Generous God, as we move through this Advent season we are reminded of those days when your people lived in hope of your promised coming. As then, there have been other voices in our ears that claimed to have the means to save us: money, possessions, power, and status. As we share in this offering to you, may we hear in our hearts the only voice that can truly save, that can reach into the despair and the alienation of our world to offer the words of hope. We look again for the coming of Christ, our Savior, in whose name we pray. Amen. (Matthew 11:2-11.)
Wednesday, June 30, 2010
But, as in the passage from Luke, the good things that can be expected by them will be juxtaposed by the rage that foes will meet.
On Psalm 66:
Make a joyful noise to God, all the earth;
sing the glory of God's name.
give God glorious praise.
Say to God, "How awesome are your deeds!
Because of your great power, your enemies cringe before you;
they sing praises to you,
sing praises to your name."
Come and see what God has done
God is awesome in deeds among mortals...
Bless our God, O peoples,
Let the sound of praise be heard
...God has kept us among the living,
and has not let our feet slip....
Tuesday, June 29, 2010
O Lord, how many are my foes! Many are rising against me; many are saying to me, “There is no help for you in God.” But you, O Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, and the one who lifts up my head. I cry aloud to the Lord, and he answers me from his holy hill. I lie down and sleep; I wake again, for the Lord sustains me. I am not afraid of ten thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around.
Rise up, O Lord! Deliver me, O my God! For you strike all my enemies on the cheek; you break the teeth of the wicked. Deliverance belongs to the Lord; may your blessing be on your people!
Answer me when I call, O God of my right! You gave me room when I was in distress. Be gracious to me, and hear my prayer. How long, you people, shall my honor suffer shame? How long will you love vain words, and seek after lies? But know that the Lord has set apart the faithful for himself; the Lord hears when I call to him. When you are disturbed, do not sin; ponder it on your beds, and be silent. Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the Lord.
There are many who say, “O that we might see some good! Let the light of your face shine on us, O Lord!” You have put gladness in my heart more than when their grain and wine abound. I will both lie down and sleep in peace; for you alone, O Lord, make me lie down in safety.
O Lord my God, in you I take refuge; save me from all my pursuers, and deliver me, or like a lion they will tear me apart; they will drag me away, with no one to rescue.
O Lord my God, if I have done this, if there is wrong in my hands, if I have repaid my ally with harm or plundered my foe without cause, then let the enemy pursue and overtake me, trample my life to the ground, and lay my soul in the dust.
Rise up, O Lord, in your anger; lift yourself up against the fury of my enemies; awake, O my God; you have appointed a judgment. Let the assembly of the peoples be gathered around you, and over it take your seat on high. The Lord judges the peoples; judge me, O Lord, according to my righteousness and according to the integrity that is in me.
O let the evil of the wicked come to an end, but establish the righteous, you who test the minds and hearts, O righteous God. God is my shield, who saves the upright in heart. God is a righteous judge, and a God who has indignation every day.
If one does not repent, God will whet his sword; he has bent and strung his bow; he has prepared his deadly weapons, making his arrows fiery shafts. See how they conceive evil, and are pregnant with mischief, and bring forth lies. They make a pit, digging it out, and fall into the hole that they have made. Their mischief returns upon their own heads, and on their own heads their violence descends.
I will give to the Lord the thanks due to his righteousness, and sing praise to the name of the Lord, the Most High.
In you, O Lord, I seek refuge; do not let me ever be put to shame; in your righteousness deliver me. Incline your ear to me; rescue me speedily. Be a rock of refuge for me, a strong fortress to save me. You are indeed my rock and my fortress; for your name’s sake lead me and guide me, take me out of the net that is hidden for me, for you are my refuge.
Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God. You hate those who pay regard to worthless idols, but I trust in the Lord. I will exult and rejoice in your steadfast love, because you have seen my affliction; you have taken heed of my adversities, and have not delivered me into the hand of the enemy; you have set my feet in a broad place.
Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress; my eye wastes away from grief, my soul and body also. For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing; my strength fails because of my misery, and my bones waste away. I am the scorn of all my adversaries, a horror to my neighbors, an object of dread to my acquaintances; those who see me in the street flee from me. I have passed out of mind like one who is dead; I have become like a broken vessel. For I hear the whispering of many— terror all around!— as they scheme together against me, as they plot to take my life.
But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, “You are my God.” My times are in your hand; deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors. Let your face shine upon your servant; save me in your steadfast love. Do not let me be put to shame, O Lord, for I call on you; let the wicked be put to shame; let them go dumbfounded to Sheol. Let the lying lips be stilled that speak insolently against the righteous with pride and contempt.
O how abundant is your goodness that you have laid up for those who fear you, and accomplished for those who take refuge in you, in the sight of everyone! In the shelter of your presence you hide them from human plots; you hold them safe under your shelter from contentious tongues.
Blessed be the Lord, for he has wondrously shown his steadfast love to me when I was beset as a city under siege. I had said in my alarm, “I am driven far from your sight.” But you heard my supplications when I cried out to you for help. Love the Lord, all you his saints. The Lord preserves the faithful, but abundantly repays the one who acts haughtily. Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord.
Contend, O Lord, with those who contend with me; fight against those who fight against me! Take hold of shield and buckler, and rise up to help me! Draw the spear and javelin against my pursuers; say to my soul, “I am your salvation.”
Let them be put to shame and dishonor who seek after my life. Let them be turned back and confounded who devise evil against me. Let them be like chaff before the wind, with the angel of the Lord driving them on. Let their way be dark and slippery, with the angel of the Lord pursuing them. For without cause they hid their net for me; without cause they dug a pit for my life. Let ruin come on them unawares. And let the net that they hid ensnare them; let them fall in it—to their ruin.
Then my soul shall rejoice in the Lord, exulting in his deliverance. All my bones shall say, “O Lord, who is like you? You deliver the weak from those too strong for them, the weak and needy from those who despoil them.”
Malicious witnesses rise up; they ask me about things I do not know. They repay me evil for good; my soul is forlorn. But as for me, when they were sick, I wore sackcloth; I afflicted myself with fasting. I prayed with head bowed on my bosom, as though I grieved for a friend or a brother; I went about as one who laments for a mother, bowed down and in mourning. But at my stumbling they gathered in glee, they gathered together against me; ruffians whom I did not know tore at me without ceasing; they impiously mocked more and more, gnashing at me with their teeth.
How long, O Lord, will you look on? Rescue me from their ravages, my life from the lions! Then I will thank you in the great congregation; in the mighty throng I will praise you. Do not let my treacherous enemies rejoice over me, or those who hate me without cause wink the eye. For they do not speak peace, but they conceive deceitful words against those who are quiet in the land. They open wide their mouths against me; they say, “Aha, Aha, our eyes have seen it.”
You have seen, O Lord; do not be silent! O Lord, do not be far from me! Wake up! Bestir yourself for my defense, for my cause, my God and my Lord! Vindicate me, O Lord, my God, according to your righteousness, and do not let them rejoice over me. Do not let them say to themselves, “Aha, we have our heart’s desire.” Do not let them say, “We have swallowed you up.” Let all those who rejoice at my calamity be put to shame and confusion; let those who exalt themselves against me be clothed with shame and dishonor.
Let those who desire my vindication shout for joy and be glad, and say evermore, “Great is the Lord, who delights in the welfare of his servant.” Then my tongue shall tell of your righteousness and of your praise all day long.
Do not fret because of the wicked; do not be envious of wrongdoers, for they will soon fade like the grass, and wither like the green herb. Trust in the Lord, and do good; so you will live in the land, and enjoy security. Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act. He will make your vindication shine like the light, and the justice of your cause like the noonday.
Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for him; do not fret over those who prosper in their way, over those who carry out evil devices. Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath. Do not fret—it leads only to evil. For the wicked shall be cut off, but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land. Yet a little while, and the wicked will be no more; though you look diligently for their place, they will not be there. But the meek shall inherit the land, and delight themselves in abundant prosperity.
The wicked plot against the righteous, and gnash their teeth at them; but the Lord laughs at the wicked, for he sees that their day is coming. The wicked draw the sword and bend their bows to bring down the poor and needy, to kill those who walk uprightly; their sword shall enter their own heart, and their bows shall be broken. Better is a little that the righteous person has than the abundance of many wicked. For the arms of the wicked shall be broken, but the Lord upholds the righteous.
The Lord knows the days of the blameless, and their heritage will abide forever; they are not put to shame in evil times, in the days of famine they have abundance. But the wicked perish, and the enemies of the Lord are like the glory of the pastures; they vanish—like smoke they vanish away. The wicked borrow, and do not pay back, but the righteous are generous and keep giving; for those blessed by the Lord shall inherit the land, but those cursed by him shall be cut off.
Our steps are made firm by the Lord, when he delights in our way; though we stumble, we shall not fall headlong, for the Lord holds us by the hand. I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread. They are ever giving liberally and lending, and their children become a blessing.
Depart from evil, and do good; so you shall abide forever. For the Lord loves justice; he will not forsake his faithful ones. The righteous shall be kept safe forever, but the children of the wicked shall be cut off. The righteous shall inherit the land, and live in it forever. The mouths of the righteous utter wisdom, and their tongues speak justice. The law of their God is in their hearts; their steps do not slip.
The wicked watch for the righteous, and seek to kill them. The Lord will not abandon them to their power, or let them be condemned when they are brought to trial.
Wait for the Lord, and keep to his way, and he will exalt you to inherit the land; you will look on the destruction of the wicked. I have seen the wicked oppressing, and towering like a cedar of Lebanon. Again I passed by, and they were no more; though I sought them, they could not be found. Mark the blameless, and behold the upright, for there is posterity for the peaceable.
But transgressors shall be altogether destroyed; the posterity of the wicked shall be cut off. The salvation of the righteous is from the Lord; he is their refuge in the time of trouble. The Lord helps them and rescues them; he rescues them from the wicked, and saves them, because they take refuge in him.
Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause against an ungodly people; from those who are deceitful and unjust deliver me! For you are the God in whom I take refuge; why have you cast me off? Why must I walk about mournfully because of the oppression of the enemy?
O send out your light and your truth; let them lead me; let them bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling. Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy; and I will praise you with the harp, O God, my God.
Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.
Save me, O God, by your name, and vindicate me by your might. Hear my prayer, O God; give ear to the words of my mouth. For the insolent have risen against me, the ruthless seek my life; they do not set God before them. But surely, God is my helper; the Lord is the upholder of my life. He will repay my enemies for their evil. In your faithfulness, put an end to them. With a freewill offering I will sacrifice to you; I will give thanks to your name, O Lord, for it is good. For he has delivered me from every trouble, and my eye has looked in triumph on my enemies.
Be gracious to me, O God, for people trample on me; all day long foes oppress me; my enemies trample on me all day long, for many fight against me. O Most High, when I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I am not afraid; what can flesh do to me? All day long they seek to injure my cause; all their thoughts are against me for evil. They stir up strife, they lurk, they watch my steps. As they hoped to have my life, so repay them for their crime; in wrath cast down the peoples, O God!
You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your record? Then my enemies will retreat in the day when I call. This I know, that God is for me. In God, whose word I praise, in the Lord, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I am not afraid. What can a mere mortal do to me?
My vows to you I must perform, O God; I will render thank offerings to you. For you have delivered my soul from death, and my feet from falling, so that I may walk before God in the light of life.
Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold; I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me. I am weary with my crying; my throat is parched. My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God.
More in number than the hairs of my head are those who hate me without cause; many are those who would destroy me, my enemies who accuse me falsely. What I did not steal must I now restore? O God, you know my folly; the wrongs I have done are not hidden from you. Do not let those who hope in you be put to shame because of me, O Lord God of hosts; do not let those who seek you be dishonored because of me, O God of Israel.
It is for your sake that I have borne reproach, that shame has covered my face. I have become a stranger to my kindred, an alien to my mother’s children. It is zeal for your house that has consumed me; the insults of those who insult you have fallen on me. When I humbled my soul with fasting, they insulted me for doing so. When I made sackcloth my clothing, I became a byword to them. I am the subject of gossip for those who sit in the gate, and the drunkards make songs about me.
But as for me, my prayer is to you, O Lord. At an acceptable time, O God, in the abundance of your steadfast love, answer me. With your faithful help rescue me from sinking in the mire; let me be delivered from my enemies and from the deep waters. Do not let the flood sweep over me, or the deep swallow me up, or the Pit close its mouth over me.
Answer me, O Lord, for your steadfast love is good; according to your abundant mercy, turn to me. Do not hide your face from your servant, for I am in distress—make haste to answer me. Draw near to me, redeem me, set me free because of my enemies.
You know the insults I receive, and my shame and dishonor; my foes are all known to you. Insults have broken my heart, so that I am in despair. I looked for pity, but there was none; and for comforters, but I found none. They gave me poison for food, and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink. Let their table be a
trap for them, a snare for their allies. Let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see, and make their loins tremble continually. Pour out your indignation upon them, and let your burning anger overtake them. May their camp be a desolation; let no one live in their tents. For they persecute those whom you have struck down, and those whom you have wounded, they attack still more. Add guilt to their guilt; may they have no acquittal from you. Let them be blotted out of the book of the living; let them not be enrolled among the righteous.
But I am lowly and in pain; let your salvation, O God, protect me. I will praise the name of God with a song; I will magnify him with thanksgiving. This will please the Lord more than an ox or a bull with horns and hoofs. Let the oppressed see it and be glad; you who seek God, let your hearts revive.
For the Lord hears the needy, and does not despise his own that are in bonds. Let heaven and earth praise him, the seas and everything that moves in them. For God will save Zion and rebuild the cities of Judah; and his servants shall live there and possess it; the children of his servants shall inherit it, and those who love his name shall live in it.
Be pleased, O God, to deliver me. O Lord, make haste to help me! Let those be put to shame and confusion who seek my life. Let those be turned back and brought to dishonor who desire to hurt me. Let those who say, “Aha, Aha!” turn back because of their shame. Let all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you. Let those who love your salvation say evermore, “God is great!” But I am poor and needy; hasten to me, O God! You are my help and my deliverer; O Lord, do not delay!
In you, O Lord, I take refuge; let me never be put to shame. In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me; incline your ear to me and save me. Be to me a rock of refuge, a strong fortress, to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress. Rescue me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked, from the grasp of the unjust and cruel. For you, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O Lord, from my youth. Upon you I have leaned from my birth; it was you who took me from my mother’s womb. My praise is continually of you.
I have been like a portent to many, but you are my strong refuge. My mouth is filled with your praise, and with your glory all day long. Do not cast me off in the time of old age; do not forsake me when my strength is spent. For my enemies speak concerning me, and those who watch for my life consult together. They say, “Pursue and seize that person whom God has forsaken, for there is no one to deliver.”
O God, do not be far from me; O my God, make haste to help me! Let my accusers be put to shame and consumed; let those who seek to hurt me be covered with scorn and disgrace. But I will hope continually, and will praise you yet more and more. My mouth will tell of your righteous acts, of your deeds of salvation all day long, though their number is past my knowledge. I will come praising the mighty deeds of the Lord God, I will praise your righteousness, yours alone.
O God, from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds. So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to all the generations to come. Your power and your righteousness, O God, reach the high heavens. You who have done great things, O God, who is like you? You who have made me see many troubles and calamities will revive me again; from the depths of the earth you will bring me up again. You will increase my honor, and comfort me once again.
I will also praise you with the harp for your faithfulness, O my God; I will sing praises to you with the lyre, O Holy One of Israel. My lips will shout for joy when I sing praises to you; my soul also, which you have rescued. All day long my tongue will talk of your righteous help, for those who tried to do me harm have been put to shame, and disgraced.
Deliver me, O Lord, from evildoers; protect me from those who are violent, who plan evil things in their minds and stir up wars continually. They make their tongue sharp as a snake’s, and under their lips is the venom of vipers. Guard me, O Lord, from the hands of the wicked; protect me from the violent who have planned my downfall. The arrogant have hidden a trap for me, and with cords they have spread a net, along the road they have set snares for me.
I say to the Lord, “You are my God; give ear, O Lord, to the voice of my supplications.” O Lord, my Lord, my strong deliverer, you have covered my head in the day of battle. Do not grant, O Lord, the desires of the wicked; do not further their evil plot. Those who surround me lift up their heads; let the mischief of their lips overwhelm them! Let burning coals fall on them! Let them be flung into pits, no more to rise! Do not let the slanderer be established in the land; let evil speedily hunt down the violent!
I know that the Lord maintains the cause of the needy, and executes justice for the poor. Surely the righteous shall give thanks to your name; the upright shall live in your presence.
With my voice I cry to the Lord; with my voice I make supplication to the Lord.
I pour out my complaint before him; I tell my trouble before him. When my spirit is faint, you know my way. In the path where I walk they have hidden a trap for me. Look on my right hand and see— there is no one who takes notice of me; no refuge remains to me; no one cares for me.
I cry to you, O Lord; I say, “You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.” Give heed to my cry, for I am brought very low. Save me from my persecutors, for they are too strong for me. Bring me out of prison, so that I may give thanks to your name. The righteous will surround me, for you will deal bountifully with me.
The lectionary this week skips verses 12-15 which include more of what Jesus told them to say to the towns that rejected them. Woes will come that will remind them of past destructions. Note that although the missionaries are to tell about the judgment and punishment, it's not their function to enact it.
The mission of these seventy turns out well. They report with joy, "Even the demons submit to us!"
"Satan is dead," he tells them. "I saw him fall like a flash of lightning." Why do we still fear Satan if Jesus has already seen him die? Why are we afraid of anything?
Jesus tells them that they can expect continued accomplishments--and why. They have been given authority--and that authority has been given by him. He then adds that they shouldn't rejoice as much over their power but rather over the source of any power that they are able to see or use.
"O Lord, you brought up my soul from Sheol, restored me to life from among those gone down to the pit."
We can pray this psalm of gratitude for the healing that God has provided us.
And not just healing from physical diseases. Sheol is that lowest of places, a separation from all friends, a separation even from God. We are in Sheol at those moments of greatest distress and isolation.
But, even in Sheol, we remember our Lord.
Here's Robert Alter's translation of verses 11-13 (A Translation with Commentary, The Book of Psalms):
Hear, Lord, and grant me grace.
Lord, become helper to me.
You have turned my dirge to a dance for me,
undone my sackcloth and bound me with joy.
O, let my heart hymn You and be not still,
Lord, my God, for all time I acclaim You.
Monday, June 28, 2010
The instructions to the seventy (or, in some sources, seventy-two) in 10:1-12 echo in several ways the instructions to the twelve in 9:1-6.
People need help. You can help them even without a lot of resources. Not everybody will appreciate your effort.
That was then, and that is now, too. The harvest is still plentiful, and the laborers are still few. We still do not have what seems a sufficient amount of money or experience or talent or knowledge to make a dent in the massive amount of need confronting us.
Also still true is that we are called to cure the sick--that could mean supporting hospitals that actually provide care for indigents (some Protestant denominations do not). And, also still true is that we are called to announce the good news (verse 9).
The first hearers of Luke's gospel would have already heard of another significant occasion of 70 disciples. When Moses needed help dealing with the needs of the people on that long wilderness trek, the Lord told him to appoint 70 elders to help. The Lord told Moses, "I will come down and talk with you there; and I will take some of the spirit that is on you and put it on them; and they shall bear the burden of the people along with you so hat you will not bear it all by yourself" (Numbers 11:1-25).
Sunday, June 27, 2010
Compare each of these with the command to love your neighbor as yourself.
Acting on these what Paul calls works of the flesh will harm community because they do not demonstrate or require love of anybody other than oneself.
Remember the intent of the law, to build a community that would exhibit and allow God's love to prevail. Indulging in these works of the flesh would hinder the goals of God's intention. As Paul says, "If you do things like this, you won't inherit the kingdom of God."
Don't think of this kingdom as something that we have to die to get. It's a situation that could be possible for us right here and now if only we truly were to consider God our king, if only we truly were to live the way God intended--to sum it up, to love our neighbor as ourself.
If you want to read more, look at Fruit Smoothie by Dan Dick
Saturday, June 26, 2010
Earlier in this letter, he had reminded them that freedom is not free, that Christ had paid a price for their freedom (1:3-5). And since, they had received this gift, they should not reject it (1:6-12).
These Galatians don't have to become Jews in order to be Christians. But, in no way, does Paul ever indicate that anything goes.
If we interpret the word "law" to be mean "male Christians have to be circumcised," then Paul is saying they aren't bound by the law. But, Paul doesn't always use the term "law" that narrowly.
In the sense that they--we, too--are supposed to consider that the law was intended as a way to show the people how to live in a way that would be best for all of them, a way that would promote peace and continuity, then we are to follow the law.
And, in that case, Christians are still bound by the law. "Do not use your freedom as an opportunity to indulge yourself," Paul tells them. He quotes Leviticus 19:18 to demonstrate that the law can be summed up in a single commandment, "Love your neighbor as yourself."
Love not as some sweet emotion but love taken seriously. "Through love become slaves to one another."
Friday, June 25, 2010
This psalm gives us words to express those times when we are in need--times when we cried aloud to God, but didn't get the help we needed when we wanted or expected it, those times when God didn't act or we didn't recognize God's act as something that was needed for our plight:
....my soul refused to be comforted....
Verses 9-10, that are omitted in this week's reading, reminds us what God has already done. Yet, this reminder carries a tone of resentment--God has done so much for so many, what reason does God have for not helping me right now?
The tone changes in verse 11. The psalmist turns from talking about God to talking to God,
I will remember your wonders of old when the waters saw you, the very deep trembled.
I'm suggesting that we take the reference to waters as literal--the memory of the rescue of the people led by Moses as they escaping through the river from slavery in Egypt--or as a metaphor for any time that the situation seems as hopeless as facing a river with an army coming right at us.
Elijah was threatened by the powerful of his community and his time. The psalmist was facing a threat in his own time. We don't know exactly what it was or if we even have to read it as a situation in David's life--but it could be. And God's people continue to suffer threats in their time--in our own time.
This psalm allows us to say in words that when we face a troubling, scary situation, one in which we feel controlled by forces that no human being could possibly handle alone, then we turn for help to the One who has protected them and us before.
The Jewish Study Bible commentary suggests that we also look at Isaiah 51:9-1-; Psalms 18:8-16; 114:3-6
Thursday, June 24, 2010
Elisha said, "I'm not ready to let you go. Stay here with me."
How hard is it for a disciple to move on and to let go?
The other prophets tried to help Elisha. Elijah tried to help him. Yet, Elisha is still not ready to let Elijah go.
The way he puts it is to repeat, "I won't abandon you."
What really is his objection?
Even when he is told that the Lord has ordained this move, Elisha objects. He continues to delay the departure. They travel from Bethel to Jericho to the Jordan. Breuggemann points out that they are moving into the wilderness.
Think about an earlier crossing of the Jordan--Moses couldn't go, but Joshua led the people across.
Elisha is bereaved.
Elisha asked for a double share of Elijah's spirit. Elijah reminded him that the Spirit is God's to share. Let us continue to pray for God's spirit to light on us as we face loss and challenge.
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge.(1-2)
I say to the Lord, "You are my Lord;
I have no good apart from you."
I've lost what I was used to, what I thought I had to have, but I still have what is really important.
I bless the Lord who gives me counsel;(7-8)
in the night also my heart instructs me.
I keep the Lord always before me;
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.
I can still rely on God for guidance.
Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices;(9)
my body also rests secure.
I can give up reliance on the familiar or the false. I can rejoice that I can rely on the Lord.
You show me the path of life.(11)
In your presence there is fulness of joy;
in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
Commentators suggest several settings for this psalm as well as nomads like Abraham and Moses or fugitives like Jacob or exiles like those transported by the Assyrians or Babylonians, or the to-be-King David after one of his escapes. For example, the psalm could express the relief of someone surviving a near-death experience. This week, since the lectionary has paired the psalm with the story of Elisha's accepting the call to be Elijah's successor, we can think of him--leaving his family and occupation behind to start a mission fraught with danger. Elisha can be joyful as he follows the path that the Lord shows him. Note: use path as a literal and metaphorical term.
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
Elijah feels that he is alone without any support.
The Lord gives him more work to do: Anoint a king to replace Ahab. Anoint a prophet to continue your work.
Elijah continues his journey. He finds Elisha, the one the Lord has designated to be his successor.
Elisha is at work plowing when Elijah approaches him. He's ready to go but wants to say goodbye to his parents first. Commentators disagree on whether the text tells us that Elijah let him do this or not. In either case, Elisha slaughtered the oxen providing a meal to feed the people. Then he set out with Elijah.
Monday, June 21, 2010
He's already told the disciples closest to him what is awaiting him in Jerusalem. To get there, they leave places with people like them and travel through a place, Samaria, with people who are considered different. Different because of something that had happened centuries earlier.
The Samaritans don't want him yet. When his disciples want to repay the inhospitality with violence--or, at least, great dramatic effects, Jesus won't let them.
Other people do want to follow him. To the enthusiastic volunteer, Jesus offers caution; to the cautious volunteer, he reminds him of the necessity for urgency.
Here's the lessons I'm drawing today--1. Past problems can still cause difficulties. 2. Discipleship has risks. 3. Discipleship requires sacrifices.
Sunday, June 20, 2010
Faith is the criterion--not citizenship, status, gender.
Jews are in God's family. Those with faith in Christ are, as well.
Saturday, June 19, 2010
Much of the Bible is written about God and about the relationship between God and God's people--Genesis through 2 Chronicles, say.
The books of the prophets are filled with words that God intends for us to listen to.
The wisdom books, including but not limited to Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, are largely people speaking to people, that is, wise people speaking to people that need and want to be wise.
Psalms, though, has a large component of people speaking to God.
And often, what we say is a complaint, an expression of sadness, a lament that things are the way we wanted--or expected--them to be.
The lectionary choice for a response to the 1 Kings passage this week is Psalm 42. As I read the psalm in light of not only what the reassurance the Lord offered to Elijah but Elijah's words that prompted it. Elijah had said, "I'm alone. I have been faithful, but the Israelites have not. My life is in danger."
Psalm 42 begins with an expression of longing for God, a longing prompted by a sense of separation from God. A long separation, and one that has been noticed by onlookers.
The psalmist is in despair. He thinks that God has forgotten about him.
Is being too unimportant to be remembered worst than being so bad that you deserve being punished?
Although he thinks that God has forgotten him, he knows very well that his enemies haven't. They mock him, "Where is your God?"
But, even in despair, the psalmist turns to God,
Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my help and my God.
Note: the lectionary also suggests that Psalm 43 be read along with Psalm 42.
Friday, June 18, 2010
God did provide food and drink (see for example 17:6 but also 17:7, 17:8-16; 18:41-46).
And, once again, when Elijah is running away from a death threat by the king, the Lord has provided food and water sufficient for him to keep on his journey.
But, now, Elijah is in despair. He had done everything that God wanted; yet, his enemies want to kill him. He ready to give up, to die.
God comes to him in his despair.
Comes to him in an unexpected way. Comes to him in silence.
The commentary in The New Interpreter's Study Bible points out what a contrast this is from earlier theophanies which were accompanied by fire, wind, thunder, lightning, and earthquakes, such as in Judges 5:4-5; Psalms 18:7-15; 68:7-8; Habakkuk 3:15.
In an unexpected way, but Elijah is able to recognize God's voice anyway.
When Elijah heard God's voice, he listened. And he did something else. He spoke. He spoke of his discontent. "I've done everything you told me to do, and the result is that they want to kill me. I'm the only one left."
What did Elijah expect God to say? What response do we expect when we lay our lamentations out? Remember, he's not just making this up--he really has been obedient, and people really are out to get him.
God tells him to anoint new kings for Aram and Israel and to anoint a new prophet, Elisha, to succeed him.
God is telling him, "I've haven't abandoned you, but you aren't to abandon your mission, either." Here's how Allen & Williamson put it in Preaching the Old Testament:
Responding to the call and claim of God is a risky busines, and defeat and despondency are often the companions of those who do so. We should not wallow in such feelings, although Elijah did just that, but be open to the God who ever call us forward as Elijah, in spite of himself, was called. God's adamant love gets us through the hard times.
Thursday, June 17, 2010
The king saw Elijah eliminate the prophets of Baal. He experienced the heavy rain that Elijah told him was coming. But, when Ahab reported all this to Jezebel, she didn't back down at all. Instead she sent threats to him, "So let what happened to those prophets happen to me if I don't kill you first."
Elijah, unlike Jezebel, knew when the situation was scary. When he heard the threat, he fled for his life.
Leaving his servant behind, Elijah went a day's journey into the wilderness. Sitting alone under a solitary broom tree, he prayed to the Lord to take his life.
I'm trying to imagine what changed for him--he had been willing to take on a challenge against the priests of Baal, then he had been willing to try to run away from the queen's threat, and how he has given up. Did he think that the Lord had accomplished all possible? Did he think that Jezebel was so much stronger than all the prophets put together that she could win a contest with the Lord? Or, was he just tired of running, of being in conflict?
Whatever the reason he had for giving up, the Lord wasn't ready for him to die. An angel came to Elijah, showed him food and water. The refreshments did not refresh him enough to get him back on his journey. The angel returned to him and gave him more encouragement.
Elijah was able to journey for forty days and forty nights coming to Mount Horeb where he spent the night in a cave.
Fear. Despair. Lethargy. Renewed energy. Wilderness trek. Sleep.
Then the word of the Lord came to him asking him what he was doing there.
His response sounds rather confrontational to me, "I've supported you, but nobody else is. They're trying to kill me."
Elijah feels very alone. He is still afraid.
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
Then, "I will tell others how you rescued me."
And, "All of you who are listening need to praise the Lord."
Followed by a reminder of the Lord's intentions, "Everybody on earth, including the poor, shall turn to the Lord."
This psalm is an interesting choice for a response to the passage from Isaiah. It's a kind of on-the-other-hand for the prophet's chastising people who forgot the Lord.
But, the psalm does track more closely the gospel reading for this week. The man who was healed was thankful and wanted everybody to know how much and to whom he was thankful.
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
I wrote that paragraph before I looked the passage up in my New interpreter's Study Bible. There I found out that scholars assert that God is speaking not to the returning exiles but to the ones who never left.
Of course, they had complaints too.
God is addressing these complaints.
We can infer that they are blaming God for their troubles, asking "Why didn't you do something sooner?"
God's response, "I was ready to come and to help even those who didn't bother to ask. When I held my hand out, you were too busy doing other things to notice me. How can I help anyone who doesn't accept my offer?"
Then, more ominously, God says,"I have been paying attention to you, and you will reap the consequences for your lapses."
But, even then, God holds out hope. Total destruction may have been deserved, but instead, God is promising continuing survival and relationship.
Thus says the Lord: As the wine is found in the cluster, and they say "do not destroy it, for there is a blessing in it" so I will do for my servants' sake (8).
This do-over after the exile allows these people to live in the land given to them by the Lord and in the way that the Lord has devised. They had messed up the first time, but now the Lord has given them another chance.
This isn't just history. It's a reminder to us as we acknowledge our failings and look to God for renewal and continued support.
Monday, June 14, 2010
But, the man who had been healed wanted to go with Jesus. Instead, Jesus told him to go home and tell people what had been done for him. He did.
Sometimes, people see what Jesus can do and get scared. Sometimes, they get grateful.
We the church as the body of Christ continue his healing ministry. An example in Memphis is the Church Health Center. Those of us who have seen the miracles that Jesus can do shouldn't react with fear; rather, we should rejoice that his work is still ongoing.
Sunday, June 13, 2010
In verse 14, Paul is quoting himself in what he said to Peter in a rebuke, "If you, a Jew, live like a Gentile, where do you get off asking Gentiles to be more Jewish than you are?"
So, in verse 15, when Paul says "We ourselves are Jews by birth," I'm suggesting that he's still quoting what he had said directly to Peter.
"You and I, Peter, believe in Christ Jesus. Although we, as Jews, had been entrusted with the law, the understanding of how God wanted us to live, we now know that God has a way of including not only Jews but others, as well."
BTW, Carl R. Holladay, in Preaching through the Christian Year C, reminds us that Jews already knew that no one is justified by works of the law (e.g., Psalm 143:2; Habakkuk 2:4; Genesis 15:6).
Although these words may have been addressed to Peter, they are of course part of his argument he is using to counteract the attempts of the Judaizers who had followed him to the Galatian congregation and tried to convert the new Christians to Judaism. Paul is asserting that Christians do not have to become Jews in order to be Christians.
"It is Christ who lives in me...I live by faith in the Son of God....I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing."
Tangent from Holladay: We usually read "faith in Christ" in verse 16 to mean that we place our faith in trust in him. Some recent commentators have pointed out that this phrase in Greek is more literally translated to mean the faith that Christ has. Holladay sums it up, "This places greater stress on the work of christ in our behalf than on our faith in our own behalf."
Saturday, June 12, 2010
Let us pray to the Lord to hear our needs.
Let us pray for those things that God wants us to want.
And as we pray for what we want, let us be worthy of that asking and receiving.
Friday, June 11, 2010
Knowing his death was coming soon, Jesus turns toward Jerusalem. On their way, they enter a Samaritan village.
The Samaritans don't want him there. Luke tells us that they want receive him because his face was set toward Jerusalem. Two possibilities here and both may be a factor.
There has been a long dispute between Jews and Samaritans since the exile. Samaritans are descendants of people who stayed behind and so were not considered to be the real people of God by others. We can think of our own contemporary ethnic distinctions to understand how somebody could feel superior to somebody else based on what somebody else did or didn't do a few hundred years ago.
Or, it could be interpreted that the Samaritans refused to harbor Jesus because they knew what was likely to happen to him in Jerusalem--the suffering part, not the resurrection part. We can think of current examples of reasonable people not wanting to associate themselves with certain failures. Rome was problem enough for them anyway without adding to it.
In any case, the disciples wanted to destroy the village that refused them hospitality. Jesus said no and led them to another village instead.
As they travel along the road, people volunteer to go along.
One said, "I'll follow you anywhere." Jesus responds by warning him of the dangers. Another said, "I'll follow you as soon as I take care of some necessary matters." Jesus responds to him by telling him what matter is most necessary.
What are we supposed to do with this reminder? What priority do we put on our comfort and safety as compared to being witnesses for Christ? What priority do we put on family responsibilities? How much does Christ expect of us, anyway?
He would have known what he was supposed to do and what he was supposed not to do. But his knowing didn't stop what happened to Naboth.
The Lord acted to give Ahab a reminder of what he should have already known. The Lord sent the prophet Elijah to go to the king. Tell him "I will bring disaster on you."
God's commands had been directed to ensure fairness and well-being for everyone. By violating the rights of Naboth, they have violated the commands of God. In their Preaching the Old Testament, Allen & Williamson ask
"Is there ever any limit to how much of the world's riches the wealthy can commandeer for themselves while others live on the street?"
Harming the weak is violating the commands of God, then and now.
Thursday, June 10, 2010
The original distribution of land (I'm not looking it up right now, but it's in Numbers at the end of the exodus journey just before they cross over into the promised land) was intended to make sure that each and every person got a fair share, a fair chance to prosper in the new land. Even if somebody had to give up the land because of financial problems, they would get it back (see Leviticus 25).
Jezebel doesn't get the fairness part. What's important to her is that her family gets what her family wants--after all, she is married to the king.
Following her instruction, the ruling authorities in the city accuse Naboth of cursing God and the king. Naboth is found guilty and is stoned to death.
Sad irony. Naboth is accused of cursing God. By finding him guilty of this false accusation, they themselves by their action have violated the wishes of God. They, rather than Naboth, have cursed God.
Wednesday, June 9, 2010
Jesus asked, "Which will be more grateful?"
King David had desired Bathsheba so much, that he sent her husband, the loyal soldier Uriah, into battle. When Uriah was killed, Bathsheba came to David. The Lord was unhappy so sent the prophet Nathan to confront the king.
In the parable Nathan tells King David, a poor man has his one beloved lamb taken by a rich man. David responds with anger, "The man who did this should die."
The prophet Nathan forces David to confront his sin, "You are the man."
David is able to acknowledge his guilt.
The Lord forgives him, even him.
The lectionary has linked Psalm 32 with this reading. Here is an excerpt from an entry for the 4th Sunday of Lent this year:
And confession and forgiveness are not the end of the story according to this psalm. Once we have gotten right, we need to stay that way. "Do not be like a horse or a mule, without understanding, who needs to be curbed with a bit and bridle."
The alternatives are stark, according to this psalm: The wicked will live in torment, but steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the Lord. We are being asked to change our ways so that we can live out the command:
Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, O righteous,
and shout for joy, all you upright in heart.
Tuesday, June 8, 2010
Think about your own congregation. If respectable people judged you negatively based on the number of unrespectable people in your pews, what would they say about you? Jesus pointed out that the woman had performed actions which really should have been done--but weren't--by the host. Think about your congregation again. What are some ministries that you are neglecting to do? Could you use some outsiders to point them out to you?
Jesus responded to the criticism by posing a question, a not unfamiliar trait of his. "Who would be most grateful to have a debt forgiven--somebody who owed a lot or somebody who owed a little?"
The host was worried about being tainted. The uninvited guest was grateful for the gift that Jesus provides.
Monday, June 7, 2010
(Fill in the name) Methodist (or some other denomination) Church was having its Sunday morning service when in walked (here's where I need the great example of an illustrative sinner) .....
She doesn't belong to the establishment, but she sure does know Jesus and his importance. She has brought a jar of something expensive and anoints him with it. She washes his feet--try to remember the last time you even thought about doing this even for someone you knew--and dries them with her hair.
The reaction of the host--How can he be a prophet? He doesn't even recognize what kind of woman he is letting touch him in public.
In his time--and in ours, Jesus sure could upset the respectable. And, in his time and in ours, he can attract the sinners.
Sunday, June 6, 2010
Paul reminds them of his credentials: At one time, Paul had been instrumental in the attempt to halt the inroads of the Christian message into Judaism. Then, God told him to preach to Gentiles, to tell them about Jesus Christ.
Although he began his travels without prior conference with the central church in Jerusalem, he did at a later point meet with Peter and with James, the brother of Jesus.
Paul's understanding is that Gentiles do not have to become Jews in order to be Christians. The disciples who have been upsetting the Galatians disagree. They have been trying to convince the Galatians that being a Jew is an entry requirement.
Paul himself never quit being a Jew. But, he did not restrict Christianity to Jews alone.
Paul's idea has won out over that of those false apostles to Galatia. Yet, we still are being confronted by those who think our way of being Christian is not strict enough, not close enough to the Scriptures. Or, we may be in the strict group that is preaching to those who are not living up to what appears to be very scriptural. How could they? Complainers and complainees need to spend some time with this letter.
Saturday, June 5, 2010
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 are able to care for them, or to people without family?
Friday, June 4, 2010
In her grief, she turned on Elijah, blaming him.
Elijah took her son and prayed to the Lord to let the child live.
The Lord heard Elijah's plea; the boy revived.
When Elijah brought her son back to her, the mother responded, "Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the Lord is truly in your mouth."
Lessons in this lesson:
People who know God turn to God in time of need.
God cares for people that aren't necessarily very important to the world.
Recipients of God's care can react with gratitude.
Thursday, June 3, 2010
The Lord told Elijah where to go for food.
I'm thinking about how unlikely the choice might have seemed to Elijah. The place was at the center of Baal worship. The person he was supposed to get help from was a woman. He, a stranger, was supposed to approach a woman. Moreover, she was a widow; that is, she wouldn't be expected to have much in the way of financial resources.
But, the Lord had included the assurance, "I have have commanded her to feed you."
Elijah trusted the Lord enough to comply with the instruction.
When he got to the widow's place and asked her for some food, she told him, "As sure as the Lord your God lives, I have only enough for me and my son to have one small meal and then we'll die."
Apparently although she lives in Sidon, she knows about the God that Elijah worships--and obeys.
Elijah responds to her, "Do not be afraid. Go ahead and fix the meal for you and your son, but, first, make me a little cake. The Lord God of Israel will provide you with all the food you need for as long as you need."
She did. And the Lord did.
She trusted God's word that came to her through a prophet, a foreigner.
Wednesday, June 2, 2010
They have seen a miracle. A man's life has been restored. A woman's security has been restored.
The first reaction of the witnesses is fear.
But, it is not their only reaction. We are told that they glorified God.They spoke immediately, and they continued to speak. They spoke to each other and the word they spoke spread widely.
Take-away: pay attention, acknowledge, share.
Tuesday, June 1, 2010
Leviticus 22:13; Deuteronomy 10:18; 14:14-19, 29; 24:17-22; 25:5-10; 26:12; 27:19; Psalm 68:5; 94:1-7; 146;7; Isaiah 1:16-17, 21025; 10:2; Jeremiah 49:1
They also remind us that Elijah in 1 Kings 17:8-24 and Elisha in 2 Kings 4:18-3 compassionately raise the sons of widows.
Jesus continues this tradition. He restores a widow's son.Allen & Williamson read this passage as indicating that the members of the church are also supposed to care for widows and others on the margin.
Through the church, God can continue to look favorably on the people. Through the church, those who need sustenance and support can receive it.