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.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Reflection on readings for February 2

The Lord is my light
and my salvation.
Should I fear anyone?
(Psalm 27:1)

Exodus 15:19-17:7
Here are some people who have witnessed the passover, witnessed the scene at the river when they were saved and the Pharaoh's army were destroyed, witnessed the manna from heaven when they were hungry. If they had been taken care of in the past, how could they doubt that they were going to be taken care of now?

Well, they're thirsty, and they aren't relying on the past. "What have you done for us lately, Moses? We were better off before you interfered."

Freedom doesn't mean that everything every minute is going to go our way. Being grateful for something that happened before doesn't inoculate us against fear.

Moses himself had seen the works of God up close, but even he is in doubt. Sometimes, we need more than seeing to believe.

Before, Moses could not believe God. God told him, "Take that staff you're holding in your hand and throw it on the ground." Moses did, and the staff became a snake. "Now pick up that snake," God told him. Moses obeyed, and the snake once again was a staff. "Hold on to that staff," God said, "you're going to need it again" (Exodus 4:1-17).

Moses and the people he is leading will continue to fluctuate between belief and unbelief, between gratitude and despair. And so do we.

Have you ever known anyone like the people in Exodus 16? God has brought them out of slavery, protected them from an attacking army, and provided them with water. Their response is to complain. "Oh, why did you bring us here? Things were so much better in Egypt."

What is the usual human response? How different have we human beings become over the millenia? Often, even when we can remember our deliverance, we still complain.

What is the usual divine response? When we cry out in despair, what does God do? What can we expect if we cry out in disgust with our situation?

God talks to Moses. Moses talks to Aaron. Moses and Aaron talk to the people. Moses tells Aaron to talk to them. Aaron does. Then, as Aaron is speaking, the Lord appears to the people. Or, was the Lord there all along, and the people finally woke up to the presence?

As a typical American, I think I'm hungry if it's supper time and I haven't eaten since lunch. But not all Americans have as easy a connection to food as I do:

1 in 6 people in America face hunger.

Households with children reported a significantly higher food insecurity rate than households without children in 2011. 20.6 percent vs. 12.2 percent.

Food insecurity exists in every county in America. In 2011, 17.9 million households were food insecure.

50.1 million Americans struggle to put food on the table.

In the US, hunger isn’t caused by a lack of food, but rather the continued prevalence of poverty.

More than 1 in 5 children is at risk of hunger
Among African-Americans and Latinos, it’s 1 in 3.

Over 20 million children receive free or reduced-price lunch each school day. Less than half of them get breakfast and only 10 percent have access to summer feeding sites.

For every 100 school lunch programs, there are only 87 breakfast sites and just 36 summer food programs.

1 in 7 people are enrolled in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Nearly half of them are children.

40 percent of food is thrown out in the US every year, or about $165 billion worth. All of this uneaten food could feed 25 million Americans.

These seven states have statistically higher food insecurity rates than the US national average (14.7%):
Mississippi (19.2%)
Texas (18.5%)
Arkansas (19.2%)
Alabama (17.4%)
Georgia (17.4%)
Florida (16.2%)
North Carolina (17.1%)

How does God send help to people in need? In Exodus, the food came down from the sky. Sometimes, God sends it through the hands of other humans. Sometimes, we are slow to help.

Matthew 22:1-33
Someone important has planned a very big celebration. He sent messengers to deliver the invitations personally.

Some refused because they had something more important to do. They had to go to work.

Others didn't just refuse to go--they attacked the messengers.

Jesus began this parable by explicitly saying it was a description of the kingdom of heaven. We read this parable and look at our own reaction on God's invitation to us to celebrate the kingdom of heaven.

Are we too busy with our daily lives to take time out to celebrate with God? Do we even have that good of an excuse? Why did some choose to mistreat or even kill the king's servants? Why wasn't a simple refusal enough for them?

After the first invitees refused to come to the banquet, the king said "Just go ask anybody on the street." They did that, and the wedding hall was filled with people who had had no reason to believe that they would ever have been included in such a celebration.

One guy was so unprepared that he showed up in the wrong outfit. The king was furious, "Throw him out right now."

I am comfortable with the interpretation of the beginning of this parable as describing how some people refused God's invitation and about how God would reach out to people that might not seem to important by worldly standards. I am much less comfortable with the king's reaction to the guest who is dressed inappropriately.

Grace can get us in, but we will still be judged on what we do with that gift. Those on the first list were too smug or too busy to even show up. At least one on the second list couldn't do what the host required.

Some commentators suggest that Matthew is describing the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans. This could be seen as an echo of Jeremiah's prophecy of the oncoming destruction by the Babylonians (Jeremiah 25:8-14). (thanks as always to the NISB.)

Keeping the Roman Empire afloat was costly. Think about the buildings, the armies, all the layers of administrators, and even the costly banquets by the rulers. Occupied territories were taxed heavily to cover the costs of their occupation.

Coins were the form of currency. They carried the image of the emperor along with an assurance of his divinity.

Those who were plotting against Jesus tried to entrap him by asking if he thought it was legal to pay tribute to the emperor--that is, to use such a coin to support such an occupier.

Is his answer clear? Is he ending the discussion or is he starting one? After all, in Matthew's gospel, the Kingdom of God is not walled off in some other lifetime, it is a promise of what is happening here among us. (with thanks to Preaching the Gospels without Blaming the Jews, Allen &Williamson)

Psalm 27:1-6
The psalmist speaks words of confidence: The Lord is my light and my salvation. I will be confident. Light to show me the way to go. The Lord is the stronghold of my life. Stronghold, protection while I am on that way.

But, think about why the psalmist is making these assertions. They aren't empty assurances. Rather, they are tied to specific fears; for example, "When evildoers assail me" or "Though an army encamp against me."

The psalmist is not trying to get us to believe that being a faithful follower of God means that we will never see trouble, never suffer from illness, never be besieged by enemies. No, what the psalmist says is that during these times of travail, the Lord was a comforter and rescuer.

In response to the actions that the Lord has taken, the psalmist expresses the wish to continue to be near the Lord by visiting the temple--to live there, to be able to see the Lord there, and there to be protected.

John H. Hayes in Preaching through the Christian Year C explains the images in verse 5. Being hidden in his shelter is a reference to the booths lived in at the festival of tabernacles. The booth and the tent both evoke images of sanctuary. Being set on a high rock evokes the image of celebration after a victory.

To summarize: At times of great distress when I needed the Lord, the Lord was with me. I remember this, and I am telling you about it. I will continue to need the Lord.

Prayer for Today: Lord, keep us mindful of all you have done for us. Keep us mindful of all that you intend for us to do for others. Amen.

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