contort themselves just so that they can find the best angle to take their own FB profile picture. Amen."

The United Methodist Campus Ministry has asked for us to join in prayer for college students this fall. See their facebook page for how you can join this effort.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Offertory Prayers September 19 and 26, 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

September 19, 2010 -- Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
Faithful One, you have entrusted us with so many gifts that are more important than worldly possessions. You have called us to be stewards of all that you have created. We strive to fulfill your call to be generous stewards by openly sharing the bounty you have placed under our care. We know that we visibly demonstrate our commitment to your work in this world by giving these tithes and offerings. In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen. (Luke 16:1-13)

September 26, 2010 -- Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Patient God, our ears listen attentively, yet our understanding is lacking. Our eyes look wide open, yet we fail to see the human suffering that is squarely in front of us. Our hands stretch outward, yet remain listless. Our voice encourages others, yet remains silent to those in despair. Every day, we are faced with opportunities to respond. Forgive us. Awaken us. Encourage us. Call us again to respond by offering your salvation and your abundant life to others every day. We humbly place these gifts before you. Amen. (Luke 16:19-31)

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.

GBOD | 1908 Grand Avenue | Nashville, TN 37212 | 1-877-899-2780

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.

GBOD | 1908 Grand Avenue | Nashville, TN 37212 | 1-877-899-2780

Help Us, O God, a Reflection on Psalm 79:1-9

We can read this psalm and be able to put ourselves into the thoughts of those ancient people in Judah who suffered when the Babylon army invaded. "Foreigners have come in," they lament. "They have defiled the temple. They have laid Jerusalem in ruins." Both the center of worship and of government have been lost.

And lives were lost, too. So many were killed, that there weren't enough survivors left to bury them.

The lament does not stop with the listing of their losses. It includes what happens after that. Rather than wanting to support them or at least be sympathetic to them, their neighbors mock and deride.

I'm pausing to think about what would be the expected reaction by anyone to somebody else's suffering. How often do we think something like, "Well, what could you expect? After all, they really deserve what they got"?

And I'm thinking about how I feel when I suspect, or know, that onlookers are judging me. Now, since the psalm is a community lament, I should reword that to how I as an America feel when other nations mock my country for getting what they judge that we deserve. Suffering makes us feel bad. Being mocked rather than being sympathized with can make us feel worse.

What are we supposed to do when we have been hurt badly? We don't have to pretend that we like it. This psalm complains to God about what has happened and how long it has taken with no improvement in sight, "How long, O Lord? Will you be angry forever?"

The psalm suggests that it is not up to us to seek vengeance, but, rather, that we are to turn to God to take care of it for us, "Pour out your anger on them. They have laid waste to the land you have given us."

How willing are we moderns to allow God to handle the vengeance that we can so clearly see is really overdue?

In the psalm, after listing the losses of the place of worship, the capital city, much of the population, and even dignity, the lament turns to confession and request:
Do not remember against us the iniquities of our ancestors;
let your compassion come speedily to meet us, for we are brought very low.
Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of your name;
deliver us, and forgive our sins, for your name's sake.

We pray for help not because we deserve it, but because we need it.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Consequences and Sorrow, a Reflection on Jeremiah 8:18-9:1

The lectionary has skipped about four chapters in Jeremiah. I skimmed them and found more despair about the utter corruption that Jeremiah was seeing. The people would not do what God wanted them to, and God tells them their time is about up. Jeremiah warns them to flee from the invading army. Then, in chapter 7, he ties to get them to repent and change their ways. The Lord tells him to forget it, that the people are not going to stop their evil.

In this week's lesson, Jeremiah mourns for the people, "My joy is gone, grief is upon me, my heart is sick." They ignored his warnings, they are going to suffer, and, even though they ignored him, he is mourning what is going to befall them.

He asks if there isn't any way to save the people from destruction, "Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there?"

But, there had been balm and physicians. They just had ignored them.

God's way had been made known to them as God's way continues to be made known to us. By "God's way," I mean the way that God intends for us to go. Do we, like our predecessors, think ourselves immune from consequences of our foolish decisions and malicious deeds? And, if we admit that we aren't immune, then do we refuse medication?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Praise the Lord, a Reflection on Psalm 113

The psalm begins with a call to praise, a call for all the servants of the Lord -- that means all of us, surely?-- to praise the name of the Lord.

All to praise and for all time.

For all time and all day long.

The psalm recognizes that the Lord is supreme, high above all nations, with glory above the heavens. When we pray this psalm, we are saying, "Our Lord, you are so high you have to stoop down to look at the heavens."

The time we are to spend praising the Lord can't be measured any more than the Lord's glory can be measured.

Our Lord is unique, says this psalm. Then, what might seem like a surprising reason is given--This Lord is willing to come down from a high throne to lift up the weak and the poor.

I'm thinking about the content of my usual prayers and wondering how much gratitude I express that God cares so much for the poor and the lowly.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Mistreatment of the Poor, a Reflection on Amos 8:4-7

The prophet Amos outlines the indictment that the Lord God has brought against them: They have trampled on the poor, taken advantage of them, engaged in practices which increased bankruptcies.

How much attention do modern prophets give to financial abuses? Do we consider fraudulent practices sins? Do we believe that God gets particularly upset about financial mistreatment of the poor?

Amos reminds us the the Lord will not forget any of this.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Reflection on Luke 16:8-13

An employee had abused the trust of his employer and had been caught. The boss told him he was going to be fired. So, the employee figured out a way to get more of his boss's money while he could.

That story is not particularly shocking to modern readers, and I doubt it would have been then, either.

The boss's reaction, though, is surprising. Rather than having the employee sent to prison, he commends him for his shrewd actions. And, even more difficult to understand is Jesus' comment, "And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes."

It doesn't help much that commentators disagree on whether that comment was made by the boss or Jesus talking about the boss. Either way, Jesus is offering it to his disciples. We would have been more comfortable with a parable in which the dishonest employees was caught and repented and tried to pay back his boss and so on.

So, I was relieved to read the interpretation offered by Ronald Allen & Clark Williamson in their Preaching the Gospels without Blaming the Jews. They disagree with the standard assumption that the owner in the parable is a representation of God. Rather, they propose that Jesus is using the story to "cast a negative light on some Pharisees (and other Jewish leaders)". Thus, in their view, "The dishonest manager is not a model but a foil for the Pharisees. They are as misguided as the manager."

Allen & Williams tie this parable to the one in chapter 15 of the Prodigal Son. They interpret the story of the older son resenting the acceptance of his brother as a parallel to that of some Jewish leaders who resented the inclusion of Gentiles in the early church.

In any case, I know I would be more comfortable if Luke had just left this story out altogether. I am not helped much by the commentators who try to convince me that the employee was cutting his commission out of the debt and that's what the boss was commending.

But, whether I get the intended meaning of the parable right or not, I still am grateful for verses 10-13. They sound a lot more like what I am accustomed to hearing from Jesus.
Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth."

We didn't create this world; God did. We didn't create the wealth on the earth, but God has entrusted it to our care.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Misplaced Priorities, a Reflection on Luke 16:1-7

Jesus told his disciples a parable about a rich man about to fire his manager who had been accused of squandering his property. I don't know if that mean incompetence or dishonesty or if it matters.

When his boss demands an accounting, the manager knows that he has no defense. And, he doesn't think he's going to be able to get a job as good as the one he has. The only prospects he sees are manual labor or begging.

Since, he doesn't want to do either of those, he comes up with an alternative plan. He summons each of his master's creditors and reduces the amount they owe. Whatever his previous shortcomings had been, this act is certainly dishonest. He has been entrusted with the care of someone else's resources, and he is misusing them to satisfy his own needs.

How are we to interpret this parable? One alternative is to assume that the boss represents God and that the manager represents the church. We treat the world and the goods in it as if they are ours. We use them for our own benefit, or we waste them without considering whose they really are. How would we react if God called us to account? How would we try to justify our decisions and our behavior?

The manager in the parable took actions that would prevent the master from getting his due. In what ways, do we that make up the church act that would limit what the world understands about God?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Sin, Grace, New Life, a Reflection on 1 Timothy 1:12-17

As I read this passage this morning, I thought about the willingness to admit sins and the awareness and gratitude expressed for the ability to overcome them.

When we pray, how much effort do we put into admitting our sins as compared to, say, asking for something?

Which is more obvious to us anyway, the sins of other people or our own?

Then I looked back at Psalm 14, "The Lord looks down from heaven on humankind to see if there are any who are wise, who seek after Go. They have all gone astray...."

As part of the all who have gone astray, we can rest our hope on the assurance from this letter to Timothy tat "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners."

And for the then what, we can keep reading, "But for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe...."

Paul is grateful for being forgiven, and he is grateful because as a forgiven person, he can be a servant to Christ Jesus.

But we may not be able to exchange our habits or attitudes immediately. Jouette Bassler in her commentary on 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus points to verse 16 in which Paul says that after Christ gave him mercy, he then displayed the utmost patience. From grace to visible results may take a while.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

A Day for Prayer and Peace, Bishop's Statement

Bishop Ward's ePistle for September 11, 2010

Mississippi Conference of the United Methodist Church

Dear friends,

As we approach September 11, I urge each of you to read this statement from Bishop Goodpaster in his leadership role as president of the Council of Bishops of The United Methodist Church, and to use it in any way that is helpful in your ministry this week.

Throughout this week, let us pray for all those for whom this anniversary will be particularly painful and for peace in our communities and around the world.

With gratitude for the ministry of peacemaking that we share in Christ,
Hope Morgan Ward

The statement from Bishop Larry M. Goodpaster, President of the Council of Bishops, and Bishop Neil L. Irons, Executive Secretary of the Council of Bishops, follows:

As we approach yet another September 11, we are reminded that the world we live in continues to be a fragile place where emotions and tensions run high. There are not many of us who will ever forget where we were on that September morning nine years ago. We should never forget those whose lives were taken away in the horror of just a few hours.

September 11 should be, for all of us, a day of prayer for peace in this world. It should be a day for quiet remembrance and reflection as we seek to find and live in the ways of peace. We think of Jesus pausing on his way into the holy city of Jerusalem on the day we call Palm Sunday. He wept over the city -- not so much for what was about to happen to him, but because the people did not know the things that make for peace (Luke19: 41-42). We suspect he still weeps, looking out over the world we currently inhabit.

September 11 should be a day of prayer for rebuilding and restoring relationships, and for reaching out to find ways to work and live together in this world. It is not a day for burning the holy book of another faith tradition. Tragically one person has garnered headlines for advocating such a thing. There is nothing of Jesus in such an action. In fact, as we recall, there was a time when the disciples wanted to call down fire from heaven on the perceived enemies for refusing to receive Jesus. No, Jesus said; in fact he "rebuked" those who advocated such a means. (Luke 9: 51-55.) Such an action is not the way of Jesus, or the way of peace and love.

There was a meeting earlier this week in Washington, DC, of religious leaders of many faith communities. The United Methodist Church and its Council of Bishops was represented by its Executive Secretary, Bishop Neil L. Irons. The members of the group, in a formal statement, said: "We are committed to building a future in which religious differences no longer lead to hostility or division between communities. Rather, we believe that such diversity can serve to enrich our public discourse about the great moral challenges that face our nation and our planet. On the basis of our shared reflection, we insist that no religion should be judged on the words or actions of those who seek to pervert it through acts of violence; that politicians and members of the media are never justified in exploiting religious differences as a wedge to advance political agendas or ideologies... We work together on the basis of deeply held and widely shared values, each supported by the sacred texts of our respective traditions. We acknowledge with gratitude the dialogues between our scholars and religious authorities that have helped us to identify a common understanding of the divine command to love one's neighbor. Judaism, Christianity and Islam all see an intimate link between faithfulness to God and love of neighbor; a neighbor who in many instances is the stranger in our midst."

"We are convinced that spiritual leaders representing the various faiths in the United States have a moral responsibility to stand together and to denounce categorically derision, misinformation or outright bigotry directed against any religious group in this country. Silence is not an option. Only by taking this stand, can spiritual leaders fulfill the highest calling of our respective faiths, and thereby help to create a safer and stronger America for all of our people." **

We urge all of us to approach the remembrance of September 11 in prayer and hope for peace; and in resolving to do everything we can individually and collectively to live the way of Jesus. It is our prayer that this weekend be filled with prayers and not the fires of hatred and irrational rage.

A copy of the statement can be downloaded by clicking here.

For worship resources for remembering/commemorating the September 11 terrorist attacks, click here.

The Ways of Fools, a Reflection on Psalm 14

The psalmist looks around and can't find anyone who believes in God or anyone who does good. He finds himself in a world of corrupt people, wrong-doers.

And he warns us that this is what the Lord sees, too.

No one does good, no, not one.

The sin that the psalmist specifies is economic. These people who ignore God take advantage of the poor. He says that they really ought to be afraid because God hangs out with the righteous:
You would confound the plans of the poor, but the Lord is their refuge.

Do we equate a lack of concern for the poor with atheism?
Do we agree with the psalmist that God prefers the poor?
When we look around us, we also see poverty, but do we see much guilt or remorse?

Friday, September 10, 2010

Storm Warning, a Reflection on Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-29

"Return to me," the Lord has said to them. "Flee for safety, do not delay. Your cities will be ruins" (4:1-8).

The northern kingdom of Israel had already fallen to Assyria. Now Babylon was threatening Judah, like a hot wind coming out of the desert toward them, a wind blowing hard.

The words Jeremiah speaks are words of anger and of anguish.

He can see the destruction caused by the strong wind. His people were stupid--they didn't know how to do good. Destruction is overwhelming and everywhere--no stars in the sky, quaking mountains and hills, even the birds have fled.

In Jeremiah's time, they didn't listen to the warnings. They didn't change their ways. Destruction did come. Today, God's people still need to heed the warnings of Jeremiah, to change our ways, to quit being so stupid, to stop doing evil, to learn how to do good.

The destruction of Jerusalem was not the end of the relationship between God and God's people.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Reflection on Psalm 51:8-10

Repeat from earlier post

Although most of the other penitential psalms are communal prayers, this psalm is expressed as an individual cry, Have mercy on me, blot out my transgressions, wash me, and purify me.

And I can ask this of God because mercy is what God is like, because mercy befits God's faithfulness, because God is abundantly compassionate.

Sometimes, we need reminders that we are sinning. And, sometimes, we are so burdened by our sins that we need reminders that God is compassionate.

We can pray Psalm 51 when we recognize that we need forgiveness, that we want forgiveness:

Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.

Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.

And we can pray Psalm 51 when we want what forgiven people have--restoration

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.

Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Have Mercy on Me, a Sinner, a reflection on Psalm 51:1-7

Repeat from March 2009:

Psalm 51 is one of only seven penitential psalms. I'm wondering why only seven. How often do we need words to express our recognition that we need to be forgiven?

Here's the first seven verses:
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.

Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.

Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment.

Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me.

You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

Interestingly enough for me, as I am reflecting on this psalm, I'm also doing the weekly laundry. Those clothes really were dirty, and they really did need cleaning. Soon, they will be presentable for wear once again. The metaphor fails though because the washing I am doing to the clothes will remove only the surface stains.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Sin and Intercession, a Reflection on Exodus 32:7-14

While Moses is on the mountain receiving instructions from the Lord while the people have remained below. They've been there a long time, and they think that Moses has deserted them. Without Moses, they think they have lost the Lord. They want a visible substitute; they demand that Aaron make new gods for them. Read Exodus 31:18-32:6.

When we think about what the modern day equivalent of the golden calf would be, we need to reflect on what helps us to feel confident enough to continue with our journeys and to what we are willing to make sacrifices. Note: journeys and sacrifices can be literal or metaphorical in this analysis.

The Lord looks down and sees them partying. The Lord says to Moses, "I ready to destroy them." But Moses intercedes with three arguments:
1. These are your people. You saved them from slavery.
2. You showed their captors how powerful you are. Do you want them to think you saved them just so you could be the one to kill them?
3. Remember your promise to their ancestor Abraham that you would provide descendants for him.

After hearing what Moses had to say, the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on the people.

We continue to offer intercessory prayers pleading with God to change what is happening to us--even, or especially, those outcomes that we may deserve.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Labor Day: A Faith-Filled Day for Worker Justice

Global Mininistries of the UMC has posted an article by by Mary Beth Coudal that can help us remember the reason we celebrate Labor Day.

Included are instructions for giving to IWJ through The Advance, suggestions on how to get involved with Interfaith Worker Justice, a prayer for the unemployed, and a sermon sample for Labor Day.

For a summary of how the church supports the rights of workers on Labor Day and during September, go to

The Lost is Found, a Reflection on Luke 15:1-10

The Pharisees and scribes--read religious leaders or religious insiders--were disgruntled that Jesus was willingly spending time with people that they did not consider worthy.

Jesus responds to their attitude with parables, two of which are in this week's lesson.

He asked "What shepherd wouldn't leave behind 99 safe sheep to go after the one who was lost?" Apparently a rhetorical question because he added, "And having found that lost sheep, the shepherd invited all his friends for a celebration."

Or not a rhetorical question now that I think about it because his critics that day are displeased by his allowing sinners so near. Or, maybe they are waiting to hear that those sinners have repented before they can be joyful about having them around.

Would the religious insiders have agreed that there would be more joy in heaven about sinners being there than them? Or, could they have seen that their own attitude of exclusion and superiority qualified them for the category of sinner? Is Jesus holding out to them the opportunity to repent of their sins--sins that they can't repent of until they recognize and admit that they have?

Jesus follows the lost sheep parable with one about a lost coin. Again something valuable is lost. Again the owner searches dilligently. Again the owner rejoices when the lost is retrieved.
Again, the owner invites others to celebrate that the lost has been found.

Jesus that such joy will be in heaven when one sinner repents.

I keep getting stuck on the repent part. What did the sheep or the coin do to get saved? Maybe the sheep was bleating and the coin was shiny? Would that constitute repentance? I'm settling for the assumption that these parables are not about somebody else repenting but they are about the pharisees and the scribes, about what their attitude is and what it ought to be.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

What a Christian Can Be Asked to Do, a Reflection on Philemon 8-21

Paul is asking something hard of Philemon. "Your slave escaped. Take him back--but as a brother not as a slave."

What one Christian can ask of another. Give up what is due you. Forget the wrongs that have been done to you.

Paul is so sure of Philemon's love, that he is willing to trust him, willing to ask him to do this hard thing.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Love Worth Writing About, a Reflection on Philemon 8-21

Paul is asking something difficult of his friend. Am I willing to do that? Do I have friends that I allow to ask difficult things of me? What is noticeable about my faith toward the Lord Jesus?

Friday, September 3, 2010

Remembering and Saying So, a Reflection on Philemon 1-7

As I began reading this letter from the emprisoned Paul to his friends and fellow Christians, I started to wonder who would write to me and to whom would I write. Well, of course now, I never write the paper kind of letters any more. But, I do e-mail some and I do send some direct messages by facebook.

What do I say? To whom do I write? Do I ever say anything about remembering someone in prayer? How often do I remember someone in prayer? How often do I tell someone how much joy and encouragement their friendship and support has given me? Well, how often do I even remind myself of this?

Insight, Oversight, and Foresight, a Reflection on Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18

This psalm addresses God, acknowledging what God has done for us and what God knows about us. John H. Hayes, in Preaching through the Christian Year C, characterizes this knowledge as insight, oversight, and foresight.

The psalmist admits, and we admit when we pray this psalm, that the Lord knows everything about us whenever or wherever we are. The Lord knows what we are going to say before we say it.

Do we read these verses as reassurance, or are they unsettling to us? How comfortable is it for us to admit that God already knows what we have been doing today--and every day? For Arminians, are we bothered by the predestination element in verses 7 and 16?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Changing Ways and Minds, a Reflection on Jeremiah 18:1-11

The Lord takes Jeremiah to the potter's house where a potter working at his wheel crafting a vessel of clay. If that vessel doesn't turn out right, then the potter reworks the clay into another vessel.

The Lord says to Jeremiah, "Can't I do the same to you, O house of Israel?"

We can read this as history or prophecy. Sin has consequences.

And we can read this as a reminder that although God is our creator, we are judged on our response. And, we need to remember that we can rectify our wrong responses.

Even in our sinning, we can repent. We can change. And, also, the Lord can change. The Lord said to Jeremiah that day, "You've got some time. I can change my mind. Turn now from your evil ways. Start doing what you are supposed to be doing."

Jeremiah may have been remembering appeals that the people had made during times of oppression before. For example, at a time when the nation was being oppressed by the Ammonites, they asked God to save them. They asked this even though they had abandoned God and turned toward foreign gods. God did help them because, we are told, "he could no longer bear to see Israel suffer" (Judges 10:6-18). And not just Israel. God had coerced Noah into preaching to the sinful Nineveh, "Tell them I am going to destroy them unless they turn away from their violent acts." Then, when they did repent, "God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon the and he did not do it" (Jonah 3:1-10).

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Some Good Things about the Law, Reflecting on Psalm 1

Repeat from 2008: The Two Ways
Imagine living in an arid land. Little rain. Little vegetation. Imagine what a tree would signify.

This first psalm, the opening of this wisdom book, has at its center the image of trees. Fruitful--their leaves do not wither, in all they do they prosper.

A tree in an arid land can prosper only if it is planted near a water source.

The teaching of the Lord provides what is necessary for us to grow, to prosper, to bear fruit. Ignoring that teaching is what the wicked do, the ones who become like chaff, driven by the wind.

Repeat from 2009 Big and Little Trees
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.