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.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Reflection on the One-Year-Bible Readings for December 31

Praise the Lord!
We praise you in your sanctuary;
we praise you in your mighty firmament!
(adapted from Psalm 150:1)

Malachi 3:1-4:6
This passage from Malachi is usually dated to the Persian period. The people have known exile, have felt that they had been forgotten by God, and are looking toward a word from God. Christians read this passage in Malachi as a foretelling of the coming of Christ.

Consider the promises made about the messenger: The one you want is coming. But, who will be able to stand it? He will refine and purify the descendants of Levi (us, too?)

After the fire that refines and purifies, the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be as pleasing as it once was. (How does this promise relate to our situation? Should we translate the refinement as something that happens after death? Or, should we go ahead and repent immediately?)

Allen & Williamson in their Preaching the Old Testament see "the refiner's fire" to be a simile for the transformative love of God:
We are so accustomed to speaking of God's justifying, forgiving, and redeeming grace that we sometimes forget the basic point that God has a purpose in all that God does, and the purpose is that all people should have life and well-being (2:5). Yet clearly they cannot as long as we insist on and persist in living in ways that lead to death and curse. God's love is freely given to each and all, but it is a love that gives and calls us to become people who love God with all our selves and our neighbors as ourselves and to act accordingly in relation to our neighbors.
 At the time of exile, they could look back and contemplate whether they really had spent much effort on caring for widows and orphans, or being honest in business, and worrying about the welfare of the stranger. And at the time of Jesus, they also could also review whether they had followed those commands of the Lord or whether they had focused more on their own welfare. And, of course, here we are, with the same opportunities and temptations.

Revelation 22:1-21
"Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life," chapter 22 begins.

The river flows from the throne of God and the Lamb--that's the source. And it flows right through the middle of the street of the city. What begins with God sustains the world.

On either side of the river is the tree of life.

This tree has leaves for the healing of the nations. The word "nations" means that the healing is not just for us insiders, but that is for them too.

I found an April 1999 Interpretation that had survived at least three moves. In it, Gail A. Ricciuti writes about Revelation 21:22-22:5 in the section, Between Text and Sermon.

I hope you also can find a copy and read her entire article. Here's an excerpt:
The end of things will come not by a cosmic catastrophe but a revealing, not from the worst we can imagine, but from the best we dare to hope. The psalmist records that it was by the rivers of Babylon we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion (Psalm 137:1). But whereas the rivers of Babylon represented exile, John's river-vision is of a homecoming....
Rome's power proves no match for the Power embodied in the River flowing from the throne of the God-Lamb, and the Tree rooted by those waters. The ultimate triumph of God is best imagined, paradoxically, in the organic, ecological realm, which proves at last enduring and indestructible in a way that all the the earthly powers were not. The final assurance we are given that God will preside over the end of history as over the beginning of creation, and really preside over it so much as dwell within it....
The final denouement is not a threat but an invitation to us, as inheritors of a blessed future, to begin to build on earth the reality toward which our hope reaches out!
Jesus promised, "I am coming soon," and added "I'm going to repay everyone according to their work" (12). Christians of his time needed reassurance during their suffering and encouragement during their temptations.

Well, so do we.

We look around and see people being greedy, selfish, uncaring, and could even find some comfort in the notion that they will be paid back some day. At least, we do as long as we can avoid looking in mirrors.

Instead of being glad or afraid of the promise of retribution, it would be better for us to live already in the way Christ has shown us.

Let us hang on to the assurance that anyone who wishes may take the water of life as a gift (17).

Bible readers continue to argue between merit (12) or free gift (17).

How we settle that argument may well determine whether we are looking forward with trepidation or joy to the promise, "Surely I am coming soon."

Psalm 150:1-6
The Book of Psalms ends with six psalms of praise. Psalm 150 is the last of these, the last in the book, and so helps us reflect on the entire book, all of the songs the ancient people sang and that we still--well, not sing so much--use to guide the words we use to address God.

This psalm begins and ends with the word Hallelujah--The NRSV translates if for us, praise God. We don't use this word in public worship during Lent but not after Easter we should go back to saying it in church and living it in the rest of our lives.

Psalm 150 gives directions for us in praising God. It tells us where, why, how, and who.

Where: in church and everywhere else, as well.

Why: in recognition of what God has done and can do.

How: with trumpet, lute, harp, tambourine, dance, strings, pipe, cymbals (I'm assuming the organ in the church can substitute for all these except for dance--what are we going to do about the dance part? maybe the organist would agree to help out with this as well?)

Who: everybody who breathes.

Proverbs 31:25-31
Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, 
but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. 
Give her a share in the fruit of her hands, 
and let her works praise her in the city gates.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, direct us and support us in lives that enable us to welcome your appearance among us. Amen.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Reflection on the One-Year-Bible readings for December 30

Praise the Lord! 
Sing to the Lord a new song, 
praise in the assembly of the faithful.
(adapted fromPsalm 149:1)

Malachi 1:1-2:17
Corrupt priesthood. Hypocritical congregation. A messenger is coming to clean things up. The Lord will punish those who have authority and assets who don't take proper care of those who lack both.

Revelation 21:1-27
We can read this passage as telling us what happens to people who have already died.  But, it also tells us what we can expect while we are still here. For example, this new heaven and new earth is, according to Revelation, going to be a city.

A city, a place full of people, different kinds of people, people who look different and act different and talk different. And they may be closer to us than we would prefer.

A city is often dirtier than we would prefer and in it, we may see some things going on that we don't understand or like. Looking at this passage and my comments on it, as I think about a new year, I wonder why the earth is not already like this, why this is written in the future tense. Is not God already at home among us?

I turn, as I often do, to Allen & Williamson. According to their Preaching the Letters without Dismissing the Law, the verb in "It is done" is in the perfect tense meaning that the remaking of the world is finished but the effect of the world still abides.
John saw a vision and returned to earth. We also are staying on earth, and we also can see the vision of what a city would be like--is to be like--as we live out being God's people.
Every day, several times a day, we face temptations to bow to the demands of the society around us. We, of course, care about assuring and protecting our own security. But, if we are Christians, or, since we are Christians, we have to take up residency in this new earth, one with tribes from every nation, everybody speaking different languages. We are all there together, all worshipping God.

Where once heaven and earth seemed so far apart, so separate, now, in Christ, we see heaven coming down to us. Where once we thought of God as far away, so separate, now, we experience God's presence right here, right now.

We hear the good news, we become part of the good news, we share what we know, what we have been told, what has been done for us. We share by telling and by doing. Through us, God can continue to give water to the thirsty--both literally and metaphorically.

Think about the city you are living in now. Are there designated places to go to worship? Does it have walls around it, a gate to let in pre-approved people? Some cities and some neighborhoods are like this.

And then there's the new city described in the book of Revelation.

No temple. We won't need some special, set-aside place to go to worship God. God will be present to us wherever we are.

No shut gates. We won't need a barrier to keep out folks not like us. People from all nations will come in, and bring with them gifts to benefit our lives.

Further, we won't even need street lights, because the glory of God the Almighty will provide all the light we need through the Lamb as our lamp. (Also see Isaiah 60:19-20; Zechariah 14:7.) My own imagination limits my ability to understand this one other than metaphorically.)

Instead of a special place to worship God, the whole city is infused, illuminated, and open.

Yet, not completely accessible. (Also see Isaiah 35:8-9).

Psalm 149:1-9
Praise the Lord! Sing to the Lord a new song...  Let Israel be glad in its Maker.

The praise is to be by dancing and by playing the tambourine and lyre.

A reason is given--the Lord gives victory to the humble. They respond by singing.

The mood of the psalm shifts. These singers are holding swords so that they can wreak vengeance and punishment on their enemies.  Executing judgment on their rulers is glory for his faithful ones.

The psalm ends as it began: Praise the Lord!

Why would these angry, vengeful verses be included in the Psalter? Are they appropriate for worship? Are they appropriate for private devotion?

The notes in the New Interpreter's Study Bible points out that since Israel would never have been in position to take kings and princes captive, the rhetoric is exaggerated. Yet, even if they were incapable of humiliating the powerful nations that attacked them, they did have hope for their own survival. The Lord could and would vindicate the righteous and impose judgment on their enemies.

Transferring the message of this psalm to our time could mean for us questioning who are the weak and humble now and who are the powerful.

Proverbs 31:10-24
I had heard these verses read in praise of a worthy woman many times. And, never, had I sensed any underlying threat in them. Wouldn't any woman want to be like this--working with her hands, responsible for getting the food to her family--not just shopping for it, but planting it, too. She works day and night. She makes the clothes for her family--nice clothes, and she makes clothes to sell, too. Her whole family praises her. Everybody does.

Then someone pointed out to be the underlying danger in these verses. Must a woman be a wife to be worthy? Must a wife work from dawn until past dark to be worthy? Can her husband be proud of her if she isn't busy all the time.

She is praised for her house work and also for her work outside of the house. Yet, none of these worthy attributes she has shown has deemed her fit to take a seat among the elders in the gate.

Even so, even we feminists females can find descriptive phrases that we would be proud to have said of us. For example, "She opens her hand to the poor, and reaches out her hands to the needy" and "Strength and dignity are her clothing" and "She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue."

Prayer for Today: O Lord our God, we are comforted by the recognition that you have chosen to make your home among us. Help us now to be good neighbors. Amen.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Reflection on the One-Year Bible readings for December 29

Praise the Lord! 
Praise the Lord from the heavens; 
praise the Lord in the heights!
(adapted from Psalm 148:1)

Zechariah 14:1-21
Troubling images of victory.

Revelation 20:1-15
Final conflict. Final judgment.

Psalm 148:1-14
On her website One Cannot Have Too Large a Party, the blogger penelopepiscopl has included an excerpt from the Benedicite Aotearoa in the New Zealand Book of Prayer
10 All prophets and priests, all cleaners and clerks,
professors, shop workers, typists and teachers,
job-seekers, invalids, ' drivers • and ' doctors:
give to our ' God your ' thanks and ' praise.
11 All sweepers and diplomats, writers and artists,
grocers, carpenters, students and stock-agents,
seafarers, farmers, ' bakers • and ' mystics:
give to our ' God your ' thanks and ' praise.
12 All children and infants, all ' people • who ' play:
give to our ' God your ' thanks and ' praise.
Proverbs 31:8-9
Speak out for those who cannot speak, 
for the rights of all the destitute.
Speak out, judge righteously, 
defend the rights of the poor and needy.

Prayer for Today:  As you read verses 10 through 12 in Psalm 148, substitute persons appropriate for your own life and locale.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Reflection on the One-Year-Bible readings for December 28

Praise the Lord!
How good is it to sing praises to our God.
(Psalm 147:1a)

Zechariah 12:1-13:9
Victory is coming for Jerusalem. The people will remember whose people they are.

Revelation 19:1-21
After the depiction of Jerusalem as a whore, the vision shifts to Jerusalem as a bride for the Lamb of God.

Psalm 147:1-20
This psalm sings of the work that the Lord has done, the work that will continue to be done, and for whom this work is done: the outcasts, the brokenhearted, the downtrodden .

In return, we contemplate just what it is that the Lord wants for us to do, how to be. Well, it not just to be better than the people around us--richer or stronger or whatever: The Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love (11).

James Newsome, in Texts for Preaching B, writes:
Power and weakness! It may be observed that the story of humankind is, in large measure, the pursuit of the former and the avoidance of the latter. The person who has no power is one who exercises no control over his or her life. .... Into this terrible arena the psalmist issues a different understanding of the nature of power and weakness and of the relation between the two. There is but a single Power; all other power is illusory and transient. To participate in this Power is to admit one's own weakness, one's own dependence on the Creator and Sustainer of life. And paradoxically, it is only in the admission of one's own finitude and impotence that there emerges hope and joy. For the Power that sets the stars and brings the rains is irrevocably committed to the cause of justice and compassion....
Proverbs 31:1-7
It is not for kings, O Lemuel,
it is not for kings to drink wine,
or for rulers to desire strong drink;
or else they will drink and forget what has been decreed,
and will pervert the rights of all the afflicted.
Give strong drink to one who is perishing; 
and wine to those in bitter distress; 
let them drink and forget their poverty, 
and remember their misery no more.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, help us to remember whose people we are. Help us to remember your care for us in our weakness and distress. Help us to remember to extend that care to those in need around us. Amen.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Reflection of the One-Year-Bible readings for December 27

I will praise the Lord as long as I live; 
I will sing praises to my God all my life along.
(Psalm 146:2)

Zechariah 10:1-11:17
God will show compassion to the people who have suffered because of poor leadership.

Revelation 18:1-24
The rich will be punished for their mistreatment of the poor.

Psalm 146:1-10
Every once in a while I hear someone say to somebody who has just gotten something great, "That shows that God really loves you." And, sometimes, I read Psalm 146 and wonder.

This psalm begins by acclaiming praise for God and disdaining trust in powerful men. They won't last. God will.

According to this psalm, God cares about the oppressed, the hungry, prisoners, the blind, immigrants, orphans, and widows.

Jesus lived out this psalm. How is the church doing?

Proverbs 30:33
For as pressing milk produces curds, 
and pressing the nose produces blood, 
so pressing anger produces strife.

Prayer for Today: God, you have shown compassion to us. Instill in us the will to extend your compassion to the oppressed, the hungry, prisoners, the blind, immigrants, orphans, and widows. Amen.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Reflection on the One-Year-Bible readings for December 26

Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised.
(Psalm 145:3a)

Zechariah 9:1-17
Rejoice! Your king is coming, triumphant and victorious, humble and riding on a donkey.

Revelation 17:1-18
Jerusalem is pictured as a woman dressed in expensive clothes and adorned with costly jewelry, a woman who has been intimately involved with kings of other nations. Riches won't save her. Her powerful friends will desert her.

Commentators presume John was talking about the disaster which would eventually destroy Rome.  But, the message continues to be important. Riches and powerful friends can fail.

Psalm 145:1-21
Psalm 145 tells us--or, speaks for us:
The Lord is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
The Lord is good to all,
and his compassion is over all that he has made.
It's a reminder, one that we may well need, that we're living in God's kingdom and that we should be living according to God's intentions for us. The Lord's desire is for all to be fed and attended to. Those who care what the Lord wants will work toward these goals.

All. Think about it--all. All to be fed. All to be attended to. All.

The Psalmist is quoting the proclamation of the Lord on Sinai after Moses had cut the words of the Ten Commandments onto stone tablets. This good news of love for all is repeated throughout the scriptures (The Wesley Study Bible cites as examples Numbers 14:18; Nehemiah 9:17; Psalm 103:8, 17; and Jonah 4:2).

I'm reading these words today first as a reminder that God loves me, gives me what I need, and is merciful when I don't deserve mercy. And, these words are also a reminder to me that I'm not the only recipient of God's gifts and mercy; nor, are they restricted to people like me. God has compassion over all. And, then, it gets harder for me. If God is compassionate to all, how does God expect me to be?

Proverbs 30:32
If you have been foolish, exalting yourself, 
or if you have been devising evil, 
put your hand on your mouth.

Prayer for Today: O Lord our, we thank you for your many gifts, those times when you have bestowed upon us your mercy. Remind us now to demonstrate your love and your mercy to those around us. Amen.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Reflection on the One-Year-Bible readings for December 25

Happy are the people to whom such blessings fall;
happy are the people whose God is the Lord.
(Psalm 144:15)

Zechariah 8:1-23
Jerusalem will be restored. Nothing is impossible for the Lord. Your response is to be the kind of people that deserve this kindness.

Revelation 16:1-21
The wrath of God

Psalm 144:1-15
A prayer in time of war.

Proverbs 30:29-31
Three things are stately in their stride; 
four are stately in their gait: 
the lion, which is mightiest among wild animals 
and does not turn back before any; 
the strutting rooster, the he-goat, 
and a king striding before his people.

Prayer for Today: Make us worthy to look forward to your coming not fear your judgment of us. Amen.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Reflection on the One-Year-Bible readings for December 24

Hear my prayer, O Lord; 
give ear to my supplications in your faithfulness; 
answer me in your righteousness.
(Psalm 143:1)

Zechariah 6:1-7:14
A vision four chariots foretells the coming of the Lord. In a response to the question of how to demonstrate faithfulness to God, hypocrisy is condemned. Don't fast from particular foods and drink just to show off. Rather, fast from unkindness. Render true judgments. Show kindness and mercy to one another. Don't oppress the widow, the orphan, the alien, or the poor. Your ancestors didn't do these things, so I punished them.

Revelation 15:1-8
The last portent appears: 7 angels with 7 plagues. With them, the wrath of God is ended. The conquerers of evil offer praises to God, Almighty Lord. The hymn they use echoes the song of Moses giving thanks for rescue. John's contemporaries would have been comforted by the memory that in a time of despair, God had rescued their ancestors. Still a comfort for us.

Then John's vision tells that the wrath of God will live forever and ever. As long as we have evil, we will need God to deal with it.

Psalm 143:1-12
Another plea for help.

Proverbs 30:24-28
Four things on earth are small, 
yet they are exceedingly wise: 
the ants are a people without strength, 
yet they provide their food in the summer; 
the badgers are a people without power, 
yet they make their homes in the rocks; 
the locusts have no king, 
yet all of them march in rank; 
the lizard can be grasped in the hand, 
yet it is found in kings' palaces.

Prayer for Today: Pray the verses of Psalm 143 that fit your life today.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Reflection on One-Year-Bible readings for December 23

With my voice I cry to the Lord; 
with my voice I make supplication to the Lord
(Psalm 142:1)

Zechariah 4:1-5:11
Fifth vision: a lamp stand of gold, with a bowl and seven lamps and by them, two olive trees. The angel interprets: The eyes of the Lord see everything. Two anointed ones will stand by the Lord.

Sixth vision: Basket and Woman. Interpretation: The woman represents wickedness and will be stuffed back in the basket.

We may well be troubled that a woman symbolizes wickedness. How much does this assumption permeate the rest of scripture?

Revelation 14:1-20
Judgment is coming. As in Zechariah, women are classified as wicked.

Psalm 142:1-7
A prayer of complaint for someone facing persecution who feels abandoned, "O Lord, you are my refuge. Save me."

Proverbs 30:21-23

Prayer for Today: O Lord, forgive us for the times that we have sinned by committing wrong acts and neglecting to carry out the good that you intend for us to do. Protect us from harm. Amen.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Reflection on One-Year-Bible readings for December 22

I call upon you, O Lord; 
come quickly to me; 
give ear to my voice when I come to you.
(Psalm 141:1)

Zechariah 2:1-3:10
Third vision: A man with a measuring tape come to measure Jerusalem. An angel interrupts the series of visions by reporting that Babylon is soon to be destroyed; the exiles are going to be able to come home. Fourth vision: Joshua is told that his guilt has been removed.

Revelation 13:1-18
Call for endurance and faith.

Psalm 141:1-10
Some of this psalm is easier for me to pray sincerely than other parts of it. Sincere parts: Listen to me. Don't let me say or do things I shouldn't. Protect me from evil people.

Proverbs 30:18-20
Three things are too wonderful for me; 
four I do not understand: 
the way of an eagle in the sky, 
the way of a snake on a rock, 
the way of a ship on the high seas, 
and the way of a man with a girl.
This is the way of an adulteress: 
she eats, and wipes her mouth, 
and says, "I have done no wrong."

Prayer for Today: Pray the verses of Psalm 141 that fit your circumstances today (I suggest omitting verses 6-7).

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Reflection on One-Year-Bible readings for December 21

I know that the Lord maintains the cause of the needy, 
and executes justice for the poor.
Surely the righteous shall give thanks to your name; 
the upright shall live in your presence,
(Psalm 140:12-13)

Zechariah 1:1-21
The prophet reports that rescue and restoration are coming. Their ancestors had deserved their punishment. It's time now for the people are to repent of those evil ways. Zechariah receives a series of visions. First, a man riding on a red horse; the message is that the Lord cares for Jerusalem and is angry with rich nations. The second vision, four horns and four blacksmiths, is a message that the nations that had destroyed Judah will now be struck down.

Troubling question: Does rescue have to be accompanied by retribution?

Revelation 12:1-17
Today's reading from Revelation also has visions. Conflict in heaven: Satan is defeated--thrown out of heaven and sent to earth.

Psalm 140:1-13
A plea for rescue.

Proverbs 30:17
Prayer for Today: O Lord, forgive us for the sins we have committed. Help us then to forgive others who have sinned against us. And, if we just cannot forgive yet,  at least direct us away from handling the revenge ourselves. Amen.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Reflection on One-Year-Bible readings for December 20

O Lord, you have searched me and known me. 
You know when I sit down and when I rise up; 
you discern my thoughts from far away.
(Psalm 139:1-2)

Haggai 1:1-2:23
Historical context: Judah's rebellion against the Babylonian empire resulted in an overwhelming defeat. The center of government, Jerusalem, fell, many people were taken into exile, and the Temple, the center of worship, was destroyed. Almost 50 years later, Persia defeated Babylon, and allowed the people to go back to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple (from commentary in The Jewish Study Bible.)

The word of the Lord came to the prophet Haggai, "Tell the governor and the high priest and the remnant of the people that are left to remember the greatness of the Temple and to look at the rubble it was turned into."

Being faithful does not mean ignoring pain or defeat.

But, in their case, just looking and grieving was not all that the Lord had in mind for them. "Tell them: take courage, I am with you. I was with you when you came out of Egypt. I am with you now. Things are going to get better for you. Rebuild the temple."

No, the church is not a building, but gathering to worship is essential for the church. So, the building that houses that place is important. Many of the prophets had scorn for the temple and what went on there, but none of the prophets can be interpreted to mean that right worship is anything but right--and since the building is the place, then we who gather there should in all ways think and act as God's people.

Interesting sideline (also from JSB): The Lord promises that gold and silver from all over is going to come to Jerusalem. But, note that this treasure is not intended to enrich individuals; rather, it is the Lord's.

Revelation 11:1-19
The time of judgment.

Psalm 139:1-24
The Lord knows everything that we do, no matter where we are, and has always known all. No hiding is possible. That's the message of the first 18 verses; then, the psalm switches to a plea to God to destroy wicked enemies. The psalm ends with a prayer to God, "Search me, see if I have any wickedness in me, and lead me in the way everlasting."

Proverbs 30:15-16
The leech has two daughters; "Give, give," they cry. 
Three things are never satisfied: 
four never say, "Enough": 
Sheol, the barren womb, 
the earth ever thirsty for water, 
and the fire that never says, "Enough,"

Prayer for Today: O Lord, remind us today of all we have to be grateful for. And, O Lord, remind us of  how grateful people should behave. Amen.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Reflection on One-Year-Bible readings for December 19

On the day I called, you answered me,
you increased my strength of soul.
(Psalm 138:3)

Zephaniah 1:1-3:20
When you're tired of hearing people mischaracterize the being whom they call the Old Testament God, remember what the OT actually does say about God, including these verses from the prophet Zephaniah
"Sing out loud. Rejoice and exult. The Lord has taken away the judgments against you. You don't need to keep being afraid."
They may not have deserved God's mercy and grace any more than we do, but God is merciful. They may have known disaster, as many of us have, too. Yet, they knew that God was still with them, still renewing them to face the future after the disaster has past.

Revelation 10:1-11

Psalm 138:1-8
Thanksgiving for support during troubles.

Proverbs 30:11-14
There are those who curse their fathers
and do not bless their mothers.
There are those who are pure in their own eyes 
yet are not cleansed of their filthiness.
There are those--how lofty are their eyes, 
how high their eyelids lift!
There are those whose teeth are swords, 
whose teeth are knives, 
to devour the poor from off the earth, 
the needy from among mortals.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, thank you for the times you have shown us mercy. Now, we ask that you guide us into ways that we won't have to pray for forgiveness. Remind us during our bad times that you are with us. Amen.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Reflection on One-Year-Bible readings for December 18

O give thanks to the God of heaven.
Your steadfast love endures forever.
(Psalm 136:26)

Habakkuk 1:1-3:19
"O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen?"

The prophet laments that he sees destruction and violence all around him. The law is not protecting the righteous from the wicked. And he wants to know why the Lord isn't fixing things right now.

We continue to see injustice. We turn to God both because we think that God would not approve of anyone causing injustice and because we think that God has the power and the willingness to change the situation.

So, we have this reading from Habakkuk that gives us permission to complain, to cry out, and to question God, that gives us words that were said long ago for a specific situation but fit our own specific troubles in our lives.

Habakkuk was willing to wait for an answer and did receive one. The Lord told him to tell others that they, too, would have a vision, but that they too should be prepared to wait.

Good news or hard message? The proud do not see the need for God's help. The righteous, however, live their lives faithfully.

Revelation 9:1-21
Vision of more woes to come. Even after plagues, the humans just would not repent. They continued to care more about their own wealth than the welfare of others.

Psalm 137:1-9
Legitimate anguish. Troubling effect on the one doing the praying.

Proverbs 30: 10
Do not slander a servant to a master,
or the servant will curse you,
and you will be held guilty.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, when we look around us, we see violence and injustice. We can't bear the pain much longer. Fix things for us. Fix us. Amen.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Reflection on the One-Year-Bible readings for December 17

O give thanks to the Lord.
You are good and 
your steadfast love endures forever.
(adapted from Psalm 136:1)

Nahum 1:1-3:19
A reassuring message: God has the will and ability to handle our enemies. And a troubling one: the enemy is depicted as a sinful woman whose punishment will be rape.

Revelation 8:1-13
Woe is coming.

Psalm 136:1-26
While I was distracted thinking about something else, God was over and over doing good things for me, providing protection, smoothing out my path, rescuing me. Over and over. God's steadfast love endures forever. My attention should occur at least sometimes.

Proverbs 30:7-9
Two things I ask of you;
do not deny them to me before I die:
Remove far from me falsehood and lying;
give me neither poverty nor riches;
feed me with the food that I need, 
or I shall be full, and deny you, 
and say, "Who is the Lord?"
or I shall be poor, and steal, 
and profane the name of God.

Prayer for Today: Read Psalm 136 again and give thanks for the steadfast love that God has offered in your life.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Reflection on one-year-Bible readings for December 16

Your name, O Lord, endures forever; 
your renown, O Lord, throughout all ages.
(Psalm 135:13)

Micah 5:1-7:20
The Lord had accused Israel of inadequate appreciation. Israel doesn't waste any effort in trying to deny that it has not exhibited gratitude for the many gifts of rescue and protection that have been freely given.

Rather, in an implicit admission of that charge, Israel asks, "How should I respond? What is it that I need to give you that would demonstrate my sincere appreciation?"

Israel seems to think that God wants some commodities, "Would calves be sufficient? How about thousands of rams or ten-thousands rivers of oil? How about my firstborn--would that make you happy?"

The Lord responds, "It's not a stack of goods that I want from you. I want you, and I want you to be the kind of person you were intended to be."

The Lord lists three requirements:
do justice
love kindness
walk humbly with your God.
We are being asked to remember what God has done for us and to act as if we do. We are not only to make a gift to the church occasionally; we are to act in the world every day and in every way to insure that those around us--and even those farther away--will have lives that will provide them with some resources, too. We are to be nice to people in church and, more than that, to keep on being nice to people outside there, as well. We are to be active participants in a way of life that assures that people will be treated well. And, we are to continue to remember who is the source of all the good things that have happened to us, to remember that we did not do it alone.

Revelation 7:1-17
John's vision is of a multitude too great to count, a multitude made up of every nation..


Yes, every. Salvation doesn't depend on which borders surround our place of birth. Rather, salvation belongs to God on the throne and to the Lamb. Therefore, everyone joins in praise and worship.

How is your congregation getting this message of every nation?

One of the elders In this great multitude of creatures addressed John asking him "Who are these, robed in white? Where did they come from?"

John turned the question back to the questioner, "You're the one who knows."

The elder responded, "These are they who have come out of the great tribulation ordeal."

They didn't escape ordeal--which would be my first choice, but they did get through it.

Using 6:9-11, white robes are given to those who are slaughtered on earth for the word of God. Thus, we read this to be a description of martyrs who are victorious in heaven who, like Jesus, have given up their lives on earth.

John's words are intended to reassure people undergoing persecution on earth. How helpful are they to those of us who really don't suffer much because of our allegiance to the Lord? What is the message for us?

In the vision, one of the elders addresses John directly, promising him that God will shelter the worshippers (13-15).
They will hunger no more,
and thirst no more;
the sun will not strike them,
nor any scorching heat;
The Lamb (5:1-8) will be the shepherd.
The shepherd like the one described in Psalm 23. Also, read Ezekiel 34:11-30 in which God appoints a shepherd to oversee his sheep.

How far off is this promise? Do we have to die to collect on it? Or, is this vision of something that will happen to us on this earth--is happening to us on this earth?

Psalm 135:1-21
Recognition of what God has already done for us. Reminder that false gods can't deliver.

Proverbs 30:5-6 (adapted)
Every word of God proves true; 
You are a shield to those who take refuge in you.
Do not add to the words of God, 
or else God will rebuke you and you will be found a liar.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, guide us into ways that will encourage us and enable us to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with you, our God. Amen.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Reflection on One-Year-Bible readings for December 15

Lift up your hands to the holy place, 
and bless the Lord.
(Psalm 134:2)

Micah 1:1-4:13
"Whom can you trust?" Micah asks. "Are they telling you the truth, or are they saying what they think you want to hear? Well, not you, necessarily. They're saying what they think that the ones in charge want to hear."

He's talking about the religious leaders of his time.

Similar complaints continue to be made about prophets and priests of every generation. We see compromises to what congregations want to hear. We see failures in their behavior.

It's impossible for me not to apply this criticism of ancient prophets to our current situation with its current prophets. Candidates for political office, their supporters, and the voters trying to choose among them need to remember Micah's words.

Revelation 6:1-17
The seven seals are opened one by one. A rescuer is coming. Death will take a fourth of the earth with sword, famine, and pestilence, and with wild animals. But, those who have been slaughtered for the word of God will cry out for vengeance. The rich and powerful will hide.

Psalm 134:1-3

Proverbs 30:1-4
Who has ascended to heaven and come down?
Who has gathered the wind in the hollow of the hand?
Who has wrapped up the waters in a garment?
What is the person's name?
And what is the name of the person's child?
Surely you know?

Prayer for Today: O Lord, make us worthy of your trust. Amen.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Reflection on the One-Year-Bible readings for December 14

How very good and pleasant it is  
when kindred live together in unity!
(Psalm 133:1)

Jonah 1:1-4:11
Things are not going well in Nineveh, but Nineveh is a long way away. And foreigners live there. Foreigners who do not worship the Lord our God.

As far way as Nineveh is, God cares anyway.

The Lord calls Jonah: Go right now to Nineveh. Tell them how wicked they are.

Jonah responds immediately to God's call--by jumping on a ship traveling in the opposite direction.

The Lord does not give up. The ship is caught in a big storm. Everybody on board is praying--to many different gods. They have not had the opportunity to know about the Lord our God.

Jonah sleeps through the disturbance until the captain wakes him up. He demands of Jonah, "Start praying to your God. It might work." The crew has a different solution, "One of us on board must be to blame. Let's cast lots to see who is the cause of this storm."

The lot falls on Jonah. In response to their query, Jonah tells them about the God of heaven, sea, and dry land. And he tells them that he, Jonah, has been fleeing from the Lord.

After some deliberation, they finally consent to sacrifice Jonah in hopes that this act will pacify the Lord. They throw Jonah overboard, but God is not ready to give up on this reluctant prophet.

Questions to consider:
Have you slept through challenges?

Are there groups to whom you are unwilling to approach?

How far are you willing to go--literally or figuratively--to avoid answering the call of the Lord?

Considering how ready the sailors were to believe Jonah, why did it take a disaster for him to speak out? Would they have been ready to believe him without the emergency?

He really didn't want to go to Nineveh and waste his time warning them that the Lord had noticed how sinful they were. To avoid the task, he jumped on a ship. That plan did not work for Jonah, and he finally decided to obey the Lord.

He preached to them. They listened. They believed. They repented. God decided not to destroy them.

Jonah's response was shocked anger. "I knew this would happen. This is the way you have always been. You talk about sin and punishment, but what you do is forgive. Why did I have to go to all this trouble, this trip, this preaching? I give up."

He sat down under a bush, waiting to see what God really was going to do.

We can find ourselves in this story. We can see times that we have been Nineveh. Times that we can say we didn't know better and times when someone had instructed us forcefully enough that we lost the defense of ignorance. Times when we did repent for our past doings.

We can see times that we have been Jonah. God wanted us to do something, and we really didn't want to bother. Times when we have done what we thought God wanted and then we weren't satisfied with the results.

How hard is it for us to accept that someone else's sins can be forgiven?

Jonah was unhappy not only about the forgiveness but also because the forgiveness was of foreigners. We are still wrestling with this notion. Here are two opposing views:

Pro Immigration Amnesty

Against Amnesty for Illegal Aliens

Revelation 5:1-14
Look back at chapter 4. A door in heaven has opened so that John can see and hear.

In chapter 5, he sees one sitting on a throne with a scroll with seven seals. The lamb took the scroll.

Myriads and myriads and thousands and thousands of angels are singing, "Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered...."

But not just angels are singing.

Every creature in heaven but not just in heaven. Every creature that lives on earth and under it and every creature that lives in the sea--they are all singing.

They are singing to the One on the throne and to the Lamb.

God created us all. The lamb was sacrificed for us all. We all respond with praise.

Off-on-a-tangent thought: I'm struck today by the reference to "the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb." Is this an allusion to the trinitarian God being both powerful and lamblike? (Another tangent: I said trinitarian and then wished I could find an explicit Spirit reference.)

Psalm 133:1-3

Proverbs 29: 26-27
Many seek the favor of a ruler, 
but it is from the Lord that one gets justice.
The unjust are an abomination to the righteous, 
but the upright are an abomination to the wicked.

Prayer for Today: Read Psalm 133 again and pray for the specific unity you need in your life today.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Reflection on One-Year-Bible readings for December 13

I will not give sleep to my eyes 
or slumber to my eyelids, 
until I find a place for the Lord, 
a dwelling place for the Mighty One of Jacob.
(Psalm 132:4-5)

Obadiah 1:1-21
Could anything be more scary than you'll get just what you deserve?

Revelation 4:1-11
Vision of the Lord God who is and is to come.

Psalm 132:1-18

Proverbs 29:24-25
To be a partner of a thief is to hate one's own life; 
one hears the victim's curse but discloses nothing.
The fear of others lays a snare,
but one who trusts in the Lord is secure.

Prayer for Today: Pray Revelation 4:11.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Reflection on the One-Year-Bible readings for December 12

O Israel, hope in the Lord 
from this time on and forevermore.
(Psalm 131:3)

Amos 7:1-9:15
The Lord God has shown Amos a vision of locusts and one of fire. "How can we survive?" Amos asks.

Then the Lord shows him a plumb line--a way of measuring if a wall has been built straight. It hasn't been.

This vision in some ways is more ominous than the ones of locusts and of fire. We plant crops but we can't keep the locusts away. Some steps for fire prevention are possible, but some fires can't be stopped.

But, we could have built a better wall.

How much of the pain we suffer is due to our not following God's way for us?

A priest complains to the king that he resents the message that the prophet Amos has been preaching. He tells Amos to go back home, that he doesn't belong in the temple.

Who does? Who should speak? What message? What is it that Amos has said that is so upsetting to those in authority?

Amos asserts that he speaks because the Lord has told him to. His speech has been full of radical social justice (oppressing the poor and crushing the needy (4:1); mistaking ceremony and offerings as a substitute for doing justice (5:21-27); and even more disturbing to us modern readers, living comfortable lives (6:4-8).

Do we get too comfortable in our lives to be able to hear God's call? Who gets our attention? Who does Amaziah think is his real boss? Who do we think is ours?

The prophet Amos outlines the indictment that the Lord God has brought against them: They have trampled on the poor, taken advantage of them, engaged in practices which increased bankruptcies.

How much attention do modern prophets give to financial abuses? Do we consider fraudulent practices sins? Do we believe that God gets particularly upset about financial mistreatment of the poor?

Amos reminds us the the Lord will not forget any of this.

Revelation 3:7-22
The congregation of Philadelphia has amassed little power but has demonstrated patient endurance of the trials they have faced. The angel's message: Hold on.

The congregation of Laodicea, on the other hand, has demonstrated mediocracy. Angel's message: Get earnest. Repent.

Psalm 131:1-3
Psalms 120 through 134 all begin with the superscription, "A song for ascents." According to the notes in the Jerusalem Study Bible, there are several theories about the designation "ascents," the English translation for "ma'alah." Among these theories are the early rabbinic tradition that deduced that there 15 of these psalms to match the 15 steps of the Temple (see Ezekiel 40:26, 31). Some modern scholars connect these psalms to the return from exile. Others have a allegorist understanding; that is, the ascent is of the individual to God.

Psalm 131 begin with an assertion of humility, "O Lord, my heart is not proud nor my look haughty; I do not aspire to great things or to what is beyond me." I'm pausing here to ponder how honestly a typical modern can pray this psalm. Do we think a heart should be proud? Is it hard for us to admit that some things are beyond us? How willing are we to limit our aspirations? Or, I'm wondering if we, on the other hand, can pray this psalm quite honestly. Our humility is part of what drives us to our places of worship. Of course, we can't do everything. Of course, we don't understand why some things turn out the way they do. But, I'm still having trouble with the not-occupying myself part. I, at least, if not we, do tend to worry about a lot of things.

Back to the psalm.

The words of the psalm links the one on the way to the Temple (or on the way home from exile, or the one seeking the presence of God) to a small child with its mother. From an assertion of humility to an example of it. It's hard to come up with a relationship in which one party provides for the needs of the other--even when that other isn't behaving particularly well at all--than the mother and her child.

Proverbs 29:23
A person's pride will bring humiliation, 
but one who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor.

Prayer for Today: O Lord our God, sustain in the hard times. And, if the times get too easy, nudge us to remember you and what you intend for us. Amen.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Reflection on the One-Year-Bible readings for December 11

Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive 
to the voice of my supplications!
(Psalm 130:2)

Amos 4:1-6:14
Israel is accused by the Lord of oppressing the poor, crushing the needy. God tried to get their attention, but nothing seemed to distract them. The Lord laments over the future of Israel and entreats them to change their ways, that showing up for fancy worship services won't suffice.

The Lord says to them, "Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream."

Revelation 2:18-3:6

Psalm 130:1-8
We can look to the Lord for support and forgiveness, for love and redemption.

Proverbs 29:21-22
One given to anger stirs up strife, 
and the hothead causes much transgression.

Prayer for Today: Pray Psalm 130.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Reflection on the One-Year-Bible readings for December 10

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.
(Psalm 130:1)

Amos 1:1-3:15
During the time Uzziah was king of Judah and Jeroboam II of Israel, Amos, a shepherd from the subservient Judah speaks of the upcoming judgment, delayed but inevitable, against Israel's enemies, against Judah, and against Israel.

Revelation 2:1-17

Psalm 129:1-8
O God, please take care of my enemies, and I don't mean in a nice way.

Proverbs 29:19-20
Do you see someone who is hasty in speech?
There is more hope for a fool than for someone like that.

Prayer for Today: As we read through the One-Year Bible, we also recognize that we are in the season of Advent. Today, and other days, choose a prayer from the Advent Prayers on the Alive Now page.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Reflection on the One-Year-Bible readings for December 9

Happy is everyone who fears the Lord,
who walks in the ways of God.
(adapted from Psalm 128:1)

Joel 1:1-3:21
Joel reminds the people--those, then, and us, now, as well, that God has already done great things for us. And, God will continue to do great things. He uses as an examples the return of rain to the land and, as a consequence, the abundance of food. We can witness the presence of God in our life by paying attention to the gifts that come from God.

Joel is writing to a people that have suffered ruin--invasion and famine, "Lament and repent. Return to the Lord. Sound the alarm. The day of the Lord is coming, a day of darkness and gloom." Yet, even in the face of our deserved judgment, the Lord continues to beckon, "Return to me."

As Christians traveling through Advent, let us heed Joel's reminder: Rend your hearts and not your clothing. What do we need to give up (or to take up) that is our way of fasting, weeping, and mourning?

Keep reading.

In 2:13, we see the familiar doxology of God's mercy (Exodus 34:5-7).

Again, Joel says, "Sound the alarm," and adds:
Sanctify a fast.
Call a solemn assembly.
Gather the whole congregation including the old people and the very young.
In verse 17, he reminds us that our lives demonstrate what we really believe about God. There's an old cliche' that your life is a sermon that you are preaching everyday. What if it is true?

Revelation 1:1-20
We are reading from this letter that was written to congregations that preceded us--written to them at a time of stress and turmoil, a time when they needed to be reminded that Christ is King.

Verses 5 and 6 list some of the elements of Christian faith:
Christ is the faithful witness.
Christ is the ruler of the kings of the earth.
Christ loves us.
Christ freed us from our sins by his blood.
Not only that but also, Christ made us to be a kingdom. Kingdom. That might sound pretty empowering. Let us pause to remember what kind of kingdom is meant. We are to serve God and Father to whom glory and dominion belong.

Caesar may seem to be in charge of our lives, but Caesar doesn't last long. The Lord God, on the other hand, is the Alpha and Omega--the already and the one to come. The Lord God is the one who is and will be the Almighty One in our lives.

Psalm 128:1-6
Source of happiness.

Proverbs 29:12-14
If a ruler listens to falsehood,
all his officials will be wicked.
The poor and the oppressor have this in common:
the Lord gives light to the eyes of both,
If a king judges the poor with equity, 
his throne will be established forever.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, open us to your call. Guide us back from errants paths. Bring us again into your embrace. Amen.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Reflection on the One-Year-Bible readings for December 8

Unless the Lord builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the Lord guards the city, 
the guard keeps watch in vain.
(Psalm 127:1)

Hosea 10:1-14:9
The terrible consequences of getting what you deserve. A plea for a chance to start over.

Jude 1:1-25
Not everyone who claims to know what God wants does.

Psalm 127:1-5
Advice for those who really are working too hard.

Proverbs 29:15-17
When the wicked are in authority, 
    transgression increases,
but the righteous look down 
    upon their downfall.

Prayer for Today: Pray Hosea 14:2

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Reflections on the One-Year-Bible readings for December 7

The Lord has done great things for us, 
and we rejoiced.
(Psalm 126:3)

Hosea 6:1-9:17
They received great gifts and reacted with great disobedience. They deserve what is coming.

3 John 1:1-14
Dissension in the church over who should be welcomed. Sound timely?

Psalm 126:1-6
A remembrance that after sorrow came joy; a prayer  during sorrow that joy will come again.

Proverbs 29:12-14
If a ruler listens to falsehood,
all his officials will be wicked.
The poor and the oppressor have this in common:
the Lord gives light to the eyes of both.
If a king judges the poor with equity, 
his throne will be established forever.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, you have given us instructions on how to live. Help us now to pay attention to them. When we are welcomed into a community, help us to extend that welcome to your people even if they aren't like us in every way. Remind us of what you have done for us. Remind us of how we should respond. Amen.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Reflection on the One-Year-Bible readings for December 6

Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, 
which cannot be moved, but abides forever.
(Psalm 125:1)

Hosea 4:1-5:15
Israel has sinned and deserves punishment. There's still a chance for Judah (4:12-14) or not (5:14). Sinners must acknowledge their guilt (5:25).

2 John 1:1-13
The letter addresses the church as a dear lady. Gail O'Day questions whether this feminizing image enhances the value of female leadership in the church or whether it indicates a patriarchal structure of governance (Women's Bible Commentary). If we think that the lady addressed in the letter is an actual person rather than the whole congregation, the same question applies.

Psalm 125:1-5
Psalm 125 begins with a statement of confidence: Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever. As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds his people from this time on and forevermore.

As I thought about these verses, I was struck first by the psalmist's use of place. That is, he looked around him where he was and saw God right there right them, and further knew that God had always been there and always would be. We are like that big mountain over there. We cannot no more be moved than it can. God is like the mountains that surround this city. I can step out into the street and see them all around us. God is like that, all around us.

Perhaps I will remember to look around today and to let familiar objects remind me of God and God's qualities and the qualities of people who recognize God's presence.

This psalm continues with a prayer to the Lord to do good to those who are good. We need to remember to be good if we are sincere in this prayer.

Proverbs 29:9-11
If the wise go to law with fools, 
there is ranting and ridicule without relief.
The bloodthirsty hate the blameless, 
and they seek the life of the upright.
A fool gives full vent to anger, 
but the wise quietly holds it back.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, open my eyes, open my heart, open my will to see what you have done and will do for me. Encourage me to respond with love. Amen.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Reflection on the One-Year-Bible readings for December 5

Our help in the name of the Lord, 
who made heaven and earth.
(Psalm 124:8)

Hosea 1:1-3:5
Hosea was speaking at a time of calamities--dangers from outside and disobedience and disloyalty within.

The Lord tells him to marry a prostitute. The Lord tells him what to name the children born to them. We are struck by the names that the Lord deems appropriate: Jezreel--God sows; Lo-ruhamah--Not pitied; Lo-ammi--I am not yours.

If we choose to read this chapter metaphorically (as many commentators do), we can see the history of Israel lived out through the life of Hosea. Israel has been unfaithful. The Lord has punished Israel. Israel feels abandoned.

Yet, disobedience and punishment are not the end of the story of the Lord and Israel. Pity, compassion, and love are continuing characteristics of the Lord. God tells Hosea, "When people say that you are not my people, just tell them you are the children of the living God."

1 John 5:1-21
Looking Words up in a Greek Dictionary
Vocabulary Drill: believe, born, love, know, commandments.

believe, pisteuo, believe (in), have faith (in), have confidence (in), entrust.

born, passive voice of gennao, be fathered by, borne by, having been conceived by.

love, agapao, love, proof of love, placing first in one's affections.

know, ginosko, know, have knowledge of, learn, understand, perceive, discern, recognize.

commandments,plural of entole, commandment, order, instruction

Source: The Greek New Testament, 3rd ed., ed. by (among others) Kurt Aland

"For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, for whatever is born of God conquers the word. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith" (1 John 5:3-5).

Love is obeying commandments. Following commandments is the victory that conquers the world. We aren't talking Alexander the Great kind of conquering. We talking Christ conquering.

The United Methodist Church has designed Four Areas of Focus:
* Combating the diseases of poverty by improving health globally.
* Creating new places for new people and revitalizing existing congregations.
* Developing principled Christian leaders for the church and the world.
* Engaging in ministry with the poor.

We don't have to wait until after we die for eternal life to begin. Eternal life promises more than by-and-by. Eternal life begins now. Here.

The first witnesses saw this promise fulfilled in the Son.

We are asked to share this eternal life. We are asked to know that we share this eternal life.

Psalm 124:1-8
Israel could look back and remember that day when their ancestors were escaping captivity. They were standing at the banks of a raging river, but an army was pursuing them. They were able to reach safety because the Lord intervened.

Throughout their subsequent history, they needed the help of the Lord and received it.

All of us who have come after Moses can also remember and be grateful. The work of the Lord did not end with Moses, but continued, and continues.

We don't have a promise that our lives will be totally without problems. Rather, we have the assurance that the Lord will sustain us and help us through our troubles.

Proverbs 29:5-8
Whoever flatters a neighbor is spreading a net for the neighbor's feet.
In the transgression of the evil there is a snare, 
but the righteous sing and rejoice.
The righteous know the rights of the poor; 
the wicked have no such understanding.
Scoffers set a city aflame, 
but the wise turn away wrath.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, free us from the pains that confront us, and direct us toward the life you intend for us. Amen.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Reflection on the One-Year-Bible readings for December 4

To you, I lift up my eyes,
O you, who are enthroned in the heavens!
(Psalm 123:1)

Daniel 11:36-12:13

1 John 4:1-21
If the author of this epistle were writing to your congregation today, would he need to include this section? Does your congregation need to be reminded to love? to love each other? to love our brothers and sisters? to love people we don't even know? And which is harder for us, anyway, to love people we have to be around all the time or people that we don't?

Consider for a while today what verse 7 means to you. How does loving someone help you to know God? Or, how does knowing God help you to love someone?

The Father has sent his Son to save the world, verse 14. The world. God hasn't sent the Son to take us away from the world, to live separately from it, but to save it.

Psalm 123:1-4
Psalm 123 gives words to people who are being held in contempt by the richer people in their community.

Think about who it is that you owe first allegiance to--and who it is who is likely to give us help and support. The psalm begins, "To you I lift up my eyes, O you who are enthroned in the heavens!"

We may be living in very difficult situations, but we can expect solace and mercy from the Lord.

But, what if we are the ones who are living in comfortable conditions? What is our prayer then? How comfortable are we praying verse 4, "Our soul has had more than its fill of the scorn of those who are at ease, of the contempt of the proud"?

Proverbs 29:2-4
When the righteous are in authority,
the people rejoice;
but when the wicked rule,
the people groan.
a child who loves wisdom
   makes a parent glad,
but to keep company with prostitutes 
    is to squander one's substance.
By justice a king gives stability to the land,
but one who makes heavy exactions ruins it.

Prayer for Today: If the words of Psalm 123 are true for you today, use them in your prayer. But, if you have displayed scorn or contempt for someone today, pray that their prayer be answered. Amen.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Reflection on the One-Year-Bible readings for December 3

I was glad when they said to me,
"Let us go to the house of the Lord!"
Our feet are standing
within your gates, O Jerusalem.
(Psalm 122:1-2)

Daniel 11:2-35
Hard times are coming.

1 John 3:7-24
We know that God loved us because of what Christ has done for us. God's love came to us before we had done anything to deserve it. Because God loved us, we are supposed to help those in need.

Because God loved us. Not in order to get God to love us. That's already happened.

And love is not just that warm emotion. The love in this letter is acted out in deed.

Questions addressed in this passage:

How do we receive reassurance that we are from the truth? That is, can we give examples of how God's love is demonstrated through our actions?

Believing in Jesus Christ and loving one another. Have we tried to do the first without doing the second? It's one command, not two.

How do we know that Jesus abides in us? We know because we are obeying his commands.

John Wesley preached against what he called the "Almost Christian." The Almost Christian does nothing that the Bible forbids. He avoids murder, theft, adultery, and fornication. He keeps the Sabbath. He does to church, he prays, and so on. But, according to Wesley, he is missing something necessary. He's missing the command to love his neighbor a himself.

How do we become the "Altogether Christian"? We love God and those whom God love--including people we don't even like. After all, this is his commandment:
that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another.
Psalm 122:1-9
This psalm begins with an expression of gratitude to be able to go into Jerusalem. We modern day Christians can read this as a reminder of what God did long ago, and we can read these words as a reminder of what God is still doing and will do.

What is our Jerusalem? Where do we see ourselves gathered in worship? Do we visualize this place as one with many kinds of people gathering?

And, there, what do we pray for?

And, having prayed, what do we do when we leave our places of worship? Whose good are we seeking?

Proverbs 29:1
One who is often reproved, yet remains stubborn, 
will suddenly be broken beyond healing.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, keep pointing out to us how to show our love for you by showing love to other people, even those we would rather not have anything to do with. Amen.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Reflection on the One-Year-Bible readings for December 2

I lift up my eyes to the hills--
from where will my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth. 
(Psalm 121:1-2)

Daniel 9:1-11:1
A prayer of confession for the sins of the nation. A promise of rescue.

1 John 2:18-3:6
Avoid substitutes for Christ.

John writes, "Even the world realizes that we are children of God." We are accustomed to recognizing that Christ is the Son. How do we think of ourselves as sons and daughters? How does the world know that we are? What does the world think that being children of God means? Who else do we think is eligible to be children of God?

"We will be like him." In what ways? Will we love? Will we suffer? Will we overcome suffering? Will we reach out to the unlovable? Other ways? Any or all of these?

John is both reassuring us and challenging us. Hope for what we may become helps us to make the effort now.

After the reminder, "You know that he was revealed to take away sin and that in him there is no sin." John issues an indictment (a warning?), "No one who abides in him sins. Anybody who sins doesn't even know him."

But John does not allow us to give up or in. "Do what is right."

(I offer these comments with thanks to William Loader, First Thoughts.) Here's more from him:
This then enables us to see 3:1-7 in perspective. It is not about how many morality boxes we can tick to qualify ourselves as righteous or as a child of God. It is about whether love flows. Here, too, it is not about how many acts of love we summon up our energies to perform - ticking the goodness boxes, but how much we open ourselves to receive the love which God gives, which in turn flows through us to others. Love gives birth to love. Later the writer will speak of our loving because we were first of all loved by God (4:19). The author might say today: no amount of doing good deeds and no amount of having impressive spiritual experiences will count for anything if it is not connected to a real change that is relational. It may be cosmetic goodness and religion, but without that love it is nothing much. Paul made much the same point in 1 Corinthians 13.
Psalm 121:1-8
On my bookshelf is a book I read years ago and return to from time to time, Openings, a Daybook of Saints, Psalms, and Prayer by Larry James Peacock, published by Upper Room Books.

In his discussion of Psalm 121, he points out that in encompassing day and night, near and far, present and future, all of life rests under the protection of the Lord.

The Lord is always awake. The Lord is always with us. The Lord protects us in all our comings and goings, now and forever.

Can I have the confidence in the Lord that the psalmist expresses? Do I usually look for help from the Lord, or am I more likely to try something else first?

Proverbs 28:27-28
Whoever gives to the poor will lack nothing,
but one who turns a blind eye will get many a curse.
When the wicked prevail, people go into hiding;
but when they perish, the righteous increase.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, we have heard your commands. Sustain our willingness to keep them. Amen.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Reflection on the One-Year-Bible readings for December 1

In my distress, I cry to the Lord
(Psalm 120:1a)

Daniel 8:1-27
This chapter of Daniel relates a vision of what was happening and was going to happen in his country in his time. We can read about it as an interesting part of history when someone heard from God what was coming. And, we can read about it and reflect on what God is doing in our world and what we can anticipate God to do next.

Daniel's homeland had been overrun by powerful foes. He recognizes that the punishment is to some extent deserved. His people had not been doing what they should have. Daniel now expresses his mourning, "How long must we continue to suffer?" In the vision, the angel Gabriel tells him it will be a long time but that release will come.

1 John 2:1-17
Jesus Christ has shown us how to live our lives. The proof that we know him is found in how we live our lives. Love each other. Don't be distracted by possessions.

Psalm 120:1-7
A prayer when someone is slandering you.

Proverbs 28:25-26
The greedy person stirs up strife,
but whoever trusts in the Lord will be enriched.
Those who trust in their own wits are fools;
but those who walk in wisdom come through safely.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, direct our attention to the sufferings of people around me. Point out to me ways that I can show your love through my own life. Focus my attention on that love and help me not to be distracted by less important needs. Amen.