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

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Futility, a Reflection on Ecclesiastes 2:18-23

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

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

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

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

Daily Prayer, Wednesday, July 31, 2013

I will incline my ear to a proverb;
I will solve my riddle to the music of the harp.

Invitatory Psalm 100
Shout triumphantly to the LORD , all the earth!
2 Serve the LORD with celebration!
Come before him with shouts of joy!
3 Know that the LORD is God—
he made us; we belong to him.
We are his people,
the sheep of his own pasture.
4 Enter his gates with thanks;
enter his courtyards with praise!
Thank him! Bless his name!
5 Because the LORD is good,
his loyal love lasts forever;
his faithfulness lasts generation after generation.
[Common English Bible]

Psalm 120, 121, 122, 123, 124

Daily Lectionary Reading, Ecclesiastes 2:18-23
18 I hated the things I worked so hard for here under the sun, because I will have to leave them to someone who comes after me. 19 And who knows whether that one will be wise or foolish? Either way, that person will have control over the results of all my hard work and wisdom here under the sun. That too is pointless. 20 I then gave myself up to despair, as I thought about all my laborious hard work under the sun, 21 because sometimes those who have worked hard with wisdom, knowledge, and skill must leave the results of their hard work as a possession to those who haven’t worked hard for it. This too is pointless—it’s a terrible wrong. 22 I mean, What do people get for all their hard work and struggles under the sun? 23 All their days are pain, and their work is aggravation; even at night, their hearts don’t find rest. This too is pointless.
[Common English Bible]

Prayer for Today: Lord, some days I feel gratified, satisfied, with the results of my efforts. But not every day. Some days I despair, find myself sinking in frustration and dissatisfaction with the results of my efforts. Come to me during those days of pain, those days that I find aggravation in my work. Instill within my heart a renewed sense of comfort, a renewed sense of optimism, of assurance of the future. Amen.

Midday Psalm 119:153-160

Psalm 130

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

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

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

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

Lectio Divina: Psalm 49:6-7

Daily Prayer, Tuesday, July 30, 2013

My mouth shall speak wisdom;
the meditation of my heart shall be understanding.


Invitatory Psalm 84
How lovely is your dwelling place,
LORD of heavenly forces!
2 My very being longs, even yearns,
for the LORD ’s courtyards.
My heart and my body
will rejoice out loud to the living God!
3 Yes, the sparrow too has found a home there;
the swallow has found herself a nest
where she can lay her young beside your altars,
LORD of heavenly forces, my king, my God!
4 Those who live in your house are truly happy;
they praise you constantly. Selah
9 Look at our shield, God;
pay close attention to the face of your anointed one!
10 Better is a single day in your courtyards
than a thousand days anywhere else!
I would prefer to stand outside the entrance of my God’s house
than live comfortably in the tents of the wicked!
11 The LORD is a sun and shield;
God is favor and glory.
The LORD gives—doesn’t withhold!—good things
to those who walk with integrity.
12 LORD of heavenly forces,
those who trust in you are truly happy!
[Common English Bible]

Psalm 97

Psalm 98
Psalm 99

Psalm 101
Daily Lectionary Reading, Ecclesiastes 1:12-14
2 Perfectly pointless, [b] says the Teacher, perfectly pointless. Everything is pointless.

12 I am the Teacher. I was king over Israel in Jerusalem. 13 I applied my mind to investigate and to explore by wisdom all that happens under heaven. It’s an unhappy obsession that God has given to human beings. 14 When I observed all that happens under the sun, I realized that everything is pointless, a chasing after wind.
_________________________________________________ b Or meaningless or vapor or puff of air (Heb hebel , which often occurs in the book)
[Common English Bible]

Prayer for Today: God, reduce our obsession with the unimportant, with the transitory. Focus our attention on your wisdom. Amen.

Midday Psalm 119:137-152

Psalm 115

Psalm 116

Psalm 117

Monday, July 29, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lectio Divina: Psalm 49:1-4

Daily Prayer, Monday, July 29, 2013

Hear this, all you peoples;
give ear, all inhabitants of the world

Invitatory Psalm 95
O come, let us sing to the Lord;
let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!

For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods.
In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also.
The sea is his, for he made it, and the dry land, which his hands have formed.

O come, let us worship and bow down,
let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!
For he is our God,
and we are the people of his pasture,
and the sheep of his hand.
O that today you would listen to his voice!

Psalm 94
Psalm 96

Daily Lectionary Reading, Luke 12:13-21
13 Someone from the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” 14 Jesus said to him, “ Man, who appointed me as judge or referee between you and your brother? ” 15 Then Jesus said to them, “Watch out! Guard yourself against all kinds of greed. After all, one’s life isn’t determined by one’s possessions, even when someone is very wealthy.” 16 Then he told them a parable: “A certain rich man’s land produced a bountiful crop. 17 He said to himself, What will I do? I have no place to store my harvest! 18 Then he thought, Here’s what I’ll do. I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. That’s where I’ll store all my grain and goods. 19 I’ll say to myself, You have stored up plenty of goods, enough for several years. Take it easy! Eat, drink, and enjoy yourself. 20 But God said to him, ‘Fool, tonight you will die. Now who will get the things you have prepared for yourself?’ 21 This is the way it will be for those who hoard things for themselves and aren’t rich toward God.” [Common English Bible]

Prayer for Today: God, focus our attention on what you consider important. Amen.

Midday Psalm 119:129-136

Psalm 110
Psalm 112
Psalm 113
Psalm 114

Sunday, July 28, 2013

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

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

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

Daily Prayer, Sunday, July 28, 2013

Let me hear what God the Lord will speak.
You speak peace to your people,
to your faithful, to those who turn to you in their hearts

Invitatory Psalm 24
The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it,
   the world, and those who live in it.

You have founded it on the seas
   and established it on the rivers.

Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?
And who shall stand in your holy place?
Those who have clean hands and pure hearts,
who do not lift up their souls to what is false,
   and do not swear deceitfully.
They will receive blessing from the Lord,
   and vindication from the God of their salvation.
Such is the company of those who seek you,
   who seek the face of the God of Jacob.

Lift up your heads, O gates!
and be lifted up, O ancient doors!
that the King of glory may come in.
Who is the King of glory?
The Lord, strong and mighty,
the Lord, mighty in battle.

Who is this King of glory?
the Lord of hosts,
You are the King of glory.

Psalm 90, 92, 93

Daily Lectionary Reading, Colossians 2:16-19
16 So don’t let anyone judge you about eating or drinking or about a festival, a new moon observance, or sabbaths. 17 These religious practices are only a shadow of what was coming—the body that cast the shadow is Christ. 18 Don’t let anyone who wants to practice harsh self-denial and worship angels rob you of the prize. They go into detail about what they have seen in visions and have become unjustifiably arrogant by their selfish way of thinking. 19 They don’t stay connected to the head. The head nourishes and supports the whole body through the joints and ligaments, so the body grows with a growth that is from God. [Common English Bible]

Prayer for Today: God, don't let us be distracted by false pieties, but keep our actions focused on your intentions. Amen.

Lectio Divina, Colossians 2:16-19

Psalms 108, 109

Saturday, July 27, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lectio Divina, Colossians 2:11-15

Daily Prayer, Saturday, July 27, 2013

Let me hear what God the Lord will speak.
You speak peace to your people,
to your faithful, to those who turn to you in their hearts

Invitatory Psalm
Psalm 67
God, be gracious to us and bless us
and make your face to shine upon us,
that your way may be known upon earth,
your saving power among all nations.
Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise you.

Let the nations be glad and sing for joy,
for you judge the peoples with equity
and guide the nations upon earth.
Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise you.

The earth has yielded its increase;
God, our God, has blessed us.
May God continue to bless us;
let all the ends of the earth revere you.

Daily Lectionary Reading, Colossians 2:6-15
6 So live in Christ Jesus the Lord in the same way as you received him. 7 Be rooted and built up in him, be established in faith, and overflow with thanksgiving just as you were taught. 8 See to it that nobody enslaves you with philosophy and foolish deception, which conform to human traditions and the way the world thinks and acts rather than Christ. 9 All the fullness of deity lives in Christ’s body. 10 And you have been filled by him, who is the head of every ruler and authority. 11 You were also circumcised by him. This wasn’t performed by human hands—the whole body was removed through this circumcision by Christ. 12 You were buried with him through baptism and raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 When you were dead because of the things you had done wrong and because your body wasn’t circumcised, God made you alive with Christ and forgave all the things you had done wrong. 14 He destroyed the record of the debt we owed, with its requirements that worked against us. He canceled it by nailing it to the cross. 15 When he disarmed the rulers and authorities, he exposed them to public disgrace by leading them in a triumphal parade. [Common English Bible]

Prayer for Today: God, you have rooted us in Christ. Help us now not to be distracted by foolishness around us. Help us to conform to your will rather than the world's. We give you thanks for the many times that you have forgiven us. Help us now to live in a way that offers forgiveness to others and doesn't require so much forgiveness of ourselves. Amen.

Psalm 107

Friday, July 26, 2013

Prayer Primer, a Reflection on Psalm 85

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

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

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

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

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

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

Daily Prayer, Friday, July 26, 2013

Let me hear what God the Lord will speak.
You speak peace to your people,
to your faithful, to those who turn to you in their hearts

Invitatory Psalm
Psalm 118

Psalms 76, 80

Daily Lectionary Reading, Psalm 85
LORD, you’ve been kind to your land; you’ve changed Jacob’s circumstances for the better. 2 You’ve forgiven your people’s wrongdoing; you’ve covered all their sins. Selah 3 You’ve stopped being furious; you’ve turned away from your burning anger. 4 You, the God who can save us, restore us! Stop being angry with us! 5 Will you be mad at us forever? Will you prolong your anger from one generation to the next? 6 Won’t you bring us back to life again so that your people can rejoice in you? 7 Show us your faithful love, LORD! Give us your salvation! 8 Let me hear what the LORD God says, because he speaks peace to his people and to his faithful ones. Don’t let them return to foolish ways. 9 God’s salvation is very close to those who honor him so that his glory can live in our land. 10 Faithful love and truth have met; righteousness and peace have kissed. 11 Truth springs up from the ground; righteousness gazes down from heaven. 12 Yes, the LORD gives what is good, and our land yields its produce. 13 Righteousness walks before God, making a road for his steps.
[Common English Bible]

Prayer for Today: Choose a prayer from Joan Stott's website Timelress Psalms

Midday Psalm 119:121-128
Psalm 106