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.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Reflection on the readings for October 31

Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and all that is within me
(Psalm 103:1a)

Lamentations 4:1-5:22
The original audience for this poem were the people who had experienced the disaster of having a foreign power take over their country, destroying the capital and deporting many of the citizens. Those who had lived in comfort were now destitute. They responded to the catastrophe by asserting that God had been angry because of their faithlessness. We moderns may not have been through tragedies as extensive as theirs, but in our despair, we may look for a reason for our losses.

In their despair, they plead with God to notice them, to care for them.

Hebrews 2:1-18
Again quoting from Frances Taylor Gench's commentary on Hebrews and James:
The Son who lives in glory lived down here with us, like us. He showed us how humans could live, how a human being could be completely obedient to God. He showed us how to face death without fear. And because we know that he suffered, we know that he can understand what suffering is like for us.
The author of the letter to the Hebrews presents us with a paradox: God made Jesus perfect; yet, we share with him flesh and blood. More than that, he was like us in every respect. Every?

Another puzzle: We are told that through death, he destroyed the one who has the power of death; that is, the devil. One explanation of this claim is that Jesus showed us that a life without sin is possible.

Psalm 103:1-22
The psalm begins "Bless the Lord, O my soul." The psalmist would not have been aware of our attempts to separate body and soul--the Hebrew word connotes the entire self. We might give ourselves the reminder, "Pay attention, devote your thinking and doing and feeling, recognize and be grateful to the giver of all that you have and will need."

The psalmist lists specific benefits given by the Lord: forgiveness, healing, redemption.

He needs to remember these gifts. And he needs to remember that the Lord will continue to satisfy his needs and to restore his strength.

But, it's not just about him. In verse 6, the psalmist reminds himself that the Lord is not focused on only this one individual: "The Lord works vindication and justice for all who are oppressed."

It is right for me to pray prayers of thanksgiving, and it is right for me to remember that the Lord cares for more than just me.

Reread Hebrews 2:2, then Psalm 103:8-14. Are we comforted or irritated by the assertion in Psalm 103 that God does not deal with us according to our sins, does not repay us for our iniquities?

Proverbs 26:23
Like the glaze covering an earthen vessel
are smooth lips with an evil heart.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, forgive us for those times that we have ignored the needs of others. Forgive us for the times that we have ignored your commands. When we feel lost from you, restore us to yourself. Amen.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Reflection on the readings for October 30

Hear my prayer, O Lord;
let my cry come to you.
Do not hide your face from me
in the day of my distress.
Incline your ear to me;
answer me speedily in the day
when I call.
(Psalm 102:1-2)

Lamentations 3:1-66
Despair. Hope. Yet.

Help me. Pay them back.

Hebrews 1:1-14
Here are some excerpts from the commentary of Hebrews and James written by Frances Taylor Gench:
"Hebrews addresses believers who have grown weary in the Christian way and who are in danger of abandoning their Christian vocation: "fading enthusiasm, waning commitment, dwindling church attendance, and arrested development in the Christian faith," and "God has spoken; indeed, God has never been silent. God has spoken through prophets throughout our history, and now has spoken to us by a Son"

Gench focuses on the high Christology in Hebrews: The Son was at the beginning. Through him, the world was created and continues to be sustained:
Moreover, contemplation of Hebrews' panorama will guard against a restricted vision and limited appreciation of the story of Jesus Christ....Christians who do not attend church regularly, making an appearance only at Christmas and Easter, may envision Christ only in diapers or nailed to a cross! Hebrews, however, encourages a broader perspective. It fills out the big picture, thereby laying the groundwork for a more mature understanding of the one who stands at the beginning and end of God's purposes for the world, and who makes available to us God's own life.
How limited is the vision and appreciation of the story of Jesus Christ? I go to church two or three times a week but surely I realize that a lot, a whole lot, of people go only two or three times a year if that many. What do they think about Jesus if they really do go only on Christmas and Easter? How do we get across to them that God's purpose includes our lives? How do we learn that ourselves?

How do we view Christ today? Are we focusing on an infant? Do we see him only on a cross? This passage from Hebrews reminds us of other themes.

Psalm 102:1-28
Words of despair and words of confidence in God.

Proverbs 26:21-22
As charcoal is to hot embers and wood to fire,
so is a quarrelsome person for kindling strife.
The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels;
they go down into the inner parts of the body.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, in in times of despair, comfort us. In painful times, support us. When our enthusiasm for your gospel fades, wake us up to your presence. Strengthen our commitment to your church. Give us the words that would be helpful to tell to those that need to hear about you. Amen.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Reflections on the readings for October 29

I will sing of loyalty and of justice;
to you, O Lord, I will sing.
I will study the way that is blameless.
When shall I attain it?
(Psalm 101:1-2)

Lamentations 1:1-2:22
As I read the opening verses of Lamentations, I think about the condition of so many of our cities: "How lonely sits the city that once was full of people!"and "No one comes to the festivals; all her gates are desolate, her priests groan; her young girls grieve, and her lot is bitter."

We may mourn, and we may look for reasons for the desolation of the once powerful, once loved city. We may ask why we let such desertion and devastation happen? In the case of Jerusalem they had been overtaken by a foreign army. The author of Lamentation tells Jerusalem that they deserved what had happened to them. Do we?

Philemon 1:1-25
As I began reading this letter from the emprisoned Paul to his friends and fellow Christians, I started to wonder who would write to me and to whom would I write. Well, of course now, I never write the paper kind of letters any more. But, I do e-mail some and I do send some direct messages by facebook.

What do I say? To whom do I write? Do I ever say anything about remembering someone in prayer? How often do I remember someone in prayer? How often do I tell someone how much joy and encouragement their friendship and support has given me? Well, how often do I even remind myself of this?

Paul is asking something hard of Philemon. "Your slave escaped. Take him back--but as a brother not as a slave."

What one Christian can ask of another. Give up what is due you. Forget the wrongs that have been done to you.

Paul is so sure of Philemon's love, that he is willing to trust him, willing to ask him to do this hard thing.

Paul is asking something difficult of his friend. Am I willing to do that? Do I have friends that I allow to ask difficult things of me? What is noticeable about my faith toward the Lord Jesus?

Psalm 101:1-8
Someone in charge says "Here are some things that would disqualify you from working for me."

Proverbs 26:20
For lack of wood the fire goes out,
and where there is no whisperer,
quarreling ceases.

Prayer for Today: O Lord our God, show us how to restore what we people have destroyed. Give us the words to speak to people who need to change. And, encourage us to reach out to those people who have demonstrated friendship and support. Give us the words to express our appreciation to them. Amen.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Reflection on the readings for October 28

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.
(Psalm 100:1)

Jeremiah 51:54-52:34
A recounting of the failed resistance against Babylon with some additional information.

Titus 3:1-15
The mercy of God saved us, not our righteousness. Even so, we are supposed to display righteousness. Some of the specifics are more difficult than others; e.g., avoiding stupid controversies. Today I am struck by the assessment that the reason we are supposed to avoid quarrels about the law is that they are unprofitable and worthless.

Psalm 100:1-5
I once asked a group of church-goers what scripture they had memorized. Several named Psalm 100. I was not surprised because when I was a child I had been encouraged to learn this psalm either at Sunday School or Vacation Bible School.

I don't know what I made of that phrase "all the earth" (or, in other translations, "all ye lands") when I was trying to memorize Psalm 100. I'm not even sure if I learned it in the NRSV or KJ. I'm not sure what I mean by it when I say it today. Who is being called to make this joyful noise? Am I recognizing Christians in other countries? Am I including Jews? What about Muslims? What about everybody else, those who don't descend from Abraham?

What do I think about "his gates"? Am I restricting the meaning of this phrase to church buildings (and synagogues and mosques)? Can God's gates include somewhere outside the church building? That is, am I restricting worship to a kind of formal space?

Proverbs 26:18-19
Like a maniac who shoots deadly firebrands and arrows,
so is one who deceives a neighbor and says, "I am only joking!"

Prayer for Today: O Lord, guide us into ways of obedience to your commands. Focus us on doing good works and direct us away from unprofitable disputes. Amen.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Reflection on the readings for October 27

We worship at your holy mountain,
for you the Lord your God are holy.
(adapted from Psalm 99:9)

Jeremiah 51:1-53
The mighty will not stand forever.

Titus 2:1-15
A couple of years ago,  the Commercial Appeal published an article about what they said that some church people called C and E Christians, that is, people who come to church on Easter and for services relating to Christmas. I'm wondering what they would think about these readings from Titus. For that matter, I'm wondering what do people who come to church a time or two a month think.

For example, how do we react when we hear, "The grace of God brings salvation to all"? Just who would we in include in this "all"? Can we accept that "all" could mean "all"?

What do we think salvation is, anyway? According to this passage, salvation trains us to renounce impiety and worldly passions. Yes, that probably means New Year's Eve, too.

And what do we think about this assertion that the reason Christ saved us was that we would be redeemed for sin and thus become zealous for good deeds. Think about it, not only do good deeds but to do them zealously.

Psalm 99:1-9
This psalm begins by stating that the Lord is king. Now, as an American I have trouble thinking of king as a good word. But, I haven't been able to come up with a contemporary parallel that fits the essence of what the word king meant at the time the psalms were first sung.

That is although I am unwilling to accept the notion that any human is exalted over all people, I am ready to proclaim that, certainly, the Lord is.

The God we worship loves justice, has established equity and righteousness. A reminder that we should favor equity and righteousness ourselves.

The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron and Samuel from a pillar of cloud, and they did what the Lord wanted them to do.

And when they didn't, the Lord our God forgave them.

Proverbs 26:17
Like somebody who takes a passing dog by the ears
is one who meddles in the quarrels of another.

Prayer for today: O Lord our God, teach us to love justice, to establish equity and righteousness. Help us to forgive others that haven't learned to love justice or equity yet. Amen.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Reflection on readings for October 26

Make a joyful noise to the Lord all the earth;
break forth into joyous song and sing praises.
(Psalm 98:4)

Jeremiah 49:23-50:46
Judgment against the nations continues--Damascus, Kedar, Hazor, and even the powerful Babylon.

Titus 1:1-16
This letter although written to a specific person in a specific congregation has some wise counsel for us in our own congregations. Some of the requirements for leader selection would be difficult to insist upon; e.g. being married only once and, in addition, having church-going children. However, some of the requirements still seem timely to us; e.g., not being arrogant or greedy but being hospitable, prudent, and self-controlled.

Also timely, at times anyway, is the description of some of their congregants as rebellious, idle talkers. The letter continues, "Rebuke them sharply, so that they may become sound in the faith."

Then adds a statement that we may be more comfortable applying to people we disagree with than to the one we see in the mirror, "They profess to know God, but they deny him by their actions."

Psalm 97:1-98:9
One time when someone in the congregation complained about having to sing unfamiliar hymns, I told her that the Bible told us to and quoted Psalm 98:1, "Sing to the Lord a new song." Yes, I know that was snarky, but, I was kind often enough that they put up with me when I wasn't.

And, I wasn't just being snarky--this psalm does call us to newness. Every day, we have something to be grateful for that day. God has led us to a new victory over new problems.

Proverbs 26:13-16
The lazy person says, "There is a lion in the road!
There is a lion in the streets!"
As a door turns on its hinges,
so does a lazy person in bed.
The lazy person buries a hand in the dish,
and is too tired to bring it back to the mouth.
The lazy person is wiser in self-esteem
than seven who can answer discretely.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, guide us onto the proper path. Enable us to be guides for others as they search your way. And, keep us mindful that our words and our actions show others what we know and what we believe. Amen.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Reflection on the readings for October 25

O come, let us sing to the Lord;
let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
Let us come into God's presence with thanksgiving;
let us make a joyful noise to the Lord with songs of praise!
(adapted from Psalm 95:1-2)

Jeremiah 48:1-49:22
The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: Israel will be saved, and enemies of Israel will be defeated, Egyptians, Philistines, Moabites, Ammonites. Yet, after the defeat of Moab, the Lord will restore its fortunes.

2 Timothy 4:1-22
The writer of this letter to Timothy closes with an acknowledgement that his death is near, "The time of my departure has come," and an appraisal of what his life has been like, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith." He expects his new life, and that of others, to be good, "There is reserved for me the crown of righteousness..., and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing."

That good fight that he had fought was not restricted to enemies. His friends had at times deserted him, but, looking back, he sees that he had always been strengthened by the Lord. So, looking forward, he confidently expects the Lord to continue to be with him, to continue to rescue him and save him for the heavenly kingdom.

As Carl Halladay puts it in Preaching through the Christian Year C, he has known human desertion and divine loyalty so that "the mood of our text is confident, and the message is one of hope."

Psalm 95:1-96:13
Psalm 95 is the traditional call-to-worship psalm. After the call (and even within it--see "rock of our salvation"), the psalm lists reasons for our worship. Summing up so far, we are called to praise God and to do so audibly, and we are reminded that God has already done a lot for us. Thus, an appropriate response to the gifts we have already received is gratitude.

Yet, we also may experience rebellion, distrust, and doubt. The admonition is this psalm helps us to remember that when we don't trust God, and so turn to our own ways and wills, things don't turn out very well for us. So, let's go back to the beginning of the psalm and sing the words and live them out.

Psalm 96  has a universal note. In verse 3, we are directed to tell of the Lord's glory among the nations, the Lord's wonderful deeds among all peoples. In verse 7, all families are directed to acclaim the glory and strength of the Lord.

Are we able to recognize the work of God in our own lives? Do we see God's will working through the hands of other people?

Are we able to recognize the work of God in other people's lives?

Verses 7 and 8 in the Common English Bible say "Give to the Lord....". The New Revised Standard Version says "Ascribe to the Lord." When I read this passage in the NRSV, I wondered when was the last time that I heard the word "ascribe" in conversation. I don't think I use it often--or, ever. So, of course, I googled it. That's how I learned that ascribe is used as a company name. For example:
Our Ascribe™ Consumer Content Platform provides the ability to extract insight from unstructured data anywhere and transform it into actionable insights. ...
Although I'm not sure what a content platform is, I do see a powerful metaphor in their description of what it does--provide the ability to extract insight from unstructured data. I'm asking myself, "Where did I see God today?" That is, as I go through my normal day, as I meet people and events, how do I see God working through them, being present to me?

But not just noticing.

As I continue to read the description of the content platform, it promises not only to extract insight but also to transform it into actionable insights. That is, to do something with the awareness.

Psalm 96 promises that the Lord is coming to judge the world, to judge it with righteousness and with truth. May we live lives that make this news good.

Proverbs 26:9-12
Like a thornbush brandished by the hand of a drunkard 
is a proverb in the mouth of a fool.
Like an archer who wounds everybody
is one who hires a passing fool or drunkard.
Like a dog that returns to its vomit
is a fool who reverts to his folly.
Do you see persons wise in their own eyes?
There is more hope for fools than for them.

Prayer for Today: Pray Psalm 96.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Reflection on readings for October 24

But the Lord has become my stronghold,
and my God the rock of my refuge.
(Psalm 94:22)

Jeremiah 44:24-47:7
Jeremiah told the Judeans who had escaped to Egypt, "False gods make look good to you now, but eventually, you will come to know who is the true God."

2 Timothy 2:22-3:17
These instructions to Timothy could be titled "How to be a minister," as long as we remember that ministry is not restricted to those who have been ordained.

1. Read the Bible. He is told to remember his own formation including specifically the sacred writings that had been instructive. As Christians, we need to remember that Timothy would not yet have had access to what we call the New Testament since it wouldn't have yet been canonized--or, even completed at the time of Timothy. The scripture that is this passage is designated as inspired by God and useful for teaching, reproof, correction, and for training in righteousness, is what we call the Old Testament.

2. Proclaim the message. And keep proclaiming it. Convince, rebuke, and encourage, but always with patience.

3. Be prepared for people preferring teaching that seems easier on them or harder on others.

4. Be the kind of messenger that doesn't harm the message.

Psalm 94:1-23

Proverbs 26:6-8

Prayer for Today: God, direct our conduct, our words, our attitudes, toward lives that demonstrate your word. Amen.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Reflection on the readings for October 23

It is good to give thanks to the Lord,
to sing praises to your name, O Most High;
to declare your steadfast love in the morning,
and your faithfulness by night
(Psalm 92:1-2)

Jeremiah 42:1-44:23
After the fall of Jerusalem,  the survivors want to go to Egypt. Egypt! Remember what happened to Joseph's descendants who had settled in Egypt (Read Exodus) Jeremiah counsels them not to do that but to stay and  that the Lord will take care of them.  They didn't believe him. Moreover, Jeremiah is taken to Egypt also.

Where do we go when we are faced with hardship, with life-changing events?

2 Timothy 2:1-21
The author of this letter (who scholars now was writing some time later than Paul) addresses Timothy as his beloved child. He writes that he is grateful to God when he remembers Timothy in his prayers night and day. Remembering Timothy's sincere faith (as a sideline, please note that he gives a lot of credit to Timothy's grandmother and mother so perhaps we shouldn't be too adamant in asserting misogyny in the letters attributed to Paul), anyway, remembering his faith, he reminds him to use that faith.

He also reminds Timothy that God has provided us with a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline--and that all those are needed because discipleship may entail suffering.

He also gives credit to his ancestors by saying that he worships as they did. he did not believe that Christians worship a different God from the One worshiped by Jews. Further, he asserts that the grace given to them was given long before it was revealed through the appearance of Christ, Allen &Williamson, in Preaching the Letters, explain it this way:
What Paul exactly meant, we do not know, but the gracious disposition of God to God's creatures seem always to have been the case; our good fortune is that because of God's self-disclosure we know this.
Although Paul is undergoing suffering because of work, he is confident of God's protection. He tells Timothy to hold on to what he has been taught, "Guard the good treasure entrusted to you," and that he will also be aided, "with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us."
Jouette Bassler, in her commentary on 1Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus in the Abington New Testament Series, writes about Paul's view of suffering:
He presents suffering as inevitable for any Christian and essential for any church leader. Through suffering, a church leader identifies himself with Paul and manifests his confidence in the fundamental Christian promise of life. Failure to endure sufering suggest shame--not shame in the cross of Christ of Christ, but a lack of confidence in God's power to save."
"Followers of Jesus suffer," the author of this letter reminded Timothy. "I suffer hardship, even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But the word of God is not chained."

Not many modern day Christians face imprisonment for their attempts to live a Christian life and to announce that they are doing so. But, imprisonment isn't the only cost. We may find ourselves slipping in faithfulness just because of our concern to maintain our own comfort or security.

We might say "Get over yourself."

But not totally over. The letter promises that the short-term sacrifices are, in fact, short term. "If we have died with him, we will also live with him. And if we endure, we will also reign with him."

The letter follows these reassurances with a caution, "If we deny him, he will also deny us."

Yet even that caution is modified with the next assurance, "If we are faithless, he remains faithful."

Although I might prefer just to hold on to that assurance, I am going to offer the explanation made by Allen & Williamson in their Preaching the Letters:
....Affirming or denying Jesus seems to be a quid pro quo--God will treat us precisely as we deserve. But verse 13 counters with "If we are faithless, he remains faithful--for he cannot deny himself." What he cannot deny is "the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus" and that makes him who he is.
Boring & Craddock in their People's New Testament Commentary also deal with this tension between denial and faithfulness, "God's faithfulness is not dependent on ours; God's acceptance of us is based on who God is, not on who we are or what we have done." They assert that "this paradox permeates the whole New Testament" and offer the examples of Philippians 2:12-13 and Revelation 20:11-15. I would add that there's also a lot of undeserved acceptance in the Old Testament as well.

People who professed themselves to be Christians do not always get along with or agree with other people also professing to be Christians. That can happen between denominations and between congregations, and also even within a congregation.

And that's the way it used to be, too. In verse 14, we read, "Avoid wrangling over words."

"After all," he concludes, "those arguments don't convince anybody and cause hard feelings."

"Rather than wrangle," Timothy is told, "rightfully explain." The writers of the New Interpreter's Study Bible, who have studied Greek better than I have, comment "Rightly explaining," literally "cutting straight," implies the delivery of the word without resort to "wrangling."

Psalm 92:1-93:5
How often does a typical Christian offer thanks and recognition to the Lord--every day or twice a day or  at meals or not on some predetermined schedule? Why do we give thanks? Do we, like the psalmist here, get something good out of praising the Lord? Do we notice what God has done? Does our joy about what God has done impel us to praise?

Look at verses 12-15. The metaphor of crops is used to describe the righteous. As visible as trees, they stand and flourish. Even in old age, they continue to produce fruit. Like old trees, old worshipers continue to be growing and productive. These righteous people don't plant themselves.

Proverbs 26:3-5
Do not answer fools acording to their folly,
or they will be wise in their own eyes.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, keep us strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus and what we heard from many faithful witnesses. Help us to turn away from our errors and to turn instead to righteousness, faith, love, and peace. Remind us to respond to our opponents with gentleness and patience. Amen.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Reflections on the readings for October 22

Turn, O Lord! How long?
Have compassion on your servants!
Satisfy in the morning with
your steadfast love,
ao that we my rejoice
and be glad all our days.
(Psalm 90:13-14)

Jeremiah 39:1-41:18
Babylon invades Jerusalem, takes the king and much of the population into exile. The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah while he was being held under guard, "I am going to destroy this city, but I will save you." After the fall of Jerusalem, Babylon took much of the population into exile, leaving only the poorest people. The captain of the Babylonian guard released Jeremiah and told him he could go to Babylon or to anywhere else he thought it good and right to go.

2 Timothy 1:1-18
Paul addresses Timothy as his beloved child. He writes that he is grateful to God when he remembers Timothy in his prayers night and day. Remembering Timothy's sincere faith (as a sideline, please note that Paul gives a lot of credit to Timothy's grandmother and mother so perhaps we shouldn't be too adamant in asserting misogyny in Paul), anyway, remembering his faith, Paul reminds him to use that faith.

Paul reminds Timothy that God has provided us with a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline--and that all those are needed because discipleship may entail suffering.

Paul also gives credit to his ancestors by saying that he worships as they did. Paul did not believe that Christians worship a different God from the One worshiped by Jews. Further, Paul asserts that the grace given to them was given long before it was revealed through the appearance of Christ, Allen & Williamson, in Preaching the Letters, explain it this way:
What Paul exactly meant, we do not know, but the gracious disposition of God to God's creatures seem always to have been the case; our good fortune is that because of God's self-disclosure we know this.
Although Paul is undergoing suffering because of work, he is confident of God's protection. He tells Timothy to hold on to what he has been taught, "Guard the good treasure entrusted to you," and that he will also be aided, "with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us."

Jouette Bassler, in her commentary on 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus in the Abington New Testament Series, writes about Paul's view of suffering:
He presents suffering as inevitable for any Christian and essential for any church leader. Through suffering, a church leader identifies himself with Paul and manifests his confidence in the fundamental Christian promise of life. Failure to endure sufering suggest shame--not shame in the cross of Christ of Christ, but a lack of confidence in God's power to save."
Psalm 90:1-91:16
Psalm 90 is a prayer that confesses human frailty, our iniquities and our secret sins. "We deserve your wrath," the psalmist admits.

But, enclosing this admission is a greater recognition: God cares for us, and has cared for us, and will care for us. God was here before we knew we needed God. We realize that our lives here will come to an end, and we need God's help.

The prayer continues, "Satisfy us at daybreak with Your steadfast love that we may sing for joy all our days. I'm reading "daybreak" both literally and metaphorically. Literally, because for me, early morning is when I usually have my daily devotional--partly because then I have the rest of the day to reflect on what I've read or prayed. Metaphorically, because it's not only at literal sunup that the light can come on for us. Other events can illuminate things for us--wise words from wise people as well as sudden realizations that hit us.

I love the last prayer of this psalm "O prosper the work of our hands!" because it serves as a reminder to me that I am part of God's work on earth.

In Psalm 91, I am troubled by verses 9 through 13 because I have seen good people suffer, have evil befall them, dash their feet against a stone (actual as well as metaphorically.) So what do I do with these assurances?. The promise in the last verses, "I will deliver those who love me, protect those who know me," should not be read to mean that "Those who aren't delivered and protected deserve not to be." Yet, I can pray quite honestly the opening verses. I do experience God as a refuge and a fortress. I do trust God.

Here's my compromise (I don't like that word, but I can't come up with the term that better expresses my thoughts): Verse 15 is an assertion that I can agree with. I can depend on God to be present with me whenever I am in trouble. That presence is in itself rescue--I am not suffering alone, and I am not suffering without possibility of salvation.

Proverbs 26:1-2
Like snow in summer or rain in harvest,
so honor is not fitting for a fool.
Like a sparrow in its flitting, like a swallow in its flying,
an undeserved curse goes nowhere.

Prayer for Today: Pray the last five verses of Psalm 90.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Reflection on readings for October 21

Blessed be the Lord forever.
Amen and Amen.
(Psalm 89:52)

Jeremiah 37:1-38:28
When it looks like Egypt is going to stop the Babylonian advance, King Zedekiah doesn't listen to Jeremiah's warning that the Lord has cautioned him that the delay is only temporary. When Jeremiah attempts to leave the city, he is arrested, beaten, and imprisoned.

Then the king brings him secretly to his house to ask him if he has heard any word from the Lord. Jeremiah says, "Yes I have. You are going to be taken captive by the Babylonians. Your prophets have just been telling you what you want to hear. Why have you arrested me?"

As the word spread that Jeremiah had been saying that Babylon was going to take over Jerusalem, the people in power were so upset with him, that they threw him into a cistern. He sank in the mud. Although the most powerful had tried to shut him up, one of the king's servants, a foreigner, talked the king into releasing Jeremiah.

The king asks Jeremiah to speak the truth to him. Jeremiah did. The king did not like what he heard. He ordered Jeremiah not to tell anybody what he had said.

1 Timothy 6:1-21
Slavery was still okay with Christians. How does our acceptance of the change in this attitude affect our  attitude about other matters of injustice that were okay with them in their time, in their place?

This letter to Timothy then describes the characteristics that false teachers portray: envy, dissension, slander, suspicions, and wrangling. They think that being godliness is the means for gain. Do we still suffer from this assumption?

He adds that of course there is a great gain in godliness combined with contentment. If only I could somehow be content with food and clothing..... That's not even realistic for me because I can so easily imagine better tasting or more appealing looking food and even more easily imagine newer clothes. I'm trying to understand Paul's comment in context of my life and I'm afraid that I do understand it quite well.

Loving money, striving for riches, takes my focus away from what should be attracting my attention and effort. And it can be even worse than that, Paul reminds us. We may be willing to do many unkind or wrong things to ensure that we can accumulate some financial security.

Paul lists for Timothy what goals a Christian should be striving for: righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness.

Striving for these goals is done publicly not privately. The evidence of righteousness, godliness, and love will be noticeable -- as would be their absence. We have promised to pursue these qualities always but gently. And we have promised publicly to do so by joining the church.

This advice to Timothy is not only to him as an individual Christian but also to him as a leader of a Christian community.  "Live it and teach it. In your congregation are those that are rich. Tell them not to be so proud of their achievements. After all, none of us have any guarantee that our wealth will last. What we can be sure of is that God is eternal and that God will continue to provide us with what we really need. Rather than spending your effort building up your personal wealth, instead be generous with your time and money."

Timothy is reminded that we bring nothing into the world and take nothing out of it, and that what we do between that coming in and that going out of the world matters: Doing good, being rich in good works, will provide us with a treasure surpassing what money could have bought for us. This treasure will be "a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life."

Psalm 89:38-52

Proverbs 25:28
Like a city breached, without walls,
is one who lacks self-control.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, guide us away from our temptations to focus on striving for more money. Focus us on what we should be trying to achieve-- righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness. Amen.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Reflection on the readings for October 20

Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne;
steadfast love and faithfulness go before you.
Happy are the people who know the festal shout,
who walk, O Lord, in the light of your countenance
(Psalm 89:14-15)

Jeremiah 35:1-36:32
Some people listen to God's commands and obey. Some don't. People in power sometimes resist hearing advice from prophets. Some prophets keep trying.

1 Timothy 5:1-25
I can see the wisdom in many of the directives is this chapter; e.g., Be respectful to old people; Contribute to the support of people who need it; Drink some wine.

However, I'm not sure that the condemnation of gossip and idleness should have been restricted to women who are unmarried and under 60.

Psalm 89:14-37
Psalm 89 is an assertion of the covenant God has made with David, and a reminder that this covenant is unconditional, "Forever I will keep my steadfast love for him, and my covenant with him will stand firm" (23).

Reading this psalm after the exile, the Jews could adopt God's promise to David as king to themselves as descendants of the people in David's kingdom. Christians have also appropriated this promise since we recognize Jesus as a direct descendant of David.

We might discuss who is included and if anyone is not.

And we need to think about what this unconditional covenant means.

Verses 30-33 remind us that sin has consequences. We may suffer because of wrong choices we have made. We may suffer because of wrong choices someone else has made.

Sin has consequences.

Yet, God doesn't give up on us so easily.

We need to remember both of those things.

Proverbs 25:25-27
Like cold water to a thirsty soul,
so is good news from a far country.
Like a muddied stream or a polluted fountain
are the righteous who give way before the wicked.
It is not good to eat much honey
or to seek honor on top of honor.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, direct us to exhibit righteousness and justice to everyone. Remind us of your steadfast love and your faithfulness. You are our strength. Amen.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Reflection on readings for October 19

I will sing of your steadfast love,
O Lord, forever;
with my mouth I will proclaim 
your faithfulness to all generations.
(Psalm 89:1-2)

Jeremiah 33:1-34:22
Jeremiah is writing to a people in exile. Jeremiah promised them that God would sustain them and provide them with a new life. Remember, Jeremiah knows and they know that they have not always been loyal to God's wishes.

Many congregations and communities today feel as if they are in a kind of exile.

Can you think of a time when you faced lost dreams?

How do Jeremiah's promises speak to you where you are now? What justice and righteousness is needed in your life? in the life of your congregation? of your community?

Where do you see significant signs of the promises? What are you still waiting to see?

1 Timothy 4:1-16
According to this letter, some hypocrites are going to have rules forbidding marriage and abstaining from some food. We are then reminded that everything created by God is to be received with thanksgiving. We moderns may still debate whether something is created by God or not. And, we may or may not have difficulty with the assertion that we should be listening to younger people.

Psalm 89:1-13
Psalm 89 begins with a promise to the Lord, "I'll sing of your steadfast love forever. I'll tell everybody. I'll tell them, old and young, that what you've been doing for us, you'll keep doing for them."

When do we need to hear this reminder? What prompts us to remember to give it?

Do we have to be living in bad times to be able to appreciate good ones?

Whom do we trust enough to receive comfort from what they tell us?

Proverbs 25:23-24
The north wind produces rain,
and a backbiting tongue, angry looks.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, our God, direct us to making the correct distinctions between the allowed and the forbidden. Remind us that you love us all. Remind us to love others. Amen.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Reflection on the readings for October 18

Let my cry come before you;
incline your ear to my cry.
(Psalm 88:2)

Jeremiah 31:27-32:44
They knew from their own experiences what life is like under disruption, loss, and exile. Now,  Jeremiah is giving them words of restoration. The Lord who had overseen their destruction will watch over their renewal.

Jeremiah then tells how people are going to react, "They will no longer say, 'The parents have eaten sour grapes and the children's teeth are set on edge.'"

According to the commentary by John M Bracke, Jeremiah means that they are going to stop complaining about the perceived unfairness of the exile but rather will recognize that they had deserved to be punished (also see Jeremiah 18:1-32).

In his commentary on Jeremiah, R.E. Clements interprets this not as an expression of a doctrine or a defense of the principle of shared family responsibility but rather to give voice to despair:
It is equivalent to "What is the use of trying--our ancestors have done wrong and we are paying the price!"

The Lord tells Jeremiah "I'm sending you a rescuer. Things will change. No longer will people have to suffer because of the sins of their ancestors (They'll still have to pay for their own sins). I will make a new covenant with these people, and all of them will know me."

Their punishment had been real and they and their descendants had recognized it as deserved. But, new life is possible.

The Lord says to a troubled people who had over and over neglected to what they had promised, "I will forgive their iniquities and remember their sins no more" and "They broke the covenant I made with their ancestors. I'm going to make a new covenant." Try to look past our supercessionist interpretation of the phrase "new covenant" all the way back to how Jeremiah's listeners would have understood it. "This covenant will be written on your hearts."

Jeremiah is writing to people who were really in need of repentance. People whose lives were in ashes. "You have been unfaithful to me," the Lord told them, "and I'm taking you back." God made covenant with them. God had given them a home and they moved to Egypt. God brought them back home. They neglected God. They disobeyed God. They misused their gifts. They neglected neighbors in need. They were overrun by powerful enemies and taken into exile in Babylon. God renews the covenant and brings them back.

The Lord is promising not new content but new contact--or, renewed contact.

John H. Hayes In Preaching through the Christian Year B:
The newness is a special gift, the capacity to be faithful and obedient. In the Old Testament, the heart is the seat of the will (see Jeremiah 29:13; 32:39; Ezekiel 1:19; 36:26); consequently, the special gift here is a will with the capacity to be faithful. God thus promises to change the people from the inside out, to give them a center. This covenant will overcome the conflict between knowing or wanting one thing and doing another...

1 Timothy 3:1-16
The qualifications that church administrators were to have were very much like the usual catalogue of virtues common in Greco-Roman ethical teaching (Jouette Bassler in her commentary on 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus). I suppose that we moderns still evaluate the talents and abilities of the leadership and organization of our churches and denominations on the basis of what we see and expect from other organizations.

Bassler points out the requirement that church leaders had to be the head of their household excluded slaves and women was a significant departure from Paul's own churches, where women played various leadership roles. She further refers to the scriptural references "where 'slave' was an honorable epithet both for Christ (Phil 2:7) and for church leaders (Rom 1:1; Gal 1:10; Phil 1:1)." [The NRSV sometimes translates the Greek word as slave and sometimes as servant.]

Psalm 88:1-18
A psalm for when we can hear no comfort.

Proverbs 25:20-22
Like vinegar on a wound 
is one who sings songs to a heavy heart.
Like a moth in clothing or a worm in wood,
sorrow gnaws at the human heart.
If your enemies are hungry, give them bread to eat;
and if they are thirsty, give them water to drink;
for you will heap coals of fire on their heads,
and the Lord will reward you.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, open us to know your presence. Amen.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Reflection on the readings for October 17

On the holy mount stands the city.
Glorious things are spoken of you, O city of God.
(from Psalm 87:1,3)

Jeremiah 30:1-31:26
The Lord tells Jeremiah to give this message to the exiles, "I will send a rescuer. I have heard your pleas of help. I will turn your mourning to joy."

1 Timothy 2:1-15
Pray. Pray for everyone. Yes, everyone. Even political leaders.Yesterday in Jeremiah, we read "But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare" (29:7).

Pray for everyone so that everyone will have a peaceful, dignified life.

Then the instructions modify this everyone concept. Women were supposed to dress and behave in worship the same way that the society of the time thought they were to dress and behave outside of worship. This wasn't and isn't the last time that societal norms are allowed to modify the demands of the  gospel.

Psalm 87:1-7

Proverbs 25:18-19
Like a war club, a sword, or a sharp arrow
is one who bears false witness against a neighbor.
Like a bad tooth or a lame foot
is trust in a faithless person in time of trouble.

Prayer for Today: O God, we thank you for the many times that you have heard our prayers and rescued us from our difficulties. We pray now that our lives will be peaceful and that we will somehow learn to extend that peace to others. Help us to discern your will in all matters. Amen.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Reflection on the readings for October 16

Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me,
for I am poor and needy.
Preserve my life for I am devoted to you;
save your servant who trusts in you.
You are my God;
be gracious to me, O Lord.
for to you I cry all day long.
(Psalm 86:1-3)

Jeremiah 28:1-29:32
A man claiming to be a prophet of God announced that Babylon was soon to be defeated. The Lord informed Jeremiah that not everyone who claims to be speaking the word of God is.

The exiles aren't where they want to be. They have lost their home. They are surrounded by strangers. And they are going to be there a lot longer than they had hoped.

The prophet Jeremiah sent them a message, "Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce." In time of loss and despair, they are told to take care of themselves--to find shelter and food, what's needed for refuge and sustenance.

And, they need to recognize that this isn't going to be like a camping trip or even a long journey. He also tells them to get married, and that they will still be in this foreign land when it's time for the children born from these marriages to get married themselves.

Shelter, food, and family. Not hopeless yearning for what was but isn't. Not exactly acceptance but a way to continue under unwanted circumstances.

Then Jeremiah adds another directive, "Seek the welfare of that foreign city and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare will be your welfare."

We can apply this prophecy to our own lives in different ways depending on whether our current situation is more like that of the exiles or more like that of the Babylonians.

1 Timothy 1:1-20
As I read this passage this morning, I thought about the willingness to admit sins and the awareness and gratitude expressed for the ability to overcome them.

When we pray, how much effort do we put into admitting our sins as compared to, say, asking for something?

Which is more obvious to us anyway, the sins of other people or our own?

Then I looked back at Psalm 14, "The Lord looks down from heaven on humankind to see if there are any who are wise, who seek after Go. They have all gone astray...."

As part of the all who have gone astray, we can rest our hope on the assurance from this letter to Timothy that  "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners."

And for the then what, we can keep reading, "But for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe...."

Paul is grateful for being forgiven, and he is grateful because as a forgiven person, he can be a servant to Christ Jesus.

Psalm 86:1-17
Psalm 86 begins with a plea to the Lord for help, a plea not based on anything done to deserve help but rather on the nature of the Lord--good, forgiving, and abounding in steadfast love. The psalmist continues by  recording the unique greatness of the Lord, and how everybody--all nations--recognize this greatness.

In verse 11, we have two more requests: Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart to revere your name. The psalmist wants to know more about God so as to live the kind of life that God would want. Moreover, to live that kind of life, the psalmist is going to have to give up other distractions.

After the requests come expression of gratitude including a reassertion of God's love and care.

But, even with the knowledge that God is powerful and loving, the psalmist recognizes that life can be far from perfect, "O God, the insolent rise up against me; a band of ruffians seeks my life, and they don't care about you at all."

In this time of difficulty, the psalmist asks God, "Turn to me and be gracious to me; give me strength; save me."

When we are in our own times of difficulty, we can pray this psalm, we can ask for Lord's favor, because we also can remember the times that the Lord has helped us and comforted us.

Proverbs 25:20-22
Like vinegar on a wound
is one who sings songs to a heavy heart.
Like a moth in clothing or a worm in wood,
sorrow gnaws at the human heart.
If your enemies are hungry, give them bread to eat;
and if they are thirsty, give them water to drink;
for you will heap coals of fire on their heads,
and the Lord will reward you.

Prayer for Today: Pray Psalm 86.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Reflection on readings for October 15

Let me hear what God the Lord will speak.
God, you will speak peace to your people,
to your faithful, to those who turn to you in our hearts.
Surely your salvation is at hand for those who fear you.
that your glory may dwell in our land.
(Psalm 85:8-9)

Jeremiah 26:1-27:22
People in power didn't always appreciate prophets. Some prophets were not conveying God's intentions correctly.

2 Thessalonians 3:1-18
We need to think about the then-and-now setting for this passage directing them to make a not-to-do list. Then, Christians were expecting the imminent return of Christ to issue in the final days. Why work, why do anything tedious when the whole world was going to undergo great transformation soon? Why not just sit back and do nothing while waiting for Christ to come handle stuff for us? Well, Paul said, "Don't be idle and don't associate with idlers."

Our expectation of the eschaton has changed over the millenia. How does Paul's advice fit our modern lives?

One school of thought is to think about what behavior and beliefs aid the work and continuity of the congregation. What are the minimum entrance requirements? What actions would lead to a person's being ejected from church membership? What actions not taken would? Does each member have to do some of the church work? What portion of income or wealth is a person required to contribute? And so on with questions that I'm supposing that very few church congregations consider.

Paul was concerned with how the church appeared to pagans. Are we worried about a modern-day equivalent to that? Paul criticized busybodies--what should today's church do to change the behavior and attitude of our busybodies?

Warning from Carl R. Halladay in Preaching through the Christian Year C:
In the wrong hands, this text can easily become a club used to beat those who are out of work, especially the long-term unemployed. Clearly, if we are idle and remain idle, for no good reason, we come under the censure of this text. Paul's example also serves as a worthwhile corrective to the 9-to-5 ministry. As we know, genuine ministry often involves us in round-the-clock work. People in need do not punch a clock. But perhaps one of the most important dimensions of this text is its insistence that we best prepare for the end time not by being idle but by working and earning our own living.
Psalm 85:1-13
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." But, do we want to hear what God says?

In this psalm, God's message is to live in peace with each other--not just grudgingly, but really peacefully.

What this world would be like if we did listen: Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will greet each other. .

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."

Proverbs 25:18-19
Like a war club, a sword, or a sharp arrow
is one who bears false witness against a neighbor.
Like a bad tooth or a lame foot
is trust in a faithless person in time of trouble.

Prayer for Today: O Lord our God, open us to your words, aid us in discerning your true message. Amen.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Reflection on readings for October 14

How lovely is your dwelling place,
O Lord of hosts!
My soul longs, indeed it faints
for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh sing for joy
to the living God.
O Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer;
give ear, O God of Jacob!
(Psalm 84:1-2, 8)

Jeremiah 23:21-25:38
God reminds them that not everybody who purports to be speaking the word of the Lord is.

Further, the listeners had not listened to the prophets who were speaking the truth.

Disaster is coming.

2 Thessalonians 2:1-17
The lesson from 2 Thessalonians was written to caution those new Christians not to be unduly disturbed by what had to happen before the culmination and what was required while waiting.

Waiting was not, and still isn't, easy, especially when the waiting is taking place during times of disturbance. In the 2010 edition of The Upper Room Disciplines, Bishop Gregory Palmer writes:
When change, fear, or anxiety come, we must keep this in mind: God's great love, God's salvation, and God's faithfulness will lead us to confidence, growth, and the peace that abides in God's arms. Our purpose does not change. The tools we employ may vary. But our purpose--to be a sign of God's love and reign in this world--is unchanging.
Psalm 84:1-12
Here is a psalm that describes the joy of being able to worship in the temple, the longing to be there. I can't help but think about those Sunday mornings when we still had young children at home to get ready for church and wondering if the words of this psalm describe what I was thinking. Or, what am I thinking on a typical Sunday morning now? Does my soul long, indeed faint for the place? Do I sing for joy to the living God? Well, sometimes, I think so.

But this psalm is about more than looking forward to occasional attendance at a formal worship service. It is also about what happens to us because we have experienced the presence of God. The psalmist describes the path toward the house of God: "As they go through the valley of Baca (read this to mean a place of thirst), they make it a place of springs."

So, another question is raised by this psalm: Does the thought of attending church at the end of this week affect the way I go through the week? As I go through areas that lack something, do I work to fill the need? Or, do I even notice those needs?

And, when I do get to church and look around, who is there? Who feels welcome? Who is no longer there? Why?

Proverbs 25:15
With patience a ruler may be persuaded,
and a soft tongue can break bones.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, guide us into welcoming others into your dwelling place. Amen.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Reflection on the readings for October 13

O God, do not keep silence;
do not hold your peace or be still, O God!
(Psalm 83:1)

Jeremiah 22:1-23:20
The Lord instructs the prophet to speak to power, "Tell the king: Act with justice and righteousness. Protect the oppressed from their oppressors. Your nation cannot survive otherwise." King after king has failed to rule as they should have. They have built up their own wealth while paying unfair wages to the workers.

The Lord is ready to take action against these injustices, "Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture. So I will attend to you for your evil doings."

Persons of wealth, persons in positions of authority had forgotten what the Lord had expected of them, had forgotten that the wealth and authority was not solely for their own benefit but was intended to be used to care for the poor, the powerless, the stranger.

Jeremiah was writing to a nation undergoing great turmoil and spoke words of promise giving them hope. Christians read this prophecy and adapt it to our own times.

God has promised to get them through their current disaster sending them help. In Jeremiah's day and culture and circumstances, this help would come through a new king. The Lord tells these people who have deserved every bad thing that has happened to them that they are going to be rescued anyway.

Read today's front page (if you are one of those who still read the daily paper). Watch your usual news channel on TV (if you have a usual channel). Since I read two daily papers, watch some TV newscasts, and also have favorite news websites, I am quite aware that our nation--and the rest of the world as well--is daily facing a challenge or even a disaster or some kind of upheaval caused by nature or our human inability to get along very well.

In the time of Jeremiah, Babylon invaded Judah, destroying Jerusalem and taking many into exile. But, destruction and exile, though deserved, are not to be the end. The Lord promises to regather them and to install new shepherds for them.

2 Thessalonians 1:1-12
This letter to a congregation that has been doing a lot of things that are commendable. They have exhibited an abundantly growing faith and an increasing love for each other. Yet, they are suffering persecutions and afflictions. Being good does not make us immune to the badness of others. But, as the Thessalonians demonstrate, being treated badly does not keep us from doing good.

In verse 11, Paul turns to prayer. What do we want people to pray for us? Do we want success? money? good health? peace of mind? These aren't exactly what Paul is praying for in their case. Rather, he is asking that they be made worthy of their call, that they will do the work that God has intended for them to do. Their work will demonstrate Jesus.

Psalm 83:1-18

Proverbs 25:11-14
A word fitly spoken is 
like apples of gold in a setting of silver.
Like a gold ring or an ornament of gold
is a wise rebuke to a listening ear.
Like the cold of snow in the time of harvest
are faithful messengers to those who send them;
they refresh the spirit of their masters.
Like clouds and wind without rain is one
who boasts of a gift never given.

Prayer for Today: God, we pray that you make us worthy of your call so that we will fulfill by your power every good resolve and work so that the name of Jesus Christ may be glorified. Amen.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Reflection on the readings for October 12

God speaks words of judgment:
How long will you judge unjustly
and show partiality to the wicked?
Give justice to the weak and the orphan;
maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute.
(Psalm 82:1-3)

Jeremiah 19:1-21:14
Sin has consequences. People may not appreciate hearing this message.

1 Thessalonians 5:4-28
Paul is writing instructions to an early Christian congregation that remain quite applicable to modern ones.
Respect each other;
be responsible for each other;
be good to each other.
Rejoice always.
Pray without ceasing.
Give thanks in all circumstances.
Remember that letter is addressed to a congregation. We can gather in worship to sing hymns. But, Paul said "always." That kind of rejoicing would be a transformation in our daily life together in which we could recognize the gracious gifts that God has bestowed on us, the support that God's presence gives us to help in meeting everything that not so good that breaks into our daily lives, as well.

Pray without ceasing. We pray in worship. We pray when we leave the building. We are always aware of God's presence. We are always aware that neither are we left alone to face the world nor can we alone conquer it.

Give thanks in all circumstances. Does Paul really expect us to be thankful in all circumstances? Or, is Paul reminding us that God is always leading us into new circumstances?

(If you read Preaching the Letters without Dismissing the Law by Allen & Williamson, you may recognize their influence on my thoughts.)

Psalm 82:1-8
One troubling aspect in this psalm is that God will judge our actions.

Something else troubling is the actions that we are going to be accountable for. God is going to judge whether we
give justice to the weak and the orphan
maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute
rescue the weak and the needy
deliver them from the hand of the wicked.
We need to review this checklist as we determine how our church congregation should be involved with our neighborhoods and we need to review it as we determine what each of us personally is called to do.

 How far does this Bible stuff go? Should we also think about this list as we make decisions on who to vote for?

Proverbs 25:9-10
Argue your case with your neighbor directly,
and do not disclose another's secret;
or else someone who hears you will bring shame upon you,
and your ill repute will have no end.

Prayer for Today: We turn to you today, O God, to guide us onto the path you offer us. Give us the ability to notice and the determination to care for the weak and the lowly. Amen.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Reflection on the readings for October 11

Sing aloud to God our strength; 
shout for joy to the God of Jacob,
Raise a song,
sound the tambourine,
the sweet lyre with the harp.
(Psalm 81:1-2)

Jeremiah 16:16-18:23
God promises to bring them back home even though they have sinned, really sinned. "This time I am going to teach them my power and might."

The Lord takes Jeremiah to the potter's house where a potter working at his wheel crafting a vessel of clay. If that vessel doesn't turn out right, then the potter reworks the clay into another vessel.

The Lord says to Jeremiah, "Can't I do the same to you, O house of Israel?"

We can read this as history or prophecy. Sin has consequences.

And we can read this as a reminder that although God is our creator, we are judged on our response. And, we need to remember that we can rectify our wrong responses.

Even in our sinning, we can repent. We can change. And, also, the Lord can change. The Lord said to Jeremiah that day, "You've got some time. I can change my mind. Turn now from your evil ways. Start doing what you are supposed to be doing."

Jeremiah may have been remembering appeals that the people had made during times of oppression before. For example, at a time when the nation was being oppressed by the Ammonites, they asked God to save them. They asked this even though they had abandoned God and turned toward foreign gods. God did help them because, we are told, "he could no longer bear to see Israel suffer" (Judges 10:6-18). And not just Israel. God had coerced Jonah into preaching to the sinful Nineveh, "Tell them I am going to destroy them unless they turn away from their violent acts." Then, when they did repent, "God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon the and he did not do it" (Jonah 3:1-10).

1 Thessalonians 4:1-5:3
Paul is reassuring those who had been expecting the imminent return of Jesus and had become disappointed as Christians died before that return. "Of course, you are grieving," Paul writes to them. "You miss them, and you fear what is waiting for them and for you."

Paul then affirms that what God has done for Jesus, God will do for them. "Jesus will return to earth as sovereign. All Christian believers will lead him back in a triumphal parade. All of us, all of them, will be with the Lord forever."

Boring and Craddock, in their The People's New Testament Commentary, point out that the language Paul is using derives from the apocalyptic language of his time.

Lauren Winner, in her blog, The Hardest Question, reminds us that we believe eternal life is good,  and that we want to console mourners. She then asks "Is there comfort to be found in this text (or is there something implicit here that is decidedly anti-comforting) when the dead person I’m worried about had no interest in Jesus at all?"

Psalm 81:1-16
The psalm begins with a command to sing joyously to God then lists some reasons why we should.

Verses 10-16 are in the voice of God, saying what I, God, did, and what you, the not-always-grateful people did next. God had rescued the people from slavery in Egypt and provided them with the necessary food to keep them going on their journey. And God provided them with something else necessary for their journey--instruction in a way of life.

What response what we expect from people who had received such gifts? What God got was a people who refused to listen, who refused to obey. God's response to that recalcitrance was to just let them do what they wanted to do.

But God is not abandoning these abandoning people. "If only they would listen," God says.

Off on a tangent part: The psalm ends with this verse: I would feed you with the finest of the wheat and with honey from the rock I would satisfy you. I immediately was reminded of the singing group Sweet Honey in the Rock. Take some time today to listen to them.

Proverbs 25:6-8
Do not put yourself forward in the king's presence
or stand in the place of the great;
for it is better to be told, "Come up here."
than to be put lower in the presence of a noble.
What your eyes have seen
do not hastily bring into court;
for what will you do in the end,
when your neighbor puts you to shame?

Prayer for Today: God, remind us of all that you have done for us. Forgive us for that we have done wrong. Help us now to follow your instructions. Amen.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Reflection on the readings for October 10

Restore us, O God;
let your face shine, 
that we may be saved.
(Psalm 80:3)

Jeremiah 14:11-16:15
In a time of severe drought, they pray for help.  God then tells Jeremiah, "Disaster is inevitable and deserved. Don't pray for them." Jeremiah prays for them anyway. The people acknowledge their sinfulness and ask for forgiveness. The Lord God cautioned, "Not everyone who claims to be speaking for me has been sent by me."

The prophet Jeremiah, as he often does--and not without reason, has been complaining. God has told him things are going to get worse. Jeremiah complains again, "I've said what you've told me to say, and I have suffered for it. Why won't you stop this pain?"

Does Jeremiah fear that God has deserted him, or does he fear that God won't leave him alone?

After hearing an anguished prayer by Jeremiah, the Lord tells him, "If the people return to me, I'll save them again. Keep saying what I want you to say. Your enemies will not win, for I am with you. I'm the one who can and who will save you."

1 Thessalonians 2:9-3:13
Paul praised them for embodying God's word.

The Thessalonians had heard Paul preach and had been able to discern that the source of Paul's word was God. They more than felt good about this; they also did good. As Paul put it, "God's word is at work in you believers."

He said, "You are witnesses." To test how we are doing, look at the news for today. Do you see much Kingdom of God there? If not, look at the work the church is doing (include your own self here). Could Paul see God's work in us believers?

Psalm 80:1-9
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.

"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.

In the plea for help, they remind God, "You were the one who planted us here." Of course, God knows that, but, of course, sometimes we need to remind ourselves.

"Help us," they ask, "and next time we will not turn away from you." May we continue to pray this promise, but may we also live in a way that keeps that promise.

The original hearers of this song were the people of Israel facing being overcome by the Assyrian army. They turn to the Lord, "You brought a vine out of Egypt, you planted it in a place you had prepared for it. The vine flourished. O Lord, why have you turned against your vine. Why have you broken down the walls that protected us so that just anybody could reach in and take our grapes? O God, we pray to you. Come back to us. Restore us and this time, we'll be faithful to you."

The psalmist is attributing all good and bad to the Lord. Everything that happens through human actions begins with God. We are being punished because we deserve to be. Even after our sins, we can expect God to care for us and to restore us to well-being.

The Dallas Morning News has a section, Texas Faith, that  discusses matters of religion, politics, and culture. About three years ago, they took  a break from politics because that week had had so many examples of human suffering large and small: Hurricane Ike affects millions. And a 17-month-old boy whose family escaped the storm in Dallas is killed in an accident. Trains collide in California, killing dozens. Suicide bombers in Yemen, Pakistan and Iraq murder innocent bystanders. The genocide in Darfur continues unabated. Etc etc etc.

Here's the panel's discussion: How faith explains suffering

Proverbs 25:1-5
These are other proverbs of Solomon that the officials of King Hezekiah of Judah copied.
It is the glory of God to conceal things,
but the glory of kings is to search things out.
Like the heavens for height, like the earth for depth,
so the mind of kings is unsearchable.
Take away the dross from the silver,
and the smith has material for a vessel; 
take away the wicked from the presence of the king, 
and his throne will be established in righteousness.

Prayer for Today: Continue to pray Psalm 80, "Restore us, O God; let your face shine that we may be saved." Amen.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Reflection on the readings for October 9

Do not remember against us
   the iniquities of our ancestors;
let your compassion come
   speedily to meet us,
for we are brought very low.
(Psalm 79 :8)

Jeremiah 12:1-14:10
Jeremiah asks the Lord the question that occasionally troubles us, "Why do good things happen to bad people?" The Lord responds, "If you are losing a race with foot runners, how do you expect to compete with horses?"

The Lord then points out that the very people who claim to be so good don't really do what the Lord has asked of them. They deserve the troubles they have been in.

Yet, the Lord is going to once again going to show them compassion--but not immediately. Hard times are coming for them.

1 Thessalonians 1:1-2:8
 Scholars believe that this letter is the oldest one that we have that was written by Paul. As such, it is the oldest piece of Christian literature that we have. For example, evidence indicates that it is dated at about 50 CE, twenty years before the Gospel of Mark would have been written.

His audience lived a long way away from Jerusalem--not only in miles. They were Greek and they were Gentile. Paul begins his letter, as was the practice of the time, with a greeting. But, he changes the greeting from what they would have been accustomed to.

The Graeco-Roman practice of the time was to begin letters with the Greek word, chairein, which meant "Greetings." Paul instead used the Greek word, charis, which sounds similar but mean "peace." This term would thus echo the term customarily used as greeting by the Jews, shalom, which meant "peace."

Thus, in his greeting, Paul has combined the traditonal Graeco-Roman form of greeting with the religious one. He's speaking to people who have accepted the faith and have been incorporated into God's family.

In verse 3, Paul expresses thanks to God for the way that the Thessalonians are living their lives. They have faith--not just an attitude, but the God-given power to do Christian work. They have love--not just an emotion, but the means by which they carry out this work. They have hope--not just optimism, but a confident expectation that God will triumph.

Hear the echo, in verses 9-10, as Paul describes the Christian experience. Because of your faith, you turned to God. Because of your love, you served God. Because of your hope, you are waiting for his Son, our rescuer.

(Note: my source for this explanation comes from The People's New Testament Commentary, by Boring and Craddock. I hope you have access to a copy yourself.)

Psalm 79:1-13
We can read this psalm and be able to put ourselves into the thoughts of those ancient people in Judah who suffered when the Babylon army invaded. "Foreigners have come in," they lament. "They have defiled the temple. They have laid Jerusalem in ruins." Both the center of worship and of government have been lost.

And lives were lost, too. So many were killed, that there weren't enough survivors left to bury them.

The lament does not stop with the listing of their losses. It includes what happens after that. Rather than wanting to support them or at least be sympathetic to them, their neighbors mock and deride.

I'm pausing to think about what would be the expected reaction by anyone to somebody else's suffering. How often do we think something like, "Well, what could you expect? After all, they really deserve what they got"?

And I'm thinking about how I feel when I suspect, or know, that onlookers are judging me. Now, since the psalm is a community lament, I should reword that to how I as an America feel when other nations mock my country for getting what they judge that we deserve. Suffering makes us feel bad. Being mocked rather than being sympathized with can make us feel worse.

What are we supposed to do when we have been hurt badly? We don't have to pretend that we like it. This psalm complains to God about what has happened and how long it has taken with no improvement in sight, "How long, O Lord? Will you be angry forever?"

The psalm suggests that it is not up to us to seek vengeance, but, rather, that we are to turn to God to take care of it for us, "Pour out your anger on them. They have laid waste to the land you have given us."

How willing are we moderns to allow God to handle the vengeance that we can so clearly see is really overdue?

In the psalm, after listing the losses of the place of worship, the capital city, much of the population, and even dignity, the lament turns to confession and request.

Proverbs 24:30-34
I passed by the field of one who was lazy,
by the vineyard of a stupid person;
and see, it was all overgrown with thorns;
the ground was covered with nettles,
and its stone wall was broken down.
Then I saw and considered it;
I looked and received instruction.
A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands to rest,
and poverty will come upon you like a robber,
and want like an armed warrior.

Prayer for Today: Form your prayer around these verses of Psalm 49--
Do not remember against us the iniquities of our ancestors;
let your compassion come speedily to meet us, for we are brought very low.
Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of your name;
deliver us, and forgive our sins, for your name's sake.
We pray for help not because we deserve it, but because we need it.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Reflection on readings for October 8

With upright heart you tended us,
and guided us with skillful hand.
(adapted from Psalm 78:72)

Jeremiah 10:1-11:23
Jeremiah warns them to consider how foolishly they are spending their time, their efforts, their money. "None of that stuff can save you--or harm you. There's only one God." They didn't pay attention to his warnings.

Colossians 3:18-4:18
The letter goes on to give advice to Christians on household management. Husbands are to be in charge over wives; parents over children; masters over their slaves.  Although those in charge are told to treat their subordinates fairly, it is still clear who is the boss and who is not. Elizabeth Johnson, in the Women's Bible Commentary, points out the discrepancy between this advice and the assertion in Romans 11, "God shows no partiality." If God doesn't, why should we? She suggests that this "retreat from freedom of the gospel once offered to women and slaves in order to insulate the church from its neighbors' charges that it is socially disruptive."

We modern Christians still live among non-Christians. How much of our beliefs and actions are modeled on Christ and how much on what people might think of us?

Psalm 78:56-72

Proverbs 24:28-29
Do not be a witness against your neighbor without cause,
and do not deceive with your lips.
Do not say "I will do to others as they have done to me;
I will pay them back for what they have done."

Prayer for Today: O Lord, our one God, direct our attention to your will today. Guide us into how we can serve your wishes through how we choose to spend our times and money. Help us to discern what that will of yours is and how to distinguish between your wishes for us and what we think the people around us would approve of. Amen.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Reflection on the readings for October 7

Their heart was not steadfast toward you;
they were not true to your covenant.
Yet, you, being compassionate,
forgave their iniquity,
and did not destroy them;
often you restrained your anger,
and did not stir up all your wrath.
(adapted from Psalm 78:37-38)

Jeremiah 8:8-9:26
Utter corruption.  God tells them their time is up. Jeremiah mourns for the people, "My joy is gone, grief is upon me, my heart is sick." They ignored his warnings, they are going to suffer, and, even though they ignored him, he is mourning what is going to befall them.

He asks if there isn't any way to save the people from destruction, "Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there?"

But, there had been balm and physicians. They just had ignored them.

God's way had been made known to them as God's way continues to be made known to us. By "God's way," I mean the way that God intends for us to go. Do we, like our predecessors, think ourselves immune from consequences of our foolish decisions and malicious deeds? And, if we admit that we aren't immune, then do we refuse medication?

Colossians 3:1-17
I'm thinking about the verb tense in verse 1, "So, if you have been raised...." Have been, not will be. Where we are now is what Paul is talking about, not what we will need to do once we get to heaven.

Your old life is over, as Paul puts it: you have died. And dying with you are those ways that are not compatible with a life in Christ:
    wanting the wrong thing; for example, fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry).
    doing the wrong things; for example, anger wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language

Something else that is gone with that old life is distinctions between us. How are we supposed to read this? When Paul said Barbarian, Scythian, and so on, are we supposed to read ethnic categorizations? For slave and free, are we supposed to read no hierarchical distinctions? What would our lives be like, how would we behave, if we truly lived out the Christian way?
    Demonstrate compassion.
    Forgive each other.
    Show love.
    Be peaceful.
    Be thankful.

And if you do all of the above, then you could be qualified to do the next: teach and admonish each other. (I'm guessing more people who don't show compassion, forgiveness, etc. are also more likely to do the admonishing....I'm just saying.) Let us now show the world--and each other--what that coming does for Christ's followers.

Psalm 78:32-55
Irony: When they were in need, they remembered God; when they were in possession of what they needed, they forgot God. Punishment followed then even more forgiveness. Repeat.

Proverbs 24:27
Prepare your work outside,
get everything ready for you in the field;
and after that build your house.

Prayer for Today: O Lord our God, direct us to acting like true Christians. Help us to demonstrate compassion, to forgive, to show love, to be peaceful, to be thankful. Amen.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Reflection on the readings for October 6

Give ear, O my people, to my teaching;
incline your ears to the words of my mouth.
I will open my mouth in a parable;
I will utter dark sayings from of old,
things that we have heard and known,
that our ancestors have told us.
(Psalm 78:1-3)

Jeremiah 6:16-8:7
Jeremiah proclaims that the Lord is wondering why we think that the public worship that we use to show off is in any way really worship. The enemy is coming and God is not going to stand in its way. "Preach to them," the Lord told Jeremiah. "Tell them that I will return to them if they will change their ways, if they will truly act justly with one another, if they do not oppress the alien, the orphan, or the widow, or shed innocent blood, or hurt themselves by going after other gods."

The Lord was convinced that they weren't listening and became angry. "Why won't they listen? Why do they continue to sin?"

Colossians 2:8-23
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.

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 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.
Psalm 78:1-31
The psalmist asks the people to listen: I will tell you things that I heard from my ancestors. I'll tell children about what the Lord can do and has done.

Not only history, not only the glorious deeds and wonders that the Lord did for them then. But also, how the Lord intended for them to respond. They are to remember the teaching and make sure that their children know about what God has done and what they are supposed to do.

What do we tell the children in our congregation about our own experiences with God? Do we notice when God notices us? How have we gotten through dangerous places? How did we know which way was the right way to go? Are our needs being satisfied?

The psalmist gives the reminder that even when the people were on their way toward the promised land, they were complaining. They wanted food. Because their life right then was not the way they had wanted it to be, they had begun to mistrust God.

They had left their homes because they trusted God's word coming through Moses. But, then, they had lost their trust.

But, they had not lost their God. Although their faithfulness weakened, God provided them with the food and water they needed to be able to continue their journey, abundant food and water.

It doesn't sound fair, and we can be grateful for that.

Proverbs 24:26
One who gives an honest answer gives a kiss on the lips.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, guide us into true worship. Turn our efforts toward acts of justice and kindness. Help us to remember the kindness that has been shown to us. Help us to tell others of your love and direction and forgiveness. Amen.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Reflection on the readings for October 5

I cry aloud to God,
aloud to God,
"Hear me."
(adapted from Psalm 77:1)

Jeremiah 4:19-6:15
Jeremiah combines warning and judgment. Disaster is coming. It's inevitable. Everyone is taking flight. Yet, you are ignoring the warnings and devoting your attention to your pleasures.

The Lord tells Isaiah, "I''ll pardon the whole city if you can find even one person who acts justly and speaks the truth." Isaiah doesn't think there is even one. The poor don't know anything, and the rich don't care.

Destruction is inevitable. Flee.

Colossians 1:18-2:7
Tangent: I'm reading from the NRSV in which all of this is laid out in prose. Other translations present this passage as a hymn. [I suppose the difference would affect whether I read this as Paul's original ideas or Paul's reminding the Colossians of something of which they were quite aware.]

In any case, we who came after them may read these lines as references to the Trinity. I had, anyway. Then, today, I read what was to me a new idea in Ronald Allen Clark Williamson's Preaching the Letters without Dismissing the Law:
An example of a wisdom hymn or saying in Judaism regarding Woman Wisdom read, "She is a reflection of eternal light, a spotless mirror of the working of God, and an image of his goodness" (Wisdom 7:26); and Wisdom herself claims, "Before the ages, in the beginning, he created me" (Sirach 24:9)...The church expressed its faith in the language of Israel's Scriptures.
According to Allen & Williamson, the term translated as "image" is in Greek, "eikon" connotes agency. Christ is the way that an invisible God can be disclosed to us. Further, as the firstborn, Christ "reveals not only God to us but humankind as well..." (15-21)

Back to the "in him all things hold together": the reconciliation came through the blood of his cross. We have been made holy and blameless and irreproachable (22).

Yet, we need to live up to the image that Christ provides for us. Paul adds "provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you have heard...." (23).

Paul is writing to an ancient congregation reassuring them and warning them, and his words still apply to us. Our congregations have their origin in the gospel, we are living out the image of God in our communities, we are held together by Christ, and we also need to be reminded that if our congregation begins to neglect our faith's requirements, then we will inevitably start to dissolve. Shifting from Christ to anything else would change what we would do, what we would be capable of doing.

Paul counsels, "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...." He's 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."

Psalm 77:1-20

Proverbs 24: 23-25
These are the sayings of the wise:
Partiality in judging is not good.
Whoever says to the wicked, "You are innocent,"
will be cursed by peoples, abhorred by nations;
but those who rebuke the wicked will have delight,
and a good blessing will come upon them.

Prayer for Today: O Lord our God, keep us faithful to your will. Keep us all faithful. Keep us together. Keep us always directed toward Christ is all we decide and all we do. Amen.