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.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Reflection on readings for September 29

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.
(Psalm 71:8-9)

Isaiah 57:15-59:21
Try this--Read the first section of the daily newspaper. Or, listen to someone complain about how things are going. Then read what Isaiah had to say about people who seem to have been a lot like us. They said they wanted to be God's people, but what they did was whatever suited themselves. They were regularly attending worship services, but they didn't let what they learned there change their lives very much.

Isaiah gives some examples; e.g., not paying an adequate wage to employees, quarreling, threatening violence. I'm struck by how timely these criticisms of behavior are. Can we accept that God does not approve of these behaviors now?

Then Isaiah speaks of what does constitute appropriate worship of God: to ensure that the poor are given opportunities to care for themselves, to share your own resources with them until they are able to do so.

It gets harder. Bring the homeless poor into your house. Get clothes for them. I'm hoping that God doesn't really expect me to take this literally but will give me credit for helping support a home somewhere that I myself don't spend the night. What do you think?

Offer food to the hungry. Satisfy the needs of the afflicted. Would this requirement include access to health care?

Those are the ifs. The then: Your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday.

Isaiah says that if you do these things, then the Lord will take care of you. I am helped by Walter Breuggemann's commentary on Isaiah:
We may take this conditionality of "if-then" as a hard-nosed, "legalistic" requirement, that is, as a "work." But we may also regard this conditionality as a shrewd assessment about how "social security" really works. Well-being comes only in a community of neighbors. The alternative here implicitly warned against is selfishness, greed, indifference, and exploitation that are anti-community. These latter practices are never the basis of a viable life in the world, and can never be.
If a nation--and the people that make up that nation--continually and continuously care for each other, making sure that each person has a life of freedom, is well-fed, and has afflictions addresses, well, what would such a nation be like? How could it be anything other than the way that Isaiah describes it.

Try it out.

Philippians 1:1-26
For whatever reason, English speakers dropped the singular second-person pronoun. So, we can't tell when "you" means "thee"; i.e., singular, and when it means "you"; i.,e., plural.

So, I looked up this passage in my Greek New Testament to make sure which you that Paul was writing to. And, of course, the you is plural. In the American South, we would say y'all but probably wouldn't write it.

In any case, read this passage as if it is written to your congregation, not just to you personally. Paul is concerned about how all of you are, and how all of you are treating each other, and how all of you are working to do the work that Jesus Christ intended for all of you to do.

Further, we need to keep in mind that salvation is not merely a personal matter, a case of my being plucked out of a bad situation, but rather a much bigger matter, a case of the world in which I live being transformed.

Be tough-minded, not naive: I really do prefer reading narratives and prayers in the Bible more than epistles. I like working out the story line in the narratives. I like being given ways of speaking to and listening to God. But, I get bogged down trying to follow the train of thought in the letters.

Here's an example of my trying to work out the meaning of this passage:

What Paul is praying for the congregation of Philippi--that they will use knowledge and insight to determine what to do so they will ready for the day of Christ. Paul's criteria--they will have produced a harvest of righteousness. I have to pause--does Paul mean that being pure and blameless precedes or causes righteousness or does righteousness come through Jesus Christ's efforts or some combination? Carl R. Holladay offers a good summary: Be tough-minded not naive.

Psalm 71:1-24
Use Psalm 71 to help you pray in times of despair--threats by enemies or difficulties resulting from aging:
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.
The psalmist recognizes how God has helped in the past and asks for continued help:
For you, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O Lord, from my youth.
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!
Proverbs 24:9-10
The devising of folly is sin,
and the scoffer is an abomination to all.
If you faint in the day of adversity
your strength being small;

Prayer for Today: Pray Psalm 71 to acknowledge the help you have already received or the help you need right now.

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