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.

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.

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