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.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Reflection on readings for September 20

Let the righteous rejoice in the Lord,
and take refuge.
Let all the upright in heart glory.
(Psalm 64:10)

Isaiah 33:10-36:22
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.

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?

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. 

With the promise of restoration comes 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.

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

God's compassion is extensive.

But, what do we do while we are waiting for this transformation? In her Blessings of the Manger, Jeanne Torrence Finley recommends:
[W]e 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.
Galatians 5:13-26
Don't give up your freedom, Paul tells them--then adds, don't misuse it either.

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."

Paul contrasted the Spirit with the flesh, "Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh" (16). He then lists works of the flesh (and points out that they are obvious): fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, and things like these.

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 Dan Dick's sermon Fruit Smoothie.

Psalm 64:1-10

Proverbs 23:23
Buy truth, and do not sell it;
buy wisdom, instruction, and understanding.

Prayer for Today: O Lord our God, when we are wandering in the deserts of our lives, open us to recognize the streams you provide. Open us to the blossoms in the dry lands of our lives. Encourage us to join you in your work. Through your gifts, help us to join your work,  to be part of restoring sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, and voice to the speechless. Amen.

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