Living, loving God, we give thanks and praise that the doors of our hearts can't keep you out, and the doors of our churches can't keep you in! May your breath blow anew through the world, may your spirit fill the lives of those who believed they were beyond your reach! May we who have been so blessed with the joy of this Easter redemption be generous in sharing all that we are and all that we have, so that the power of the Resurrection might reach all your children. In Christ's Holy name, we pray. Amen. (John 20:19-31)
Invitation to the Offering
The offering you made last week empowered ministry within our congregation and in response to the needs of our community. It also helped support the work of ministries beyond the local church that reach people who are in desperate need to feel the touch of love and reconciliation. Through the World Service Fund, a talented group of global communicators, lead by United Methodist Communications in Nashville, Tennessee, directs messaging that reaches people who have never set foot in one of our churches. Through billboards, digital advertising, video spots, radio and more, they give people outside the church a glimpse of who we are and what matters to us as Christians. This ministry happens thanks to the generous support of United Methodists like you. I invite you once again to give generously as we worship God through the sharing of our gifts, tithes and offerings.
Learn more about the work United Methodist Communications atwww.umcom.org and www.rethinkchurch.org.
Sunday, February 28, 2010
Some people don't.
They don't turn out well. They think about what they want right now--not about the consequences.
We are looking forward to the return of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Imitate me, he says. Paul teaches by doing. Whether we realize it or not, so do we. Paul was conscious of the impact his choices in life had on those around him. Well, we should be too. Lent gives us a good opportunity to think about where we center our concerns--whether it could be said about us that our god is our belly, whether our minds are set on earthly things, and so on.
And, could we imitate Paul in that love he had for the community (4:1)?
Saturday, February 27, 2010
Hear when I cry and answer me.
Do not hide from me. Don't turn me away.
Do not give me up to my adversaries.
And, as in most laments, assurances and expectations of protection are included:
You have been my help.
You will me up when others have abandoned me.
I believe I will see the goodness of the Lord.
In addition to protection, the psalm is a prayer for instruction:
Teach me your way, O Lord.
I notice that the request to be taught is in the same verse as the request to be led on a level path because of enemies. Is the phrase, level path, metaphorical? John H. Hayes in Preaching through the Christian Year C says the phrase may mean that the psalmist just wants his life to be more predictable, but that he may be asking for his life to conform more closely to the Lord's wishes.
Hayes also points out something that I should have been able to pick up on my own--a willingness to be led indicates a willingness to walk.
The psalm concludes with the injuction, "Man up."
(I'm trying to figure out an equally-snappy, less sexist way to put it.)
Friday, February 26, 2010
Abraham had heard promises, had responded to them, but Abraham had doubt. In his doubt, the Lord came to him in a vision and spoke to him, renewing the promise of a son.
Abraham was able to believe God's words.
The Lord continued to speak to Abraham. First, the Lord reminded him of promises already made. Abraham responded by once again expressing doubt, "How am I to know that you are going to provide what you have promised me?"
The answer seems strange to us moderns. God told him to get some animals, cut them in two, lay the parts on the ground, then walk the path between the two halves. No matter how literally we may interpret the scriptures, we probably won't do that today. Yet, the memory of this ritual can have meaning for us.
Not abiding by a covenant does split the parties.
After the sun went down, a flaming torch still provided light. In that light, the Lord renewed the covenant with Abraham.
Thursday, February 25, 2010
But, think about why the psalmist is making these assertions. They aren't empty assurances. Rather, they are tied to specific fears; for example, "When evildoers assail me" or "Though an army encamp against me."
The psalmist is not trying to get us to believe that being a faithful follower of God means that we will never see trouble, never suffer from illness, never be besieged by enemies. No, what the psalmist says is that during these times of travail, the Lord was a comforter and rescuer.
In response to the actions that the Lord has taken, the psalmist expresses the wish to continue to be near the Lord by visiting the temple--to live there, to be able to see the Lord there, and there to be protected.
John H. Hayes in Preaching through the Christian Year C explains the images in verse 5. Being hidden in his shelter is a reference to the booths lived in at the festival of tabernacles. The booth and the tent both evoke images of sanctuary. Being set on a high rock evokes the image of celebration after a victory.
To summarize: At times of great distress when I needed the Lord, the Lord was with me. I remember this, and I am telling you about it. I will continue to need the Lord.
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
Abraham is there because the Lord had told him to move to this place (12:1-3). When they had arrived in Canaan, the Lord had informed Abraham that although the land currently belonged to the Canaanites, in the future it would belong to Abraham's descendants (12:4-7). Before there were any descendants, though, Abraham allowed his wife, Sarah (whose name has not yet been changed from Sarai), to be taken into the Pharaoh's harem. The Lord intervened, and Abraham got his wife back (12:10-20).
But still no children by Sarah.
In a vision, the word of the Lord came to Abraham. First, the Lord reassures Abraham then tells him he will be rewarded very well. Protection right now and, later, rewards to come.
Abraham does not respond immediately with awe and gratitude. Rather, he reminds the Lord that the previous promise of descendants had not even begun to be fulfilled.
Can Abraham believe the shield part if he doesn't believe the rest of the promise? Remember, he has moved his family a large distance because he had believed what the Lord had told him.
When Abraham doubts, he expresses those doubts openly and directly.
The word of the Lord comes to Abraham. "Look at the sky and count the stars. There are too many to count. That's how many descendants you are going to have."
We are told that Abraham believed the Lord.
Side points: The commentary to verse 6 in the New Interpreter's Study Bible points out that the word translated as "believe" also means "trust" and that the New Testament authors interpreted this verse in contrasting ways:
The apostle Paul, in his explanation of God's inclusion of the Gentiles into the kingdom of God, later interpreted this verse to mean that faith apart from the works of the Law, is the ultimate basis for salvation. By contrast, the Letter of James interprets this verse to mean that works must accompany faith.
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
Jesus wanted to protect them, and they chose not to let him. They didn't need him. They could take care of themselves.
Certainly we can recognize that impulse.
The journey to Bethlehem
was much more to my liking.
I want to linger here in Bethlehem
in joy and celebration,
knowing once I set my feet
the Child will grow,
and I will be asked to follow.
It's hard to get away
this time of year;
I don't know how I'll manage.
It's not just the time. . .
the conversation along the way
turns from Birth to Death.
I'm not sure I can stand
the stress and pain;
I have enough of those already.
Besides, I've found the lighting
on the road to Jerusalem
is very poor.
This time around, there is no Star. . .
Monday, February 22, 2010
The Pharisees warn him. We are accustomed to thinking of them as enemies of Jesus. Fred Craddock in Preaching through the Christian Year C points out that in Luke's gospel, offers a more favorable description of this group than do the other gospels; e.g., may are open to Jesus (7:36; 11:37; 14:1) even though they do disagree with his interpretation of the law. Another example is the Pharisee, Gamaliel, and Paul, of course (see Acts 4:34; 23:6).
Jesus hears their warning, but stresses to them that despite certain dangers, his work must be done.
Sunday, February 21, 2010
We may not be able to see the physical Jesus in the same way that his contemporaries do, but we do know him. Christ is present with us; salvation is here for us.
And, there's enough salvation to go around.
Paul was asserting that Christians did not have to be Jews in order to know the Lord.. "The same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him."
Saturday, February 20, 2010
Then the lectionary chooses this same psalm this week as a response to the reading from Deuteronomy. What are we supposed to do with this juxtaposition? Are we to read this psalm solely as an assurance of God's protection, or, should we read it light of its being used by the tempter?
I am troubled by verses 9 through 13 because I have seen good people suffer, have evil befall them, dash their feet against a stone (actual as well as metaphorically.) So what do I do with these assurances?
I'm not going to join Job's friends in as assertion that anybody who suffers must have done or thought something to deserve the pain. That is, reading verse 14, 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.
Thursday, February 18, 2010
The passage begins, "When you have come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you..." We aren't where we want to be, but Moses says that we're going to be.
A second point that was true for Moses' first audience, for the readers of the compiled Deuteronomy, and then for us as well: we won't get there by ourselves--we are going as a congregation, and the achievement is not due solely to our own efforts; rather, the Lord God is making a gift.
Now, what are we supposed to do with this gift? Not hide it or hoard it. Rather than ownership, we have assumed something more like trusteeship. We are supposed to use this gift to continue God's work.
In Moses' time, the distribution was through the priests. We still use the church as one of our conduits.
And not just do it--Moses commands us to say what we are doing, and why.
I'm trying to imagine a church service at offering time when all of us sitting in the pews might say something--either individually or together--as we put our money in the plate. Once again, I am grateful for the choir who takes care of this part for us. Yet, I can't quit wondering what I would say to help me remember that it is God's gift to me that I am sharing with others that day.
Now, imagine the journey of your own congregation. Remember your history. What traps have you fallen into? What powers have you been obedient to?
Still thinking about your church, consider the reminder that the Lord not only brought them there but also provided them with abundant resources--a land flowing with milk and honey. What are the good things that you have had available for your nourishment and enjoyment? Do you think you got them because you deserved them or do you think the Lord had a hand in them?
Moses told the people to present their first fruits to the Lord. How willing is your congregation to give anything, to give a lot, to give their best to God's work?
Moses then describes the group gathered at the altar that day--not only family but also aliens. Look around your congregation. How many aliens worship with you?
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
....Jesus is warning his followers against hypocrisy.
Give charity because someone needs help not to show off.
Remember that your prayers are directed to God, not to impress somebody.
Fast in secret rather than in public.
Notice that Jesus assumes that they are going to contribute to charitable causes, to pray often, and to fast.
What Jesus is cautioning them about is confusion of goals. You're doing the things that you ought to be doing, and remember why you are doing them. You will be rewarded, but not necessarily in an immediate, public way.
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
As we begin Lent, we read this message (warning?) from Joel: Sound the alarm. The day of the Lord is coming, a day of darkness and gloom. (Read Joel 1:1-2:11).
Yet, even in the face of our deserved judgment, the Lord continues to beckon, "Return to me."
As Christians travel through Lent, let us heed Joel's reminder: Rend your hearts and not your clothing. What do we need to give up (or to take up) that is our way of fasting, weeping, and mourning?
In verse 13, we see the familiar doxology of God's mercy (Exodus 34:5-7).
Again, Joel says, "Sound the alarm," and adds:
Sanctify a fast.
Call a solemn assembly.
Gather the whole congregation including the old people and the very young.
In verse 17, he reminds us that our lives demonstrate what we really believe about God. There's an old cliche' that your life is a sermon that you are preaching everyday. What if it is true?
On the UMC Worship, site, Daniel Benedict has suggested several excellent Lenten Practices. For example:
___Spend time in solitude each day.
___ Read a book for inner growth.
___ Read twice through the Gospel of the lectionary cycle you are in. (Mark in 2009).
___ Begin to keep a journal of prayer concerns, questions, reading.
___ Focus on thanksgiving, rather than on asking, in prayer.
___ Give myself a gift of three hours to do something you always say you don't have time to do.
___ Give up a grudge or a rehearsal of a past event.
___ Forgive someone who has hurt me.
___ Plan to visit a "shut-in" neighbor or church member weekly.
___ Write a letter of affirmation once a week to a person who has touched my life.
Go to his list to see other suggestions that may fit your life.
Lectio Divina: Joel 2:12-13.
Monday, February 15, 2010
Skip one meal a day and give the money to the poor.
Start a prayer "rhythm." Say a prayer every time you brush your teeth, see a commercial, or check your e-mail.
Read a chapter in the Bible a day. (Matthew is a good book to start with).
Forgive someone who doesn't deserve it (maybe even yourself).
Give up beer or sodas. Give the money you save to the Red Cross.
Spend thirty minutes a day in silence.
Write someone a thank you letter.
Say one nice thing to someone each day.
Pray for others on your way to work or school.
Volunteer one afternoon a week at a local shelter, tutoring program or Habitat for Humanity.
A new insight I got today is the image that Jesus is on trial and the devil is the prosecuting attorney. (This metaphor may work for me because of my predilection to watching a certain kind of TV show). As Ringe puts it, the Holy Spirit leads Jesus into the situation in which the devil questions him. The questions and Jesus' answers are "all drawn from biblical models and responses."
More from Ringe:
What could be wrong with turning stones into bread? Nothing really is wrong with it, Jesus rejects the challenge not because it is wrong, but because it is inadequate: "One does not live by bread alone."....
Why not accept political authority? The tradition links political compromise with betrayal of the commandment to worship only God.
Allen & Williamson, on the other hand, see the devil not as a prosecuting attorney but as the embodiment of temptation to resistance to God, that is, the temptation to give up on God's being able to restore things. They interpret Jesus' response to the first test as resisting the temptation to turn to things necessary for life rather than to God.
Sunday, February 14, 2010
Saturday, February 13, 2010
For Paul, none of us need to be protected from a view of the glory of the Lord. The New Interpreter's Study Bible suggests that Paul may be referring to the new covenant as described by Jeremiah, "No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, 'Know the Lord.' for they shall all know me...." (Jeremiah 31:31-34).
When we try to get a modern meaning from an ancient text, we really ought to spend some effort on thinking about what the text meant when it was written--in this case: what was the underlying problem that Paul was addressing.
Allen & Williamson, in Preaching the Letters are helpful. Paul is trying to overcome the problems he believes that the super apostles have caused in Corinth. He is rebutting claims that they have made about him:
....The other missionaries have incorrectly used Exodus 34:29-34. Paul speaks with great boldness, that is, not viewed but frankly and publicly. The super apostles imitate Moses, but not in the way they think they do. According to Paul, they speak from behind a veil, preventing the community "from gazing at the end of the glory." In other words, they prevent the congregation from seeing clearly the nature of the coming realm of God beside which the glory so prized by the super apostles will fail. Therefore, the super apostles and those who follow the re "hardened against the purposes of God in the same way as Pharaoh."
Friday, February 12, 2010
Bishop Ward sent this link to UM clergy in Mississippi asking us to view it and added this suggestion: Having watched this map change, pause to pray for all who are impacted by job loss in Mississippi. Pray that darkness will be shattered by God's strong light through God's people, the church.
I'm positive that she would want you and us to pray for all involved, as well.
The lectionary response to the reading from Exodus is Psalm 99. This psalm puts into words for us what it is like to be in the presence of the Lord. (Note that the psalm includes Moses, cloud, and mountain).
And it describes for us what the Lord is like.
It begins by stating that the Lord is king. Now, as an American I have trouble thinking of king as a good word. But, I haven't been able to come up with a contemporary parallel that fits the essence of what the word king meant at the time the psalms were first sung.
That is although I am unwilling to accept the notion that any human is exalted over all people, I am ready to proclaim that, certainly, the Lord is.
The God we worship loves justice, has established equity and righteousness. A reminder that we should favor equity and righteousness ourselves.
The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron and Samuel from a pillar of cloud, and they did what the Lord wanted them to do.
And when they didn't, the Lord our God forgave them.
John Hayes, in Preaching through the Christian Year C, points out that the phrase translated in the NRSV as "but an avenger of their wrongdoing" appears as "forgave all their misdeeds and held them innocent" in the NEB, and as "exacted retribution for their misdeeds" in the NJPSV.
Thursday, February 11, 2010
Back to the ground, while Moses was away, the people misbehaved.
Moses came down from the mountain. His time with God had changed his very appearance. People looking at him could see that he was different from before. Moses continued to go in before the Lord to hear what he was commanded to do.
Moses could speak with God, could understand what God wanted. The experience changed him. But, he couldn't stay on the mountain. In order to carry out God's instructions, Moses had to go back down to the ground and once again mingle with the people.
For other references to the light that changes a prophet's appearance, see Ezekiel 1:27-28; Habakkuk 3:4; Psalm 104:2 (The Jewish Study Bible.)
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
If the crowd didn't know who Jesus was, or all of the disciples, how did the father know that Jesus could heal his son? How did the demon know that Jesus was the one it had to obey?
In verse 36, we are told that they kept silent and told no one what they had seen on the mountain. But, in verse 43, everybody who saw what happened recognized the power of God acting in this man Jesus. If everybody knew it, why did Peter and John and James have to maintain silence?
Tuesday, February 9, 2010
Just as Moses and Elijah were leaving, Peter said to Jesus, "Let's make three dwellings--one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah. We suspect that Peter wanted to hold on to the moment so that they could revisit the experience. Or, we can suppose that he wanted to mark the place so that others coming after them could see where this event had happened.
While he was still speaking, a cloud came and overshadowed them, terrifying them. They had been able to see Jesus in a new way. They had been able to see Moses who had led the people to the Promised Land, and Elijah who had spoke the words of the Lord to the people facing exile. Now they could see no longer.
In their Preaching the Gospel, Allen & Williamson point out that a cloud is
a traditional Jewish way of representing the divine presence (see e.g., Exodus 13:21; 16:10; 19:9; 24:15-18; 40:34; 1 Kings 8:10-11; 18:44-45; Ezekiel 10:3-4; Psalm 18:11).
This loss of vision terrifies them. Then from the cloud comes a voice.
They could see things that no one had seen before. They could see nothing. Then they learn more.
A voice comes from the cloud announcing "This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!"
Luke tells us that they didn't immediately tell anyone what had happened.
Monday, February 8, 2010
They are on a mountain. Jesus has come to pray. He has brought Peter and John and James with him.
[I had intended to, but didn't get around to, doing a search on mountain experiences in the Old Testament and Jesus' praying in the New, and which events in Jesus' life included the presence of those three particular disciples.]
While he is praying, his appearance changes and his clothes become dazzling white. Moses and Elijah become present.
The disciples although they were weighed down by sleep have stayed awake and witness this.
Ronald Allen & Williamson write in their Preaching the Gospels without Blaming the Jews:
Jewish apocalyptic writers anticipated that in the final manifestation of the reign of God, persons would have transformed bodies in the luminescent white of the heavenly world (e.g., Daniel 10:6; 1 Enoch 62:15-16; 2Enoch 22:8; Luke 24:4; Acts 1:10; 1 Corinthians 15:35-49; Revelation 4:4; 7:9).
Moses and Elijah are talking to Jesus about his departure. Allen & Williamson point out that the Greek word for departure is exodos emphasizing that what is going to happen at Jerusalem will also be a way of liberating God's people.
Sunday, February 7, 2010
The church founded there by Paul, Silas, and Timothy had, at first, been a vital Christian congregation, but, by the time of this letter, the Corinthians had been visited by and impressed with followers of Simon Peter (spiritual phenomena) and Apollos (wisdom).
(The above information is abstracted from the excellent The People's New Testament Commentaryy by M. Eugene Boring & Fred B. Craddock.)
I'm struck by Paul's rhetorical strategy. He writes to rich people stressing his being least and unfit. His doing what he is capable of doing is due to the grace of God. Yet, Paul did not leave the gift stored on a shelf of some closet. He worked hard--harder than the other apostles (is this a dig at Peter's followers?)
He worked hard, but he attributes God's grace for the ability to do the work--or, should I read this as God's grace for the ability to want to do the work?
Now, back to us. We have had the opportunity of good, faithful teaching by hard-working teachers who were filled with grace and able to demonstrate that grace to us. And we have been faced with not-so-faithful, not-so-grace-filled teachings and examples. Let us hold firm to the good news proclaimed through Paul. Let us come to believe--and act as if we did. Let God's grace to us not be in vain.
Saturday, February 6, 2010
Now, back to this week.
1 Corinthians 15:1-11 is also the reading for Easter Year B.
Paul reminds the Corinthians the message he terms of first importance: Christ died, was buried, was raised, and appeared to witnesses including Paul himself.
Paul has received this gospel and is passing it on to the Corinthians. His knowledge is based on experience and scripture.
And, now, here we are. What we know about Christ is also based on what we are told--both by long-ago witnesses as well as those in our own times. We hear them recount the good news. We read our Bibles. And we hold firmly to the message that is being proclaimed.
Sidelines: Apparently Paul was not aware of the traditions underlying the Gospel reports of the appearances of Christ to the women at the empty tomb. He includes that the death for our sins and the being raised on the third day was in accordance with the scriptures. That is, to Paul, the death and resurrection of Christ are not a repudiation of Judaism.
Friday, February 5, 2010
And, of course, that vision was in the temple. And in Psalm 138, the psalmist (David?) is in the temple.
There he praises God. "You were there for me when I needed you. All the powerful people will praise you and recognize how powerful you are."
But the powerful are not the only ones to notice God. The psalmist continues, "Although you are high above us, you still pay attention to the lowly."
The Lord protects those in danger, and the Lord is the one to settle accounts. Yet, we don't sit idly by. We are supposed to participate in God's work.
The ending verse is a good model prayer for us: O Lord, Your steadfast love is eternal; do not forsake the work of your hands.
And we need to do some work. We still have low points--emotional and economic. We still have enemies--literal and metaphoric. And we still need to remember to praise the Lord for our deliverance and our support.
Thursday, February 4, 2010
Since the lectionary has paired this with the lesson from Luke in which the fisherman go out into the deep water even though they think it's pointless. They go not because they think the effort will be productive but because Jesus has told them, too. And it was successful. They caught so many fish that it almost swamped their boats.
Following Jesus' command even with doubt was the right thing to do.
How are we supposed to read this passage from Isaiah. He had doubts but accepted the call. Was he successful?
The Lord told Isaiah what to say, "Keep listening, but don't understand what you hear" and what to do, "Confuse them so that they won't comprehend what is needed for them to do."
Historically, the nation was invaded by the enemy after this. Was that what God intended for them? Or, was this part considered necessary as an explanation for Israel's defeat? Or, was Israel's defeat necessary in order for them to turn away from their own sinful ways and once again look to God's teaching?
Whichever explanation we choose, we can still find comfort in the next words that the Lord gives Isaiah: "Even after destruction and devastation, a seed remains." That is, hope blooms even in the worst times. Even a small remnant can have great results.
Wednesday, February 3, 2010
An unclean prophet, a Reflection on Isaiah 6:1-8
Verses 1-4 describe an overwhelming sense of God's glory and the appropriate response to it. On a throne. A high and lofty throne. So large that just the hem of his robe fills the temple. Heavenly beings attend him. They sing, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts."
Verses 5, in contrast, describes the great contrast with this glory with the human condition. Isaiah realizes that he is unworthy.
Verses 6-7 give us reassurance. Since we are not worthy, God has a way of redeeming us, of overcoming our sin. Isaiah's guilt was removed.
Verse 8 reminds us why we need this redemption. We have a task. Isaiah accepted his call.
(much of this from or inspired by Isaiah 1-39, by Walter Brueggeman)
How much of this is repeated in a typical church service? Do we recognize an overwhelming divine presence? Do we recognize our own sinfulness? Can we receive redemption? If so, what are we prepared to do with it?
Tuesday, February 2, 2010
They caught so many fish that their nets almost broke. They caught so many fish that their boats began to sink.
The great result when he had expected nothing frightens Simon. He begs Jesus to leave him alone, that he is not worthy to be with him.
He can provide fish where professional fishermen can't find them. He tells Simon and his partners, James and John, that now they will be fishing not for fish but for people.
They walk away from their boats--their livelihood, their regular lives, and follow Jesus.
Further note: the first hearers of Luke's gospel may have been familiar with Ezekiel 47:1-10. We should be, too. A steam of water from the temple gushes like a river, like deep water. In this sea, the water will become wholesome. Every living creature will be able to live wherever this stream goes. Te fish will be abundant.
Monday, February 1, 2010
Response was positive. Many people came out to see him.
So many people that he needed help in order to continue to carry out his work.
He asked Simon, (whose mother-in-law had been one of the persons he had healed) to take him out in the boat a little way from shore so he could speak to that crowd that had gathered.
One lesson--Jesus needs us to help him do his work.
After he had finished speaking, and they were still in the boat out in the lake, Jesus told Simon, "Take the boat out to the deep water so you can go back to fishing"
Peter said that he could and would move the boat but that the fish weren't biting that day.
Another lesson--even people who have witnessed miracles up close don't always believe that Jesus can help them with their current need.
Related lesson--even people who don't believe at a particular moment can still follow the commands of Jesus.