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 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.

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