Offertory Prayer

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.

April 20, 2014 – Easter Day
God of our deepest joys and Alleluias! We sing our Resurrection songs this morning, not because of a miraculous historical event, but because you continue to bring life out of death and hope out of despair! When you rolled away the stone and let light enter Christ's tomb, you entrusted each of us who follow him to be bearers of light into the dark places of our world – carriers of the inexhaustible hope into lives filled with despair. May the joy of this morning, of the triumph of the Resurrection, empower us in our living out of these tasks, and in our generosity to support others who serve in our name. In the name of the risen Christ, we pray. Amen. (John 20:1-18)

"Copyright General Board of Discipleship. www.GBOD.org Used by permission."

Friday, December 31, 2010

Music for Epiphany

Virtual Abbey, http://www.thevirtualabbey.com/, offers a Playlist for Epiphany

New Year, a Reflection on Revelation 21:1-6a

Here's an excerpt from the entry on November 1, 2008, All Saints Day:
This passage from Revelation is often read as if it tells us what happens to those people who have died.

But, it also tells us what we can expect while we are still here.

For example, this new heaven and new earth is, according to Revelation, going to be a city. A city, a place full of people, different kinds of people, people who look different and act different and talk different. And they may be closer to us than we would prefer. A city is often dirtier than we would prefer and in it, we may see some things going on that we don't understand or like.


Looking at this passage and my comments on it, as I think about a new year, I wonder why the earth is not already like this, why this is written in the future tense. Is not God already at home among us?

I turn, as I often do, to Allen & Williamson. According to their Preaching the Letters without Dismissing the Law, the verb in "It is done" is in the perfect tense meaning that the remaking of the world is finished but the effect of the world still abides.

John saw a vision and returned to earth. We also are staying on earth, and we also can see the vision of what a city would be like--is to be like--as we live out being God's people.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Gift and Responsibility, a Reflection on Ecclesiastes 3:1-13 and Psalm 8

Time is a gift from God -- and a responsibility, a reflection on Ecclesiastes 3:1-13
Here's a repeat from last year:

We'll have a new calendar this week. The lectionary for New Year's Day includes this reading from Ecclesiastes that begins by discussing time. Here's what strikes me as I read this passage:

There's a time for something to happen and a time for its opposite.

God wants us to enjoy ourselves. God wants us to behave ourselves. (Are these opposites, too?)

God controls the time. God judges what we do with our time.

Repeat: Being Given Dominion, Reflection on Psalm 8
"O God," the Psalmist sings, "When I consider your glory, when I consider your power, when I consider what you have created, I wonder why you bother with us."

God is greater, much greater than human beings. Yet, don't get too humble. God has a job for us.

Many of us can use this psalm to prod us or to assure us of the value of what we're trying to do--or, ought to be. We're responsible for maintaining, caring for, being responsible for, God's creations--human and earthly.

Lectio Divina: Psalm 8:3-8

While making your resolutions, a Reflection on Matthew 25:31-46

Repeat:
We're looking forward to a new year but the old years are still part of who we are.

The gospel reading chosen for New Year's Day is the prophecy of what the Son of Man will say on the day of judgment.

"When have we seen you?" they asked. His response is that he was present in the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the needy, the prisoner, and the sick.

I'm struck by how many modern day parallels we still see to this list--people who have lost their jobs, people who have entered our country without documentation, people who don't yet have health insurance.

It may be a new year this week, but we aren't quite ready yet for the Son of Man to come in his glory with all the angels with him to sit on the throne of glory and begin that separation of people who did not do to the least what they knew they should have done for Christ.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Prayer for New Year's Day

Creative God, you make all things new in heaven and on earth.
We come to you in a new year with new desires and old fears,
new decisions and old controversies,
new dreams and old weaknesses.
Because you are a God of hope,
we know that you create all the possibilities of the future.
Because you are a God of love,
we know that you accept all the mistakes of the past.
Because you are the God of our faith,
we enter your gates with thanksgiving and praise,
we come into your presence with gladness and a joyful noise,
and we serve and bless you. Amen.

(from Maren C. Tirabassi, the United Methodist Book of Worship, 294)

Save Your People, a Reflection on Jeremiah 31:7-14

Jeremiah is speaking to a people in exile, telling them--reminding them--what God can do, what God has done, what God will do.

"I will bring them back," God promises.

They are now scattered. They are far from home. And, then dislocation is more than geographic--among them are the blind and the lame. All will be brought home. They will once more be together, once more be at home.

Jeremiah describes the gifts of their new life--grain, wine, and oil. Party food, everyday food.

And, they will be happy about being home, about their food, and about being together.

Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem! Praise your God, O Zion!
For he strengthens the bars of your gates; he fills you with the finest of wheat.
He sends out his command to the earth; his word runs swiftly
.... (Psalm 147)

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Word Lived Among Us, a Reflection on John 1:10-18

Repeat from December 2008 The True Light, Reflection on John 1:1-14
.... I am pondering on verse 10, "He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him." Why did the world not know him? Has the world caught on yet?

I keep reading. Verse 11 says "He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him." Okay, many of the Jews of his day did not convert to Christianity. But, how many Christians of my own day really accept Christ? Do we show evidence of this acceptance by the way we live our lives?

"And the Word became flesh and lived among us," (v14). In their commentary, John, Gail R. O'Day and Susan E. Hylen point out something that I had totally missed--The use of first person pronouns--John intended for his readers--intends for his readers--to understand and accept that the Word is here--As O'Day and Hylen put it, "The eternal Word of verses 1-2 now completely enters the human and time-bound sphere by becoming flesh...The story of God and the Word is no longer a cosmic story, but is an intimately human story.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Offertory Prayers for January 2011

The GBOD of the UMC has Offertory Prayers for January 2011 written by by Betsy Schwarzentraub

The Word, a Reflection on John 1:1-9

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him.....

Excerpts from Boring & Craddock's People's New Testament Commentary:
The word "word," in Greek, logos, can be translated as speech, discourse, language, thought, reason, message, account, document, or book. The first hearers of John's gospel, being familiar with scripture (what Christians may call the Old Testament) would have associated the word of God with the creative Wisdom of God
.

The act of creation, the transmission of wisdom so that we may live in the world created by God, both are ways of understanding how God has and still interacts with this world.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Rachel Weeping for Her Children, Dream Act, a Reflection on Matthew 2:13-23

Long ago, parents carried their child to a foreign country hoping to protect his safety. When the imminent threat passed they were able to return home.

Today, many parents are still taking their children to places that seem safer for them than their birthplace.

In their new homes, the children grow up, go to school, volunteer for the military. And, in the U.S., some think that they should be given the opportunity to be citizens.

Dream Act,

but

Dream Acts fails.

"A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because they are no more
."

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Faith in spite of, a Reflection on Isaiah 63:7-9; Psalm 148; Hebrews 2:10-18

On the day we celebrate the Nativity and the blessings on our lives that have come to us, we also can admit that at times we haven't felt very blessed or secure or even free. Our faith does not in any way require us to pretend that we don't at times have fears or doubts.

Ronald Allen & Clark Williamson, in Preaching the Old Testament, discuss this reading from Isaiah who was speaking to people who had been allowed to return home from exile only to find their new lives there very difficult:
It is an almost inevitable part of the life of faith to feel abandoned by God. We do well to remember Martin Luther's insistence that our faith, hope, and trust in God are always "in spite of." We believe in spite our unbelief, trust in spite of our lack of trust, commit ourselves to live lives of faith in spite of our sins, and we hope against hope. At Christmas we celebrate the coming into the world of the Prince of Peace in spite of the absence of peace. We love the neighbor, in spite of the fact that many of the are homeless and we seem not to notice. To lament, at its deepest level is not to express a lack of faith. It is to confess faith in spite of the failures of faith. ...
As God has acted graciously on our behalf, so we too should act graciously, particularly when doing so does not seem reasonable. Radical love is what is called for.
God's love is a relational love that calls forth love in return. ....

and my former seminary professor John Holbert has a post The Hope of Divine Companionship as part of the Advent Series on the Patheos website. Here's an excerpt:
Poets exercise their huge imaginations to offer hope to those who have no hope. This God has acted throughout the long history of God's people, and the poet wishes to remind them of those actions for them, the chosen ones. So, he now "recounts the gracious deeds of YHWH, the praiseworthy acts of YHWH" (63:7ab). One could also translate these lines: "I will remember YHWH's acts of unbreakable love, YHWH's ringing hymns!" YHWH has acted and we have sung in response, because "of all YHWH has done for us, great good to the house of Israel that YHWH has shown according to God's mercy (compassion—Hebrew is literally 'womb'), according to the abundance of steadfast love (or "unbreakable love)" (63:7cd). The poet has here reached into the deep language of the very center of Israel's faith and is reminding them of God's good deeds from the foundation of the nation.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Responding, a reflection on Luke 2:8-20

Repeat from last year: Receiving the news, a Reflection on Luke 2:15-20
The response of the shepherds was immediate. They went to Bethlehem at once to see for themselves. And when they had seen, they told what they had seen.

Think about who God trusted to receive and carry messages. Try to imagine a modern-day counterpart to first-century shepherds. Would you be interested in anything such people had to say to you? Is it hard for you to imagine God's telling them something before letting you know?

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Your Salvation Comes, a reflection on Isaiah 62:6-12; Psalm 97

Repeat from December 25, 2009:
I'm wondering about the sentinels. Why do we need someone to remind the Lord to take care of Jerusalem? Who were they? Who has that role for us today?

That said, I'm also wondering about the Jerusalem part. Why is it so easy for Christians to appropriate parts of the prophecies for ourselves but just as easy to ignore any application of the parts we would rather forget.

Sorry, not very Christmasy.

I'll try again.

The Lord promised a people in distress, "I will save you. You are my people. I will always remember you." On Christmas Day, we open our hearts to the coming of Christ into our own lives, lives that may be painful, lives that may be undergoing great suffering and desolation. Yet, God has sent Christ to us.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Hearing the News, a reflection on Luke 2:1-11; Titus 2:11-20

Repeat from December 24, 2009: Christ's People, a Reflection on Titus 2:11-14; 3:3-7
The lectionary has three sets of readings for Christmas--I think, for Christmas Eve, Christmas morning, and Christmas evening. In case you would like to read them all, here's the list:

Proper I, Isaiah 9:2-7; Psalm 96; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-14 (15-20)
Proper II, Isaiah 62:6-12; Psalm 97; Titus 3:4-7; Luke 2: (1-7), 8-20
Proper III, Isaiah 52:7-10; Psalm 98; Hebrews 1:1-4 (5-12); John 1:1-14

According to an article published by the Commercial Appeal on December 19, 2009, a lot of people come to church on Easter and for services relating to Christmas. What would they think about the Titus readings? For that matter, what do people who come to church a time or two a month think?

God wants us to renounce impiety and worldly passions. Yes, that probably means New Year's Eve, too.

Jesus Christ gave himself for us to redeem us from past sins and to keep us from committing new ones. People who belong to Jesus are eager to do good deeds.

And, according to this letter from Paul to Titus, that all for whom Jesus Christ has given himself really is all (2:11).

Jesus saved us not because we deserved it, but because he is merciful.


Another repeat:

MONDAY, DECEMBER 21, 2009
Who gets the news first, a Reflection on Luke 2:1-14
Augustus is emperor; Quirinius is govenor. The emperor decrees that all persons be registered; that is, the emperor is going to make sure that he gets taxes from everybody under his control.

Then there are some folks who can't issue decrees. The only things they control are somebody else's sheep. And it is to this kind of person that the angels go with their news. Not the emperor, not the governor, but the shepherds.

The shepherds.

Although shepherds had a positive image in the Old Testament--think of the 23rd Psalm for example--shepherds living and working at the time of Jesus' birth were not viewed positively. Rather, they were regarded as lower class, untrustworthy, migrant workers who used other people's grass to feed their sheep.

The shepherds were not expecting the news. They were at work, and, to their society at the time, not very well-thought-of work. Yet, the Lord sent a messenger to them with the good news.



Receiving the news, a Reflection on Luke 2:15-20
The response of the shepherds was immediate. They went to Bethlehem at once to see for themselves. And when they had seen, they told what they had seen.

Think about who God trusted to receive and carry messages. Try to imagine a modern-day counterpart to first-century shepherds. Would you be interested in anything such people had to say to you? Is it hard for you to imagine God's telling them something before letting you know?

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Grace and Apostleship We Have Received, a Reflection on Romans 1:1-7

How good a job did Paul do? How are we doing on that apostleship and obedience that we are called to exhibit?

I have been reading this year's Advent study, Blessings of the Manger by Jeanne Torrence Finley, and recommend that you do, too.

For example, here are some questions that she poses for us that arise from this reading from Romans:
Where are our loyalties, and how do they define us?
What do our checkbooks tell us about what we value and to whom we give our allegiance?
What do our to-do lists say about our loyalties? What do our calendars and appointments tell us about what we value most?

Saturday, December 18, 2010

We Will Call on Your Name, a Reflection on Psalm 80:17-19

I've been looking at these verses for a while this morning. I'm thinking about them as prayers by a people who had seen disaster, and in their distress, pled with God for help. I've considered what the compilers of the lectionary intended by using this psalm as a response to this week's reading from Isaiah. A child is promised, and, before that child grows up, the enemy will be defeated.

And, I'm reading these verses considering their message to a Christian in the fourth week of Advent. We are looking forward to the one whom God has made strong. We ask for and need to be restored, to be saved.

May we also pray sincerely the words, "We will never turn back from you; give us life, and we will call on your name."

We receive the rescue as a gift not as a reward for our efforts. Then we are able to respond to that gift.

Friday, December 17, 2010

When in Distress, a Reflection on Psalm 80:4-7

"O Lord God, how long will you be angry?" this psalm asks. This lament is rather frank--the people are unhappy, their neighbors have scorn for them, their enemies are laughing at them.

They admit their despair, not pretending that things are all right. But they don't accept it as permanent. They continue to pray:

Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Restore us, O God, a Reflection on Psalm 80:1-3

Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock! You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh. Store up your might, and come to save us! Restore us, O God; let your face shine that we may be saved.

We can read this ancient prayer and deduce the circumstances under which it was first voiced. We can think of times that the people of Israel depended on the guidance of the Lord as a flock of sheep depended on their shepherd. We recognize the names of Rachel's sons. We can recall the various times in their history that they were far from their homes or the times when they were at home but that home was under attack by enemies. And, recognizing and remembering their difficulties, we can recognize and remember that in those difficulties, they turned to the Lord for rescue.

We, their descendants, can also read this ancient prayer in the midst of our own contemporary disruptions and troubles. And, we, like them, can voice our recognition of the power and concern of God. And, we, like them, can gather to ask for God's help.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Christmas Communion

On his blog, United Methodist Worship, Mike Rayson offers A Christmas Communion with Musical Settings and Texts

A Sign, a Reflection on Isaiah 7:10-16

King Ahaz was more willing to trust the Assyrians than he was to believe that the Lord would save his country from invasion by Aram (2 Kings 16; Isaiah 7:-6).

The Lord spoke to this fearful king--please note that the threat he fears is real, that's he's not just timid. "Ask me for a sign," the Lord said. But Ahaz refused saying "I will not test the Lord." We can interpret his refusal as piousness or as an unwillingness to know what God wants him to do after he has already decided what's best.

The Lord gives him a sign anyway.

Ahaz had been focusing on kings and armies and enemies. Isaiah points his attention to a young woman who is about to bear a child, "She will name him Immanuel, God is with us. What you fear, you need no longer fear."

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Emmanuel, a Reflection on Matthew 1:22-25

The angel of the Lord told Joseph to name the child Jesus, a name that means "God saves." Matthew adds the quotation from Isaiah 7 that cites the announcement of a birth of a child centuries before that was to demonstrate the rescue of God's people.

Fred Craddock, in Preaching through the Christian Year A says:
Isaiah 7:14 was in its original context a promise and a fulfillment, and so is it here in a new setting. Here, however, the fulfillment is more broadly understood than in its context in Isaiah, for here the word "Emmanuel" capsules the central meaning of Jesus as son of David and Son of God: "God with us." That is the promise containing all promises, the fulfillment containing all fulfillments.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Mercy Over Literalism, a reflection on Matthew 1:18-21

Most of the images we hold in our heads--or in our hands--of the announcement of the impending birth of Jesus are of Mary, as we are told by Luke. I own and often look through a book that compiles paintings of the annunciation--and all of them are of Mary.

Matthew's gospel tells us more about Joseph.

When he found out that his betrothed, Mary, was pregnant, he knew quite well that he would not be the father of that child. Yet, he wanted to protect her to the extent possible. Rather than subject her to public disgrace, he decided to handle the situation as privately as possible.

The Lord sends him a message that changes his mind. Eugene Boring & Fred Craddock, in their People's New Testament Commentary say:
Matthew's main point is that Joseph the righteous man had already decided not to carry out the letter of the biblical and traditional law, but to act in mercy and preserve Mary's dignity with a quiet divorce. How it could be that a righteous person would not go by the written traditional law of God is a theme of Matthew's whole gospel, for the church to which he writes respects and affirms God's law, but no longer lives by it literally (see on Matt. 5:17-48).

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Be Patient, a Reflection on James 5:7-10

"Be patient," James says. And, if patience weren't hard enough, he then says, "Don't complain about each other."

When I think of when I have needed some patience this week, I'm thinking about how irritated I got when I was put on hold and had to listen to music I didn't like, or when there were lots of cars at the intersection when I wanted to be able to turn left immediately. But James is talking about a different situation that requires patience.

James is talking about our waiting, our anticipation, for the coming of the Lord. A farmer looks at the land where he's planted the crop. The crop's not showing yet. He's still waiting. But, as he waits, he is confident that rain will bring that crop up from the earth.

Beverly Gaventa, in Texts for Preaching, A Lectionary Commentary based on the NRSV-Year A expresses it this way:
Like the farmer who relies on God to send the needed rain (Deut. 11:14; Jer. 5:24; Zech 10:1), the faithful may and must rely on God. Patience derives from that certainty about God's protection.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Good News for Whom?, a reflection on Luke 1:52-55

Repeat from last year:
In her song again echoing Hannah's, Mary descrbies what God has already done. Notice how her song emphasizes differences: God has brought down the powerful and lifted up the lowly. God has fed the hungry and sent the rich away empty.

Who should be reassured by this song? Who should start worrying?

In verses 54-55, Mary reminds us that God has helped Israel according to the promises made to our ancestors.God's promise is to Abraham and his descendents forever. How do these words sound to us Christians when we realize that both Jews and Muslims consider Abraham to be their ancestor as well?

Lectio Divina: Psalm 146:3-10:
Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom tjhere is no help.
When their breath departs, they return to the earth;
on that very day their plans perish.

Happy are those whose help is in the Lord their God,
who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them;
who executes justice for the oppressed;
who gives food to the hungry.

The Lord sets the prisoners free;
the Lord opens the eyes of the blind.
The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down'
the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the strangers;
he upholds the orphan and the widow,
but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.
The Lord will reign forever,

your God, O Zion, for all generations.
Praise the Lord!.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Response, a reflection on Luke 1:47-51

Repeat from last year:
Mary responds to Elizabeth's good news and her own with a song of praise. Like Hannah before her (see 1 Samuel 2:1-10), Mary begins by praising God: "My soul magnifies the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior. From now on, all generations will call me blessed because of what God has done for me."

God chose Mary to bear the savior. Why didn't God pick a woman from one of the more powerful, prominent families? Why would God choose the backwater of the empire to be the birthplace of the savior, Rome, for example? For those of us who live in a powerful country, how willing are we to consider that God may continue to choose other venues for gifts?

Lectio Divina: Psalm 146:1-2
Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord, O my soul!
I will praise the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praises to my God all my life long.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Homecoming, a Reflection on Isaiah 35:5-10

They knew despair, but they will know gladness. They have known drought, but they will know healing rain.

In despair because of military oppression or natural disaster, they can look forward to repair. "God will come to save you," Isaiah tells them. Peace restored. The land restored to bounty. And more. The blind will be able to see; the deaf, to hear; the lame, to leap like a deer; the speechless, to sing for joy.

What might have seemed ordinary has come to seem extraordinary. And it will be ordinary again. God's compassion is extensive.

Isaiah describes how nature will respond. No more drought but instead the burning sand will become a pool of water, springs will gush forth, the desert will be transformed into a field of reeds and rushes.

And, as rain returns to a barren land and transforms it into a livable place, the people will return also. As springs flow, so will God's people return to that land, return singing and rejoicing. The land of sorrow and sighing will be a place of peace and joy.

But, what do we do while we are waiting for this transformation? I'm reading in Advent this year, Blessings of the Manger, by Jeanne Torrence Finley:
In Advent, we reflect on these images from Isaiah and imagine ourselves waiting with Israel for an end to sorrow and sighing. When have we wandered in the wilderness and desert? What would it mean to find streams in the desert and blossoms in the dry land of our lives? How can we join God in the work of redemption? How can we be part of restoring sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, and voice to the speechless? How can we be part of God's saving purposes? This vision in Isaiah tells us what God loves and intends for all of creation, and the vision itself is a blessing that inspires us to participate in making that vision a reality.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Do Not Fear, a Reflection on Isaiah 35:1-4

It's Advent and the promises of good things to come are appropriate for us to ponder: "shall be glad," "shall rejoice and blossom," "the glory shall be given," and "shall see the glory."

Isaiah was speaking to a people who had known disastrous defeat. They had deserved punishment. But, even now, the Lord will provide a home for them (read Isaiah 34).

The promises of restoration begin with nature itself--blossoming of the desert. I grew up in a place without much rain so I can easily imagine the joy described, but I can also appropriate the image of the desert covered with crocus blossoms metaphorically. E.g., what would opportunities for jobs, better educational facilities, enhanced health care, and so on, do for the impoverished sections of the city in which I live and that I love?

Verses 1 and 2 are in the future tense. Verse 3 shifts to the imperative. "Strengthen make firm," "Tell them to be strong and not to fear." Weak hands and feeble knees also can be interpreted metaphorically. To accept those promises includes a willingness to be able to accept them--to be willing to accept them--to prepare oneself (or, as in my example, prepare the whole city).

And we are capable of this because we can believe the words of Isaiah as words coming to us in our time and in our troubles, that God is coming to save us.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Prophet Identification, a reflection on Matthew 11:7-11

Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John, "What did you go out to the wilderness to look at? What did you expect to see? What did you think a prophet would look like?" He questioned whether they were more impressed by rich people with fine clothes.

He then quoted Malachi, "See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me..." (3:1a). Malachi was prophesying that Elijah would return before the great day of the Lord (4:1-5).

What would Jesus say to us? Where are we looking for a prophet? What do we think a prophet looks like? What kind of buildings and clothes impress us? What kind of prophet did Herod want?

Monday, December 6, 2010

Are You the One Who Is to Come? a Reflection on Matthew 11:2-6

John has upset the ruling authorities to the extent that he has been put in prison (14:1-12). While there, he heard reports of what the Messiah was doing. John responds to these reports by sending word to Jesus, "Are you the one we have been expecting, or do we have to keep waiting?"

Look back at Matthew 3:1-17. John had been proclaiming the imminent coming of the one foretold by Isaiah. When Jesus had come to John to be baptized, at first John refused saying, "I need to be baptized by you," but agreed when Jesus assured him.

When John questions whether Jesus is the foretold Messiah, do we think that he wonders whether Jesus meets the expectations of what a messiah was supposed to do and be like, or do we think that he wonders whether they had the right expectations?

Jesus responded to the question about his identity by saying to John's disciples, "Go and tell him what you have witnessed, that the blind can see, the the lame can walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf can hear, and the poor have good news brought to them." Look at Isaiah 35 to see how this message would fulfill the prophecy.

What is it that we are expecting the Messiah to do for our world in our time? What signs would validate the identity of Christ for us? How concerned are we with other people's blindness, lameness, disease, etc.? Do we see the work of the Lord coming through those who care for the sick and the poor?

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Confirmation of the Promises, a Reflection on Romans 15:8-13

The Romans that Paul was writing to were Gentiles. Christ had come to confirm promises made to Jews. But, the benefits did not accrue solely to them. Paul says that Christ has come "and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy." Gentiles had not kept the Torah, did not even know what the Torah required; yet, Christ has come to show God's mercy.

Although Paul was writing to a largely Gentile audience, he still quotes Jewish scriptures:
Therefore I will confess you among the Gentiles, and sing praises to your name (see Psalm 49:1).
Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples praise him (see Psalm 117:1).
The root of Jesse shall come, the one who rises to rule the Gentiles; in him the Gentiles shall hope (see Isaiah 11:10).
[with thanks to the editors of the Wesley Study Bible for locating the sources for me]

One way we can read this passage is with satisfaction that we can be Christian without first having to be Jews. But, another way to read it is to consider who might be included in Christ's care other than whatever particular tight circle we inhabit.

That is, do we in the church consider that Christ's mercy to us is intended to be instructive to onlookers? How welcoming are to those outsiders anyway? How can we expect them to know what Christ has done if we are keeping it a secret in house anyway?

Paul's understanding was that God had always intended to include Gentiles. Who are today's Gentiles? How intentionally inclusive are we?

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Harmony, a Reflection on Romans 15:4-7

Do you ever say, "Well, somebody should have told me"? If you said it out loud, I'm guessing someone responded by saying, "We tried, but you weren't listening." Paul is reminding his readers that they have had lots of opportunities to know what to do.

"Scripture was written to teach you," and then he added, "Paying attention to scripture can give you what you need now--hope."

With attention to what had been taught, with hope for what was to come, they were instructed also in a necessity--to live in harmony with one another.

Their forming and maintaining a community was essential.

Look back at Romans 14 to see what the church was like. Then look around at your own congregation. How much harmony is there? How do you welcome visitors? How do you welcome those long-time members who hold opinions upsetting to you? How often do you even hear an upsetting opinion? Is it reassuring or disappointing to consider that we are to welcome each other just as Christ has welcomed each of us?

Friday, December 3, 2010

May the Lord's Glory Fill the Whole Earth, a Reflection on Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19

We can read this psalm in its historical context. A few kings had praise-worthy reigns. Most did not. Psalm 72 is a prayer that the new king will be one of those who carries out the role the way the Lord would have intended for a king to do.

And we can read this psalm in our own time and place. I am a citizen of a country that eschewed the monarchy over two centuries ago. But, the qualities of a king in this psalm are certainly the qualities we would pray for in our elected leaders.

I have done so myself. Several years ago, a member of the local church I was serving asked me to attend and say grace for a breakfast and for a mayoral candidate. Even though as a minister, I was not willing to make an endorsement in an election, I was and am willing to pray for leaders and prospective leaders. I read portions of this psalm before giving the blessing to the meal, including verses 1 through 4.

In Advent this week, we are reading this psalm in response to the description in Isaiah of the leader who is promised--and a description of what this leader's kingdom (I really ought to learn how to substitute "reign") will be like. The vision is one of peace, peace among natural enemies.

Psalm 72 asks that God give the king justice and righteousness. Note what righteousness means--defending the cause of the poor, giving deliverance to the needy, and crushing the oppressor.

In Advent, as we look forward to the coming of Christ, let us hope for, let us pray for a world in which the poor and needy are cared for and oppression is crushed.

And, while we are waiting, we need to assume some of these kingly responsibilities ourselves. The poor and needy don't need to be kept waiting. Neither does oppression.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Peaceable Kingdom, a Reflection on Isaiah 11:6-10

Isaiah describes what the kingdom ruled by this new king will be like. Peace among natural enemies. More than peace, harmony.

Edward Hicks painted the Peaceable Kingdom many, many times.

In an article, "Preaching the Advent Texts: Hope, Peace, Courage," in the Journal for Preachers, Advent 2010, John Buchanan writes:
Americans read the morning paper and hope that there hasn't been another suicide bomber, that a Palestinian rocket hasn't precipitated a deadly Israeli retaliation, that more beautiful young Americans have not died in Afghanistan. We live between yearning for peace and the reality of the world in the year of our Lord 2010. And the preacher's responsibility is to help the congregation remember the promise of Isaiah's vision and to point to signs, tiny green shoots sprouting in unlikely places--shoots of Jesse.
What gifts do we bring as peacemakers--in our world, our cities, our neighborhoods?
In what ways do you see God acting to make all things new?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Ideal King, a Reflection on Isaiah 11:1-5

Isaiah was speaking to people who were aware of the devastation that the powerful Assyria had deployed. Israel had been overtaken. Judah was under threat. Yet, the prophet speaks a message of hope (Read chapters 9 and 10).

Isaiah promised them a new king.

This king would be supported by the Lord:
The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.

The promised king would be an ideal king. A king who would be what kings should be. With his wisdom, understanding, counsel, knowledge, and fear of the Lord, this king would be a good judge. He would be fair to the poor and the meek. He would overcome the wicked.

Christians have long appropriated this vision of the ideal king to the messiah, Christ.

Questions to ask in Advent as we anticipate the coming of Christ:
Do we need a powerful monarch to enforce peace?
In what ways does this passage describe the church (after all, we think of the church as the body of Christ)?
Isaiah described the ideal king as caring for the poor and vulnerable. Do we see this as a necessary role for a ruler? for Christ? for the church?