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, February 28, 2014

Reflection on readings for February 28

We have heard with our ears, O God,
our ancestors have told us,
what deeds you performed in their days,
in the days of old
(Psalm 44:1)

Leviticus 22:17-23:44
We don't bring lambs to be slaughtered at places that we consider holy. We don't overdo that Sabbath thing so much, either.

Mark 9:30-10:12
Jesus had told the disciples about the suffering he was to undergo and the requirement that following him also meant suffering. Jesus again tells his disciples that he will be betrayed and killed and will rise again.

Mark tells us that Jesus restricted this knowledge to the disciples because he didn't want anyone else to know it. I'm wondering if he really needed to be so restrictive about the information. After all, the disciples not only did not understand what he meant; they were afraid to ask him to explain it all to them.

Something apparently they did understand was priority. They argued about who was the greatest. Jesus answered this concern by giving a lesson and an example. An example that told them what greatest meant to him.

He said "Whoever wants to be first must be last and servant of all." He then showed them a little child and said, "When you welcome the weak and defenseless, you are welcoming me."

Not only are we great when we help the weak, we also see him in the weak.

One of the insiders approached Jesus with a warning. Someone that John had not pre-approved was doing the kind of work that John approved of--as long as it was done by the right kind of person.

We can consider several modern-day applications:

Sectarianism--should your denomination be allowed to claim to be part of the Body of Christ?

Another problem today is how restrictive should each denomination be in detailing membership requirements? Who gets to decide who is a Christian?

Who gets to decide who gets to join my particular congregation?

Are only Christians allowed to do the work of God in God's name?

Jesus then cautioned them about temptation. What happened to that sweet and mild Jesus image so often held up for us? The next time we try to malign the OT by talking about the violence in it, we need to remember this passage from Mark that includes some wrathful talk.

Was Mark speaking to the early church in terms that they would recognize from their own lives; i.e., were mutilation and drowning punishments used by Romans? Was he warning them that disobedience to Christ would have an even more severe punishment? (I've been reading Morna Hooker).

The punishments listed are dire. Consider the crime--impeding someone's progress. And let us remember verses 38-40--Jesus has a pretty loose definition of following.

He left there and went to the region of Judea beyond the Jordan. Crowds gathered. Critics were among them. The Pharisees asked him if it was lawful for a man to divorce his wife. Is there any reason to believe that the Pharisees had any sincere concern about women who were being divorced by their husbands, women who would have been left destitute?

They were asking a hard question hoping to catch Jesus in an embarrassing answer. Would he stick to Scripture?

In that particular confrontation, he did, and even quoted some additional verses.

And, we're left with a disconcerting lesson. Matthew modified it some. Paul, in writing to the Corinthians did, too.

We continue to struggle with the need to obey God's will in troubling situations.

And we continue to see instances of modern-day Pharisees trying to embarass other Christians.

Psalm 44:1-8

Proverbs 10:19

Prayer for Today: O Lord, in our decisions to how we should live our life, help us to interpret the scriptures appropriately. And, Lord, help us not to be like those Pharisees. Amen.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Reflection on readings for February 27

Why are you cast down, 
    O my soul,
and why are you 
    disquieted within me?
Hope in God; 
for I shall again praise 
    my help and my God.
(from Psalm 43:5)

Leviticus 20:22-22:16
Modern pastors don't have to follow the specific rules for priests that are outlined in Leviticus, but they may impose on themselves (or have strongly suggested to them by parishioners) of ways they act and dress. Rules in Leviticus indicating the importance of offerings are not followed, but we still believe that offerings are essential.

Mark 9:1-29
Peter, James, and John were helped in their understanding of who Jesus was by the events on the mountaintop. They witnessed a change in Jesus' body. They saw him clothed in white as was the Divine One described by Daniel (7:9). And they saw Moses and Elijah, great figures in the history of their people, both who had spoken the word of the Lord.

They are terrified.

Then a cloud overshadowed them. And from the cloud came a voice.

What Jesus has known (1:11) is now told to these disciples: The voice tells them, "This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!"

And what he first tells them is not to tell anybody else until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. Fred Craddock in Preaching through the Christian Year B, explains this command: They may have heard that Jesus is the Son, the Beloved, but they haven't yet heard everything they need to know to be effective disciples. They are not yet ready to be witnesses nor are their audiences yet ready to hear it.

Off on a tangent: Look back at Exodus 19:16-20 that tells of the appearance of a thick cloud on a mountain and the voice of the Lord; also Exodus 24:12-18, Moses and Aaron go up the mountain, the glory of the Lord appears in the cloud, then Moses enters the cloud. Other references to the cloud as a symbol of the divine presence include Numbers 14:10; Ezekiel 1:4; Daniel 7:9-14; Mark 13:26; 14:2. (Thank you once more, Allen & Williamson, for your Preaching the Gospels.)

They came down from the mountain to find the other disciples arguing with scribes as a large crowd watched. When Jesus asked what was going on, a man said that he had asked the disciples to heal his son, they said they couldn't do it. Jesus responded by saying "Everything is possible to one who believes." The man cried out, "I believe; help my unbelief!"

Hooker says that he had enough faith for the first step--the faith to respond, but this half-faith must continue to grow.

Psalm 43:1-5
Many times when we pray, we are expressing gratitude for what has already been provided for us. But, sometimes, we are in situations of despair, of loss, of fear. Psalm 43 gives us the words to pray to God when we have been treated unfairly:
Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause against an ungodly people; from those who are deceitful and unjust deliver me!
We ask for defense and for refuge.  And when we need defense and refuge, we turn to God. We ask God to spread light on our situation so we will know what we should do.
O send out your light and your truth; let them lead me.
We have known this, and we have to re-know it from time to time.
Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.
Caution: William Holladay, in Long Ago God Spoke, reminds us that the word translated as soul, nephesh,  should not be understood as some religious part of us but rather as all that makes up our total being.

Proverbs 10:18

Prayer for Today: O Lord our God, help us to trust your ability and willingness to help us through hard times. Amen.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Reflection on readings for February 26

As a deer longs for flowing streams,
so my soul longs for you, O God.
(Psalm 42:1)

Leviticus 19:1-20:21
For some Bible verses, we might be reading for history, but these prompt us to think about what we're doing now. The Lord reminded Moses that when they got to their home, they were to be holy. Let's not restrict the meaning of holy. God was talking about more than we may usually consider to fall under that description.

For example, the Lord told them that when they reaped the harvest from their land, that they were not supposed to keep all the crop for their own use. "Leave some for the poor and the alien."

As we Americans consider such difficult topics as health care and immigration, we might look back at these verses and ponder just what God meant for us to do.

The Lord told Moses what to tell the people: You shall not steal nor deal falsely or lie.

Not only are you not to steal, you shouldn't delay paying your workers what they have earned.

It's not just money that we aren't to steal or hold back for a while, it's their dignity and ability to earn that wage as well. The Lord said, "You shall not revile the deaf nor put a stumbling block before the blind.

As a personal aside: Several years ago I injured my knee and had to use a wheelchair for a few weeks. Every restaurant, every store was completely, easily accessible. Almost no churches were.

After the instructions not to defraud or judge unjustly your neighbor, the Lord through Moses tells them more about appropriate neighborliness. Do not slander. Do not profit by the blood of your neighbor. Even reproving a neighbor will bring guilt on you. No vengeance. Not even bearing a grudge. What would our world be like if we even began to follow these instructions?

And, how did we get so confused about holiness that we have forgotten that generosity and fairness and kindness are all demonstrations of it. As Leviticus sums it up for us, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord."

Mark 8:11-38
Mark has reported a series of miracles--walking on the water, several healings, two feedings of large crowds.

Who can do these things?

Jesus asks his followers, "Who do people think I am?" The disciples give a list of forerunners to the Messiah. Then Jesus asks "Who do you think I am?"

Peter answers for them, "You are the Messiah." Jesus instructs them not to tell anyone.

The crowds are ready to know that the Messiah is coming, but not ready to realize that he is here, among them.

They are not aware of what being the Messiah means. Not just victory. Not just winning over oppressors. And it's time for those closest to Jesus to begin to learn this.

Jesus begins to teach them what is going to happen--not just the healings and feedings and water-walking, but also suffering, rejection, and even death.

Peter doesn't like this kind of talk and tries to persuade Jesus to back off some. Jesus is adamant.

Jesus speaks not only to the disciples but to the crowds, "If you want to follow with me, deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me."

He's talking to us.

Psalm 42:1-11
No, we don't have to pretend that everything that happens is really for the best. We are allowed to recognize the difference between things working out well and not working out at all.

Much of the Bible is written about God and about the relationship between God and God's people--Genesis through 2 Chronicles, say.

The books of the prophets are filled with words that God intends for us to listen to.

The wisdom books, including but not limited to Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, are largely people speaking to people, that is, wise people speaking to people that need and want to be wise.

Psalms, though, has a large component of people speaking to God.

And often, what we say is a complaint, an expression of sadness, a lament that things are the way we wanted--or expected--them to be.

Psalm 42 begins with an expression of longing for God, a longing prompted by a sense of separation from God. A long separation, and one that has been noticed by onlookers.

The psalmist is in despair. He thinks that God has forgotten about him.

Is being too unimportant to be remembered worse than being so bad that you deserve being punished?

Although he thinks that God has forgotten him, he knows very well that his enemies haven't. They mock him, "Where is your God?"

But, even in despair, the psalmist turns to God,
Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my help and my God.
Proverbs 10:17

Prayer for Today: Lord, our God, enhance our realization and our acceptance that you are already here among us. Strengthen our will and ability to follow the example set for us. And, O Lord, when things turn bad in our lives, remind us that you are with us. Amen.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Reflection on readings for February 25

Blessed be the Lord,
the God of Israel,
from everlasting to everlasting.
Amen and Amen.
(Psalm 41:13)

Leviticus 16:29-18:30
James Bowley in Introduction to Hebrew Bible points out that the word we translate as holiness also has the meaning of separateness in both Hebrew and English. He then adds that we don't have a usable verb form that holds both meanings in English although the word sanctify is close.

Not being perfect, the people were unable to refrain from actions that would separate themselves from the life the Lord intended for them to lead. The Day of Atonement provides a way of performing rituals that would make it possible for the priests and the people to come close to the Lord.

Chapter 17 outlines the procedures necessary for slaughtering animals. Killing any living creature--spilling blood--was considered a serious act and required expiation.

The book of Leviticus is set in the time of the exodus from Egypt but edited after the Israelites had gone through exile centuries later. Chapter 18 names sexual relations that should not be practiced and characterizes them as the kinds of things practiced by worshippers of the wrong god.

Mark 7:24-8:10
Try to imagine this--You go to an area where people are different from you. They have different backgrounds and different beliefs. Moreover, there's a history of antagonism between your people and theirs, and they have a reputation of doing bad things.

Keep imagining--You go there anyway, and you get an enthusiastic response. So enthusiastic that you go into a house to avoid the crowds. There you are confronted by someone you weren't looking for, someone that you didn't want to meet.

She's the kind of person you wouldn't want to be seen with, and she comes from those people that your people don't much like. And when you try to get her to just leave you alone, she instead convinces you that you really ought to help her.

Mark is telling us about something that happened to Jesus back then. Could anything like this happen to the Body of Christ today? Today, I am reading this passage metaphorically.

He couldn't hear a word that they said. How can a person like that be converted? How could he respond to the center of Israel's life, the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:1-9) that begins "Hear, O Israel"?

He couldn't speak well. How could he keep the instruction to "Keep these words...Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away..."?

This gentile living in a gentile world, not asking for help himself, not professing any faith in the ability of Jesus to help is suddenly able to hear--and to respond.

Mark is telling this story to people who would have known Isaiah's prophecy for the exiles of his time, "The ears of the deaf shall be unstopped....and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy." (excerpted from Isaiah 35:5-6).

We can read Mark's gospel as affirming that the exile is over, that Jews can return to a place that has been promised, and that Gentiles can join them.

(I was helped in this by reading Allen & Williamson's commentary on this passage in their Preaching the Gospels.)

Despite what they had seen Jesus do already, his disciples still didn't seem to trust that he could do even more. When they were surrounded by a big crowd of hungry people, they thought there was no way that anybody could do anything about it. We shouldn't be too critical of them, though, since we moderns haven't grasped a way to see how the hungry people in our communities can be fed.

Psalm 41:1-13

Proverbs 10:15-16

Prayer for Today: Use this prayer based on Psalm 41 written by Terri C Pilarski who is part of RevGalBlogPals.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Reflection on readings for February 24

Do not, O Lord, withhold
    your mercy from me;
let your steadfast love and your faithfulness
    keep me safe forever.
(Psalm 40:11)

Leviticus 15:1-16:28
James Bowley in his Introduction to Hebrew Bible emphasizes that the categories, clean and unclean, in Leviticus are not statements about what we might consider morality or intrinsic worth. Being impure does not equate with being immoral. Rather, the terms "purity and cleanness [in Leviticus] have to do with the order of holiness and the system of separations...."

Bowley describes the three basic categories of impure or unclean situations as mixings, imperfections/incompletions, and disorderly events.

Mark 7:1-23
If you were asked to choose between these two statements, how would you answer? First, this passage demonstrates that Jesus taught that Jews were wrong to focus on the law. Second, Jesus says that anything goes.

The correct answer is: neither of the above.

Jesus is not maligning the Pharisees for attempting to follow the law. He is saying that they aren't following it. That is, they are neglecting the reason that God gave us the law anyway--to help us to live in community and to worship the Lord.

It's not a Jew/Christian thing. Look, Jesus is quoting the prophet Isaiah to help make his point.

Jesus is saying to those who hold themselves out to be religiously scrupulous, "What you are calling a sin is not all that important. If you want to get in line with what God intends then you need to refrain from things like adultery, greed, envy, slander.

Psalm 40:11-17
You have the psalmist's permission to complain when someone has treated you unfairly.

Proverbs 10:13-14

Prayer for Today: Lord, focus us on your will. Cleanse us from wrong actions and wrong thoughts. Aid us to refrain from judging others. Encourage us, strengthen us to be the people you need to carry out your mission. Amen.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Reflection on Readings for February 23

I have not hidden your saving help within my heart,
I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation;
I have not concealed your steadfast love 
    and your faithfulness from the great congregation.
(Psalm 40:10)

Leviticus 14:1-57
In case you haven't been told or have forgotten, I'm reminding you that the word most of our Bibles translate as leprosy probably wasn't. The skin disease may have been psoriasis or impetigo, but however it might have been diagnosed by modern physicians, it was at the time considered such a danger to the community that the sufferer had to be isolated.

But isolated only as long as the possibility of contagion continued. After healing the sufferer could be restored to the community.  Maurice Harris, in his Leviticus, You Have No Idea points out that the "process of re-purification and reentry is the Torah's main concern in Leviticus 14."

Harris discusses how this ancient strange system may be interpreted in light of our modern practices of isolation. For example, we have processes for isolation for people with contagious diseases and processes for deciding how and under what circumstances to end that quarantine. Another kind of quarantine we are faced with is the prison population. How do we decide when  or ensure that they are pure enough to reenter our community?

Mark 6:30-56
Mark juxtaposes the banquet at which John is condemned with the banquet that Jesus provides for the 5000 (6:30-44). Herod is concerned with himself; Jesus, with the crowds. Herod had invited important people--courtiers, officers, and leaders of Galilee. The people who surrounded Jesus this day were not important--and they weren't rich.

He has just heard about the death of John. He asks his closest companions to come away with him for a while so they can talk about how their missions have gone (1-13). Their solitude doesn't last. People recognize them and want to be near to them.

Jesus had compassion on them because he could see that they were like sheep without a shepherd.

And from his compassion, he begins to teach them many things.

What are we supposed to do with this example? When does teaching take precedence over feeding?

They just showed up? Do we run our churches as if we believe that's the best way to get followers--go off somewhere by ourselves and they'll just show up?

At the beginning of this chapter, Jesus is teaching in the synagogue in his home town. The response to him was mixed, but for the most part negative.

His response was to send out the twelve to preach, exorcise, and heal.

Herod executes John.

Jesus feeds 5,000, walks on water, and stills a storm.

Then, as now, the Jesus movement is met with differing reactions. Then, as now, great blessings accompany the movement, and some folks react with fear, with apathy, or with harm.

In today's lesson, Jesus and the apostles have changed geography but not mission. People recognize them and rush to them for help. Wherever he went, people begged for help and he gave it.

Psalm 40:1-10
Psalm 40 begins "I waited patiently for the Lord...." Believers by being believers are not immune from the pains in life. I'm also admitting that my own waits have not always been very patient. But, the psalmist was patient--and needed to be--note the "waited" part. But, also note what is being waited for--the Lord. Even in times of tribulation, pain, or disappointment, the psalmist recognizes the source of what is going to make things better.

This trust comes, in part, from what has already happened, "He drew me up from a desolate pit, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure." Rescue plus a new start.

The psalmist doesn't keep this rescue, this improvement in his life a secret. Rather, he tells about it. And the ones he tells listen, and, because of what they hear, their lives are changed, their expectations are changed, even what they consider as powerful enough to help them through their difficulties will shift, "Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord. Happy are those who make the Lord their trust, who do not turn to the proud, to those who go astray after false god."

This psalm begins with gratitude to the Lord, recognition of what the Lord has done. It continues with affirmation of the benefits of trusting the Lord rather than some other false gods, "You have multiplied, O Lord my God, your wondrous deeds and your thoughts; none can compare with you."

How are we to worship? What is it that God expects us to do to show that we do worship? Where does worship happen? What is the necessary cost? Am I doing it right?

The psalm says, "Sacrifice and offering you do not desire, but you have given me an open ear. Burnt offering and sin offering you have not required." Focus first on what is not necessary--offerings; then, pay attention to what we have been given--that open ear.

That ear is open to what has been written in the Torah. More than listening, the psalmist attests that what has been written in a scroll has become a law within his heart.

Proverbs 10:11-12

Prayer for Today: Choose a prayer from Joan Stott's website The Timeless Psalms.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Reflection on readings for February 22

And now, O Lord, what do I wait for?
My hope is in you.
(Psalm 39:7)

Leviticus 13:1-59
Threats--even internal ones--to the community had to be minimized. The purity regulations in Leviticus were ways of protecting the community; otherwise, people might have been unwilling to associate with each other. (James V. Brownson, Bible, Gender, Sexuality, 184-185). We moderns don't follow the specific standards for separating clean and unclean, but we still attempt to find ways of making all of us feel safe.

Mark 6:1-29
In Mark's gospel, it's when Jesus goes to the place that we today call the church that he meets with opposition. See 1:21-28; 3:1-6 (taken from Allen & Williamson, Preaching the Gospel.)

Jesus is teaching. Religious authorities raise doubts. After all, he doesn't come from the right family.

And troubling, their unbelief affects the efficacy of his work.

And also troubling, he doesn't return to the synagogue after this.

How much of this lesson do we want to apply to our modern day? Can our unbelief in the possibility of things getting better keep them from doing so? If we don't trust Jesus' power to heal a situation in church, will we find him in church next time we go?

Healings have not been working. The people around them just don't believe. The disciples themselves have been shaky.

Jesus sends them out. They go. They have limited resources. A lot of people don't respond well to them. And yet, miracles occur.

Herod was a powerful man whose comfort depended on things going pretty much the way they had been going. This Jesus was a threat to the status quo as had been John (before Herod took care of the threat).

Herod watched out for threats to his safety and took care of them. And John certainly appeared to be a threat. Some people thought he was the great prophet Elijah, who was said to be the forerunner of the Messiah:
See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight--indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of Hosts..... 
then I will draw near to you for judgment; I will be swift to bear witness against ... those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired workers in their wages, the widow and the orphan, against those who thrust aside the alien...(Malachi 3:1-5. Also see 4:5-6).
I'm assuming that the well being of hired workers, widows, orphans, and aliens was not high up on Herod's priority list.

Psalm 39:1-13

Proverbs 10:10

Prayer for Today: Lord, increase our trust in you. And increase our willingness to act out that trust by extending your care for others. Amen.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Reflection on readings for February 21

Do not forsake me, O Lord;
O my God, do not be far from me,
make haste to help me,
O Lord, my salvation.
(Psalm 38:21-21)

Leviticus 11:1-12:8
Insights gained from reading Leviticus, You Have No Idea, by Maurice D. Harris: Chapter 11 is filled with instructions detailing when a person, animal, or object is pure or impure. These rules seem strange or unnecessary to us post-scientific-revolution and post-Enlightenment people. What seems normal to us is framed by our context. But, even with all our scientific knowledge and Enlightenment insights, we moderns still can recognize the importance of transforming people and things who have become impure into pure.

Mark 5:21-43
Earlier lessons from Mark: From a small seed grows a large tree. Parables are used for people not ready to hear the explanation. In a storm, even disciples get scared. In the calm, even disciples wonder who Jesus is.

Two people approach Jesus. Like the disciples in the storm, they are in trouble. Like them, they turn to Jesus. Unlike them, one of those approaching him is a leader of the synagogue. He comes publicly. The other is a woman who has been suffering from a hemorrhage for over a decade.

An insider and an outsider. Both have faith in him. (Remember yesterday's reading--Jesus performs exorcisms in gentile territory.)

The disciples seem pretty much oblivious. He healed a woman right in front of them, but they don't notice. They are overwhelmed by the crowd.

Not the main point, but an interesting one, nevertheless. What great healings of ungreat people are happening and we don't see it or expect it?

We are told that Jesus healed the woman's long-time ailment, but would anyone in the crowd have known? Could Jairus' friends have known what had happened--after all, they were in the house at the time. (Sideline: watch for "in the house" in this gospel).

How much should we criticize these religious insiders that they don't think that Jesus could possibly do anything for Jairus' daughter?

It's a continuing question for us, too, because we are asked to believe in things that we have not witnessed directly, and in things that have not yet occurred.

They laugh at Jesus when he uses the term "sleeping," because they believe in literal translation. Is there some sort of message to us in how we should interpret, believe, in Jesus' sayings?

Psalm 38:1-22
As a Crohn's suffering, I think of this as my psalm.

Proverbs 10:8-9
Consider the times in your life when you have found the truth in these verses.

Prayer for Today: Lord, help us to see your work when it's right in front of us. Help us to believe in things we haven't yet seen for ourselves. Amen.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Reflection on readings for February 20

Lord, we wait for you
    and keep to your way.
(adapted from Psalm 37:34a)

Leviticus 9:7-10:20
The sons of Aaron took fire pans with lit fires, added incense, and then offered strange fire before the Eternal One. God had not commanded that they do this. The fire consumed the brothers. Maurice Harris asks in Leviticus, You Have No Idea, "When is religion like a destructive, consuming, and dangerous fire?"

Mark 4:26-5:20
Baby boomers fueled the growth in American church membership and attendance, but they are dying off.  Lovett Weems has termed this the Death Tsunami. He suggests that we focus on what is important:
To talk of survival does not mean that survival is an end in itself. The survival sought is not for an institution and certainly not for institutional forms or entities. Church leadership is a response to God’s love and action in the world revealed most clearly in Jesus Christ. Christian leadership is a channel of God’s grace as it seeks the fulfillment of God’s vision, and such leadership emerges out of the history, beliefs, and traditions of faith communities.

What is the future going to look like? Will leadership emerge? I think about those early Christians, the first hearers of Mark's gospel. What discouragements were they facing? What did the future of the church look like to them?

Their gatherings were as small as mustard seeds. Yet, they did become as great shrubs providing protection.

So, I would like to draw from this parable a parallel--size now does not limit potential.

But, I'm also drawn to the lesson embedded in this passage--that Jesus spoke in parables because his hearers were not ready to learn his meaning. To his disciples, and in private, he explained everything.

Yet, even without understanding, the other hearers became part of the growth of the church. I'm looking back at verses 26-27. The sower of the seed doesn't have to know how the sprouting part works in order for it to work.

When the storm came up, he was asleep.

They asked him, "Don't you care about us?"

I'm reminded of the many laments in the psalms, how often appears the plea, "O Lord, how long?" And I'm reminded of how any of us feel during those really hard times--how we may wonder if the Lord is paying attention to our needs right now.

The disciples don't trust him. Or, they do trust him, and they want him to be quicker about it. In either case, they don't seem to realize that they themselves have any power to improve their situation.

He calls them on this, "Where's your faith?"

Mark says that after he stilled the storm, the disciples were amazed and asked each other "Who is this guy?"

Have they not been paying attention? I need to remember that I know a lot more of the story than they did this early in Jesus' life. And I need to remember to pay attention.

Psalm 37:30-40
Proverbs 10:6-7

Prayer for Today: O Lord, increase our trust. Increase our attention span to hear what you intend for us to do. And increase our willingness to do it.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Reflection on readings for February 19

Our steps are made firm by the Lord
(Psalm 37:23a)

Leviticus 7:28-9:6
When the priests make an offering in the Tabernacle, the Lord will appear before the people. Commentators call the Tabernacle the new Sinai. Sinai had vertical zones: some are allowed to accompany him part of the way, but only Moses was allowed to go to the summit. The tabernacle has horizontal zones, from the Holy of Holies to inner court to outer court. (Robert Alter in The Five Books of Moses)

Mark 3:31-4:25
His family stays outside with his critics. They remain with the critics. Inside the house with him are his disciples, his new family. Note that within that new family were women.

He again began to teach by the lakeside. The crowd was so large that he got into a boat to speak to the crowd on the shore. He told them the parable of the sower. The opposition to Jesus by the religious authorities and even his family are examples of the effect of the same seed sowed on different soil.

Later, when the twelve are alone with Jesus, they ask him about the parables. He responds by quoting Isaiah 6:9 that some witnesses will not catch on to what they see and hear. If they would understand, they might change their ways and be forgiven. Morna Hooker, in The Gospel according to Saint Mark points out that even the disciples will fail to understand over and over while outsiders will show remarkable faith.

After explaining the parable of the sower, he emphasizes its meaning by giving them another example: if you want light on the subject, don't cover up the lamp. Further, look at what the light is showing you.

Psalm 37:12-29

Proverbs 10:5

Prayer for Today: Lord, you have planted your word in our community. Help us to nourish the seed. Amen.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Reflection on readings for February 18

Be still before the Lord.
We wait patiently for the Lord.
(Adapted from Psalm 37:7a)

Leviticus 6:1-7:27
When we read about the ritualistic animal sacrifice, we modern Christians may feel superior to those ancient (and to our minds, totally unnecessary rituals. Maurice Harris, in his book Leviticus, You Have No Idea, presents a different viewpoint. As a rabbi, he had been discussing rituals and prayers in a Hebrew school class for 7th graders. They thought the procedures for animal sacrifices were gross or weird. Then one student burst out with the question, "Well, which do think is more moral? Doing a sacred ritual and dealing with God every single time you kill an animal for its meat, or anonymously shoving millions of animals into crowded pens and cages so that they're growing up in their own feces on factory farms, and filling the animals up with drugs that make the sick just to fatten them up some more, and the shipping them out and slaughtering them by the millions without even thinking how they feel...."

Mark 3:7-30
Jesus has caused such a stir that people were talking, saying that he had lost his mind. His family tried to rescue him from himself. Religious authorities accuse him of being in league with the devil.

His family wants to protect him by shutting him up. The others don't want to protect him but they do want him to shut up.

Religious people still become offended. Loving people still become protective.

The pattern of becoming offending and becoming protective can disrupt relationships between those who are satisfied with the way things are organized now and those who are convinced that those things must be changed immediately. Read Phyllis Tickle's Great Emergence. She describes the massive transformations that shake the Christian Church every 500 years.

When we are living through a time of division, how do we discern the correct path? Jesus said that we would be forgiven for our sins and blasphemies--except for blasphemies against the Holy Spirit. The New Interpreter's Bible explains this by saying: It is forgivable to wrongly judge the evil as good, but it is unforgivable to judge the good as evil.

Good rule for religious, political, and social disputes, don't you think?

Psalm 37:1-11
Yes, bad things do happen, and, yes, bad people exist. Even if we do what we're supposed to do, we may still have to face the consequences of somebody else's doing what we don't want them to do.

This psalm counsels us on how to get through those bad times.

First, Don't let yourself be tied up in reacting to the person who is trying to hurt you.

After all, they aren't going to be able to sustain themselves forever.

Second, Instead of paying a lot of attention to the person who is trying to upset you, turn that attention to what does last, the Lord.

Paying attention to the Lord, trusting the Lord, will change us.

Vindication may take a while, but leave it up to the Lord.

Proverbs 10:3-4

Prayer for Today: Lord, help us to discern the difference between being protective and being offensive. And, Lord, help us to deal with well-meaning people who approach us with their intent to be protective but in ways we can't help but find offensive. Amen.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Reflections in readings for February 17

How precious is 
    your steadfast love, O God!
All people may take refuge 
    in the shadow of your wings.
(Psalm 36:7)

Leviticus 4:1-5:19
They are people who are going to live in community with each other, but they are still people. When they do wrong--either intentionally or unintentionally, the community may be harmed. Chapters 4 and 5 outline ways in which wrong-doers can accept the consequences and seek reconciliation.

Included in chapter 5 are specific actions that must be addressed. For example, hiding certain information or  not keeping your promise to do something.

We moderns have different categories of guilt and different ways of dealing with wrong-doers, but we still have ways that are intended to get offenders to recognize and admit the harm they have caused the community, and ways to include them back if possible.

I found the alternative offerings section interesting. Richer people had to make more valuable offerings; poorer people, less valuable. The range was from an animal from a flock to two pigeons or doves, or, if even two birds were too expensive, the offering would be a small portion of flour.

Mark 2:13-3:6
A major criticism of Jesus was that he was willing to hang out with tax collectors (read collaborators with the Roman authorities who were by their tax policies bleeding the ordinary people dry) and sinners. His critics who were accustomed to follow religious rules and customs were very critical of him. When Jesus heard them asking his disciples about his willingness to share meals with unsuitable companions, he responded, "Well people don't need a doctor. Sick people do. I've not come to summon the righteous, but sinners."

He then uses two allegories: don't try to mend old clothes with an unwashed patch (i.e., what that is not pre-shrunk) and don't pour new wine into old wineskins.

After that, he defended his disciples' violation of the sabbath.

What should Christians do about those people who just will not follow the rules that we know are right? What should we do when we are faced with some new situations that just don't fit our old rules anymore?

And if his rash statements were not enough, he healed a man on the sabbath--in the synagogue. His enemies got together to look for ways to eliminate him and the threat he was making to their image of what religious life should be like.

Psalm 36:1-12
Psalm 36 begins with describing the wicked--They aren't afraid of God; they don't think anyone is going to find out what bad things they have done; they cause trouble by word and deeds.

Then, the psalm changes in a couple of ways. The psalmist had been talking to us; now the psalm addresses God: Your steadfast love extends to the heavens. Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains. Your judgments are as deep as the ocean.

The psalmist affirms God's love, protection, and abundant gifts then asks that it continue.

Sidelight: The Lord saves not only us humans but animals as well (v.6). I hadn't picked up on that myself until I read John H. Hayes' contribution to Preaching Through the Christian Year C.

He says:
What may initially strike us as odd in such a comparison or classification might not appear so if we give it some thought. The beast receives its blessings, its food, its livelihood witout setting out to please God or anybody; it makes no effort to measure up to any standard; it simply drinks in the benefits that come its way from the created order controlled by God. The writer is suggesting something similar is the case with humans.
Do you agree with Hayes that we receive all our good things without trying to please God?

Proverbs 10:1-2

Prayer for Today: Choose a prayer from Joan Stott's website The Timeless Psalms.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Reflection on readings for February 16

You have seen, O Lord;
do not be silent!
Wake up!
Bestir yourself for my defense,
    for my cause,
my God and my Lord!
(Psalm 35:22-23)

Leviticus 1:1-3:17
I'm guessing that not many people have read much of Leviticus.  The quotes I can recall people making are usually one of two kids--1) to prove that the Old Testament has rules we don't care to follow or see the need of; 2) to prove that God really doesn't want you to do things that you don't want to do anyway. On the other hand, when Jesus quoted Leviticus (although I can think of only once--I'll look for more some time), he elevated it to the most important rule, "You will love your neighbor as yourself."

It is a book of rules set in between books of history.  They have completed the tent of the meeting and are poised to continue their journey. Leviticus emphasizes sacrifice, holiness, purity--how to be the people who would live in the land promised to them.

As you read the rules for offerings, consider what rules (implicit or explicit) your congregation (and you personally) have for deciding what and how to offer God.

Mark 1:29-2:12
Right after healing a man in the synagogue, Jesus and his disciples went to Simon and Andrew's house. As soon as he heard that Simon's mother-in-law was ill, he healed her, too.

We are not told that Simon's m-i-l had faith in Jesus' power to heal her. Also, interesting to me is her response. As soon as she is healed, she gets up and serves them a meal (my interpretation of "waited on them").

The word spreads. The whole town shows up including all who are ill or possessed.

Once again, Jesus won't let the demons speak because they know who he is.

Questions that linger: Do they have faith or knowledge in Jesus other than his ability to heal?

Jesus had healed a man in the synagogue and Simon's mother-in-law in their home. Relatively private places--but the word has spread. Crowds gather. The next morning while it was still dark, Jesus went off by himself to pray. His disciples went to get him, "Everybody is searching for you."

A leper approaches Jesus asking for help. The word has spread. Jesus tells him not to tell, but he does anyway.

Watch the pattern:
Word spreads.
Jesus retreats to a private place.
People find him where he is.
Off on a another tangent: Jesus told the healed man to go to a priest as Moses had commanded. The original intent was to make sure that a contagious person would no longer infect the others. So, the inspection was to help the formerly ill person to be able to rejoin the community,  and it was to make sure that a still-ill person did not endanger the community. By the time Mark wrote his gospel, the temple was gone, and this Mosaic procedure could not be enforced. What replaced (replaces) it? How to we ensure that we welcome into our midst persons that we fear?

Application for our time:
The The Global Health Initiative is major area of focus for the ministry of The United Methodist Church,which aims to combat diseases of poverty such as malaria, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis as well as provide health education, advocacy and infrastructure. We have long been a key player in the fight against malaria through the hospitals, clinics and missions centers we have operated across Africa for more than 160 years.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, in time of pain, of fear, of dissension, we can turn to you for protection and consolation. Open us at all times to your steadfast love. Amen.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Reflection on readings for February 15

All my bones shall say,
"O Lord, who is like you?
You deliver the weak
from those too strong for them,
the weak and needy from those
who despoil them.
(Psalm 35:1-16)

Exodus 39:1-40:38
After having constructed the tabernacle and built the ark, they make vestments for the priests.  The work of the tabernacle of the tent of meeting was finished. The Israelites had done everything the Lord had commanded Moses. Murray Andrew Pura in Renovare's The Life with God Bible points out that "not only in the creation of the tabernacle, but in all God's interactions with Israel in Exodus human involvement has been essential.... We play a considerable role in bringing God's beauty and justice to earth.

Mark 1:1-28
Isaiah had told them centuries before that God would be sending a messenger, one who would call from the wilderness for them to prepare for God's presence. Now John the baptizer is echoing this call. (Note that the quote in verses 2-3 are a conflation of sources: Exodus 23:20 and Malachi 3:1 as well as Isaiah 40:3, Preaching the Gospels by Allen &  Williamson).

Mark's audience was living under domination by Rome. According to Allen & Williamson. Isaiah was especially popular among the apocalyptists because they used the Babylonian oppressors and the exile to interpret Rome (latter-day idolatrous and unjust Babylon) and their situation of exile as they awaited the apocalypse. Isaiah 40:30 reinforces the theme from Malachi: John prepared the community for the eschatological invasion of the present, broken world by Jesus.

What does Mark mean by "beginning"? Is John the beginning of the good news? Or, is Mark's gospel the beginning of the story that continues to this day? (NT Commentary by Boring & Craddock)

For us, what is wilderness? What is our Babylon? Is it time for us to return from exile? How does the call for repentance relate to our lives?

Morna Hooker, in her commentary on Mark, lists the OT references implied in Mark's description of John: The rough garment of camel's hair is probably to be taken as an indication that he was a prophet (Zechariah 13:4). The reference to the leather belt echoes the description of Elijah (2 Kings 1:8). He calls the nation to repent as did Malachi (4:5). The locusts and honey are typical food for travelers in the wilderness and locusts were permitted in the Torah (Leviticus 11:21).

The term "repentance" does carry the connotation of regret, but it means more than that. The Greek word metanoia that we translate as "repentance" means literally, "a change of mind." Not a simple "I'm sorry" or "I wish things could have been different," but rather a "I'm traveling a different way now."

John is preparing his world for a new age with a new leader, one who is not only more powerful than the prophets who foretold his coming, but one who also is more powerful than the governors and Caesars of his time.

John has been preaching and baptizing. Now, Jesus is proclaiming the good news from God.

Points to ponder:
John preached baptism and repentance (1:4). Is this message part of, precedent to, or included in "good news"?

The word translated as time is "kairos," meaning not just time, but a particular, significant moment in time.

Repent--don't just be sorry about what you used to do; rather, change the way you live your life.

As you read through Mark's gospel, you will find other references to the kingdom of God. He's not talking just about some place we go after we die. God king-dom is beginning here and now. (Those of you familar with her work can see that I have referred closely to Morna D. Hooker's The Gospel according to Saint Mark.)

I'm thinking about how differently we do worship than the way that Jesus would have been used to. Mark 1:21, says that he went to a synagogue and taught. Priests served at the temple. Teaching took place at the synagogues. Are our churches more like the temple or more like synagogues? Is what today we call preaching what Mark meant by teaching? Or, was teaching then like what we mean by teaching now?

How come it was an unclean man who first recognized Jesus? BTW, how common was it for people with unclean spirits to attend the synagogue?

We are told that the people were amazed by his evidencing authority and by his ability to get unclean spirits to obey him. What amazes us today?

They were going about their daily routine when Jesus saw them. When he said to them, "Come after me," they dropped what they were doing (note: their means of earning a living), and followed him.

 Questions to consider: 

    Had they heard of him before he showed up at work that day? 
    Was he looking for them specifically, or would anybody he chose have been able to be his disciple, merely because he chose them?  
    What does "come after" mean--do you interpret the term literally, metaphorically, or both?  
    Same question about "followed."  
    Does discipleship have to mean leaving what we're doing, or can we be disciples in place? 
    Why did Jesus not mention any rewards? 
    Mark says that they left their father behind--is that implied in discipleship?

Prayer for Today: Continue to stir us to be part of bringing your beauty and justice to this earth. Continue to stir us to be part of you healing work. Amen.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Reflection on readings for February 14

When the righteous cry for help,
the Lord hears
(Psalm 34:17a)

Exodus 37:1-38:31

Matthew 28:1-20
As the women approached the grave, an earthquake shook the earth, rolling back the stone at the entrance of the tomb. An angel appeared to them telling them that Jesus had been raised from the dead and to go tell his disciples. They responded immediately. On the way, Jesus himself appeared to them.
The disciples went to Galilee. Jesus appeared to them. Some believed. Some doubted.

He told them to get to work, to make disciples of all nations.

If we could have asked those eleven disciples that day, I imagine that they would rather have had Jesus stay with them.

Instead of his staying, he told them that they weren't supposed to stay, either.

Through exodus and exile, their ancestors had learned that God could not be restricted to a geographical spot. Jesus reminds them that God is not restricted to a particular group of people, either.

"Go therefore and make disciples of all nations," he tells them.

We can think of this command as meaning we are supposed to go to different countries, but we also can think of it as meaning we should reach out to unfamiliar groups within our own communities.

The next part of his instructions are that baptism is not the end of becoming a Christian. Rather, disciples are supposed to teach the new adherents everything that Jesus had commanded them. Sounds like we already-Christians need to stay familiar with those commands ourselves. Teachers need teaching.

The task must have seemed large to a group of only eleven. They had others who had been meeting with them, but is it harder to convince someone familiar with you to do something new than it is to just do it without them? Question for later, it's distracting me now.

However difficult or new the task they are being commanded to undertake, they are not doing it alone. Jesus reminds them--and through them, us, "I am with you always to the end of the age."

Psalm 34:11-22
Prayer is not restricted to only private conversation. Prayer at times can and should be communal.

Hear the invitation to join in prayer with someone who has known difficulty and has known rescue:

"I sought the Lord, and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears. ...O taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are those who take refuge in him."

Proverbs 9:9-10

Prayer for Today: O Lord, we are grateful for the gifts that your people share with us each day, for your work they do within this congregation and in the world outside. Now remind us that all Christians  are to be disciples and all have a task to perform. Amen.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Reflection on readings for February 13

Exodus 35:10-36:38
Moses said to all the congregation: The Lord has commanded an offering. Let whoever is of a generous heart bring the Lord's offering. (35:4,5). And they came, everyone whose heart was stirred, and everyone whose spirit was willing, and brought the Lord's offering (35:20,21). Robert Alter suggests that we look again at Exodus 32 and remember how quickly and how much the collection had been for the Golden Calf.

As we moderns read this ancient story, we can ponder how much is applicable to our lives.

Matthew 27:32-66
Crucifixion was cruel and sadistic. Crucifixion was not only physically painful; it was intended to humiliate and degrade. Morna Hooker in Not Ashamed of the Gospel says that in the Roman Empire it was used primarily to punish slaves: the threat of crucifixion was used to keep slaves subservient, and the threat was no idle one, for the punishment was often carried out. But it was used also to punish traitors (even Roman citizens, who by their treachery lost their rights) and of course rebellious subject people such as the Jews.

As Jesus hung naked on the cross, the two others being crucified with him, taunt him, saying "You who are the Son of God, come down from the cross." The chief priests, scribes, and elders who are watching the painful, humiliating death also mock him saying, "He saved others; he cannot save himself." Their words remind us of Satan's temptations in 4:1-11. Morna Hooker reminds us:
As there, so here, Jesus 'proves' himself to be the Son of God by renouncing power, not exercising it.

Also watching were the many women who had followed Jesus from Galilee and have been providing for him.

After Joseph from Arimathea had received permission to take Jesus' body to the tomb, the women kept vigil there. Jesus' accusers also stood watch, in their case, to make sure that nobody tried to steal the body so as to be able to fake resurrection.

Psalm 34:1-10
Psalm 34 is ascribed to David when he had escaped from a difficult situation. .

The psalm begins with testimony, "I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul makes its boast in the Lord"

and turns to lesson, "Let the humble hear and be glad. Magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together."

Proverbs 9:7-8

Prayer for Today: choose a prayer from Joan Stott's website The Timeless Psalms.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Reflection on readings for February 12

Let your steadfast love, 
O Lord, be upon us,
even as we hope in you
(Psalm 33:22)

Exodus 34:1-35:9
While Israel was camped at the foot of the mountain, God called to Moses and Moses went up to hear what God had to say to him (Exodus 19:1-6). There God spoke to Moses giving him instruction for the journey through the wilderness, including the Ten Commandments.

Back to the ground, while Moses was away, the people misbehaved.

Moses came down from the mountain. His time with God had changed his very appearance. People looking at him could see that he was different from before. Moses continued to go in before the Lord to hear what he was commanded to do.

Moses could speak with God, could understand what God wanted. The experience changed him. But, he couldn't stay on the mountain. In order to carry out God's instructions, Moses had to go back down to the ground and once again mingle with the people.

For other references to the light that changes a prophet's appearance, see Ezekiel 1:27-28; Habakkuk 3:4; Psalm 104:2 (The Jewish Study Bible.)

Matthew 27:15-31
Pilate infers the motive of the religious authorities in handing Jesus over to him and tries to extricate himself from the problem by getting the crowds to agree to release Jesus. After all, the crowds had been so enthusiastic about him only a few days earlier. This crowd, however, is ready to see him killed. When Pilate asks them, "Why, what evil has he done?" they shout louder than they had before, "Let him be crucified!"

So Pilate gives in and hands him over to the soldiers. They mock Jesus by dressing him up like a king, putting a robe on him and a crown of thorns, and putting a reed in his hand. They then spit on him and strip him of the costume, put his own clothes back on him, and lead him away to a place called Golgotha.

Psalm 33:12-22
The first readers of verse 12 of course were Jews and they would have sung this psalm as an affirmation that God had picked Israel out of all the nations to be the special people. How do we Christians today read it? Don't we really think that God likes us best of all the rest?

As I read verses 13-15, I am reminded of the conflict in the early church (see Paul's letter to the Galatians for example) when those of them who had always been faithful, practicing Jews began to concede that non-Jews could also be good Christians. Back to us--can we read verse 13 as a reminder and an affirmation that God cares for more people than just us?

And what do we care about? Where do we place our faith? our trust? Verses 16-17 are reminders that we have often tried to substitute things that we have control over for the unmatchable power of God.

Yet, this psalm allows us to admit that God's people are not free from fear or pain--see verse 19 with its explicit reference to death and famine.

Thus, it is with an open realization that the world has dangers and that we can't control those dangers no matter how powerful we are, that we rely on the care of the Lord.

Prayer for Today: Forgive us for those times that we have dressed up our image of Christ but not truly given our allegiance to him. Deepen our worship, make it true. Amen.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Reflection on readings for February 11

Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous.
The counsel of the Lord stands forever, 
the thoughts of the Lord's heart to all generations.
(from Psalm 33:1, 11)

Exodus 32:1-33:23
In Egypt before Pharaoh had released them, on the way out of Egypt when Pharaoh had changed his mind, and over and over in the wilderness, these people have personally witnessed saving acts of the Lord.

Moses is not around at the moment. Without him, they seem to think God is gone, as well. "Let's make some gods for ourselves," they say to Aaron. We are not told what Aaron thinks or what Aaron fears, but we are told that he complies with their wish.

Or does he? When he formed the golden calf and built an altar, he then proclaimed that the festival would be to the Lord. What was he thinking? How easy or difficult is it for us to distinguish between what looks like Lord-worship and what is actually something-else-worship?

Who or what is Moses to us? What substitutes are necessary? Are we capable of remembering what God has already done for us?

The Lord reacts to the people's wish to substitute a visible god for the one that they can't see at the moment. The Lord seems willing to give them up, calls them "your people" when speaking to Moses.

Moses intercedes once more. He makes two arguments:
What would the Egyptians say if they hear that you have given up on these people?
Remember your promise to Abraham.

God does not destroy these unfaithful people. But, there are consequences.

Which is more frightening that God is right here with us and knows exactly what we are doing right now? Or, that God is not here, not paying attention to us and our needs?

While Moses traveled to the mountaintop to visit the Lord and receive the tablets, the people misbehaved badly.

Now, the Lord has said to Moses that the trip will continue and announces, "My presence will accompany you."

Moses is unhappy with this news. What does presence mean to him? Does he think that the Lord is going to go back to the mountaintop and send only an assistant to accompany the people?

Remember Chapter 12. God had saved their children from the general destruction. They had a big feast then set off on a journey toward the land promised them. Since then, God has rescued them over and over and they have complained over and over.

In Chapter 33, they have another feast--but not one ordained by the Lord. Rather, they form their own god and celebrate with an orgy.

The Lord then gives them one more do-over. "I'll be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy."

This is the God who gave clothes to Adam and Eve after they disobeyed the command to leave that tree alone, who protected Cain after he killed his own brother, who provided an ark to save Noah's family, and called Abraham and then Moses to lead a people to their new home.

Sometimes, we cannot see God's glory until it has passed by us. Sometimes, we don't recognize God's face. But, we continue to depend on God's grace and God's mercy.

Matthew 26:69-27:14
After being betrayed by one of the ones closest to him and arrested, Jesus is taken to the high priest. Two witnesses reported that he had said that he was able to destroy the temple, a capital crime. Now,  hadn't actually said that he was going to destroy it but he had said that it was going to be destroyed.  Thomas Long points out the charge that he intended to destroy the temple was absurd, but at a deeper level, the charges were true. Moreover, Jesus, on trial for his life, quotes the Psalms, indicating that the high priest is not in charge. Rather, the one sent by God will make the decisions.

Two followers of Jesus, two of the twelve closest to him, had put their own security first. Peter denies that he had accompanied Jesus then swears an oath that he even know the man. He almost immediately repented and in his regret wept bitterly. Judas also repented of his part in the arrest of  Jesus. He returned the money he had been paid by the religious authorities and then committed suicide.

The priests were unwilling to put the money into the treasury so they used it to buy a place to bury foreigners.

They turned Jesus over to the Roman governor, Pilate, telling him that Jesus was calling himself a King. Rome didn't like rival kings.

Prayer for Today: Lord, forgive us for those times that we have not shown our loyalty to you, for those times that we have considered our own comfort to be more important that your will. Forgive us for those times that we did not even recognize your presence among us. Forgive us and support us by your grace and with your mercy. Amen.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Reflection on readings for February 10

Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered.
I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.
(from Psalm 32)

Exodus 30:11-31:18
The Lord told Moses that the people throughout the generations were supposed to keep the sabbaths, specifically, not to do any work. How do we moderns follow this command? Do we consider that any day is holy? If we don't see anyway we can stop working, are there other ways that we shape our lives that get to the spirit of this command?

Matthew 26:47-68
One of his supporters used his sword in an attempt to prevent Jesus' arrest. Jesus told him to put his sword away. Thomas Long, in his commentary on Matthew, outlines the three reasons Jesus gives: 1) Violence is stupid because it just escalates into greater destruction; 2) God has other ways of getting the work done; and 3) what is going to happen must happen so that the scriptures be fulfilled.

Jesus then chastises the crowds, "Why do you think you need weapons to arrest me?"

All the disciples deserted him and fled. Long reminds us that Jesus had forecast this: See 19:27; 26:31.

Under arrest, he is taken to the Jewish high priest. Peter follows at a distance. The council tries to find proof that Jesus is deserving of the death penalty. They are even willing to accept false testimony, but weren't able to. They need to protect themselves, their status, and his words and acts have disrupted their security.

The high priest demands that Jesus testifies under oath that he claims to be the Messiah, the Son of God. Jesus responds, "You say so. And you are going to see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven."

That is enough admission for the high priest. He doesn't need any more witnesses. The council agrees that Jesus' words are blasphemy and deserving of the death penalty.

Psalm 32:1-11
"Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven."

"As long as I wouldn't admit my errors, I suffered. But, when I confessed my sins to the Lord, I was forgiven."

It's time to reflect on our choices--the ones we have already made and the ones that it is time to make. We need to stop doing what we shouldn't even have started doing. We need to confess and to ask forgiveness.

And confession and forgiveness are not the end of the story according to this psalm. Once we have gotten right, we need to stay that way. "Do not be like a horse or a mule, without understanding, who needs to be curbed with a bit and bridle."

The alternatives are stark, according to this psalm: The wicked will live in torment, but steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the Lord. We are being asked to change our ways so that we can live out the command:
Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, O righteous,
and shout for joy, all you upright in heart.

Proverbs 8:27-32
Wisdom was with the Lord from the beginning, being helpful, like a master worker. I'm reading seriousness into that statement. Then I read Robert Alter's translation of verses 30-31, "And I was by Him, an intimate, I was His delight day after day, playing before him at all times, playing in the world, His earth, and my delight with humankind."

Alter quotes Fox that not only is Wisdom useful, but that it is also fun.

Prayer for Today: Lord, forgive our sins and direct us toward the life we should be leading so that we too can rejoice. Amen.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Reflection on readings for February 9

Love the Lord, all you saints.
The Lord preserves the faithful.
Be strong, and let your heart take courage,
all you who wait for the Lord.
(from Psalm 31:23-24 CEB)

Exodus 29:1-30:10

Matthew 26:14-46
Disciples are the ones closest to the leader, the ones who are with him, hear what he has to say, watch what he does, and see the effects up close. They are the ones he speaks to and the ones who can ask him questions. They can learn how to emulate their leader--

Or not.

One of the people closest to Jesus was Judas. He offered to betray Jesus to the authorities in exchange for money.

Unfortunately, it is not that difficult for us modern-day disciples to visualize giving up some Jesus-wish in exchange for our own financial security. We may not actually try to get rid of up in some dramatic way, but we might just ignore him and his wishes if they interfere with our own comforts.

Even closer to Jesus than Judas was Peter. After denying strongly that he would never ever desert Jesus, he went to sleep when he was supposed to be awake.

Being a disciple is a full-time job, but many of us want to work only part time.

Psalm 31:19-24

Proverbs 8:14-26

Wisdom was created by God and was present with God as the earth and all its components were created. I looked back at Genesis 1 because of the similarities to that telling about creation:
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters....
A footnote explains that the word translated as "wind" is ruakh ("air" in Hebrew) may also be translated as "wind" or "breath" and that the KJV and RSV translated it as "spirit."

Since I grew up on the RSV and certainly was influenced as well by the KJV, I still think "spirit," particularly on Trinity Sunday, but I'm willing to consider wisdom. 

So, I turned again as I often do to Preaching the Old Testament by Ronald J. Allen & Clark M. Williamson: "The Wisdom literature assumes that the world itself reveals the character and purposes of God. The idea that Woman Wisdom was an agent of creation is one way of explaining how the divine intentions become implanted in the world: wisdom put them there. Now, people can discover God's design for the good life by paying attention to what we learn from life itself." 

Samuel Terrien, in his The Elusive Presence asserts that the figure of the beautiful woman  hidden among the angels in Michelangelo's Sistine chapel fresco of the creation of man is Wisdom although in a footnote he admits that other commentors see her as Eve.

Prayer for Today: God, imbue within us the will to travel through our day guided by your wisdom. Keep us on your path every day and even all day. Amen.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Reflection on readings for February 8

Have mercy on me, Lord.
I trust you, Lord!
I affirm, "You are my God."
(from Psalm 31:9a, 14, CEB)

Exodus 28:1-43

Matthew 25:31-26:13
Look back at the last few chapters of Matthew's Gospel. Jesus has told several parables: the two sons, the wicked tenant, the wedding banquet, the ten bridesmaids, and the talents. Be prepared. Be faithful. Actions are important.

Now Jesus is describing a new kingdom, the one to be ruled by the Son of God. Some will be blessed. The king will say to them, "Enter my kingdom. You belong there because you have shown love for me when I needed it. You have provided me with food, drink, and clothing; you took care of me when I was a stranger; you have reached out to me when I was sick and when I was in prison."

His listeners cannot remember doing any of these things.

Remember the delay in the parables. Neither the wedding guests, the foolish bridesmaids, nor the fearful servant made very good use of their time.

As we determine the place of immigrants in our country, we might choose to obey the scriptural requirement to welcome the stranger (according to Allen & Williamson, the mitzvah "do not oppress the stranger" is repeated in some form 36 times in the Old Testament).

Are we reassured or frightened when we consider what Jesus was trying to get us to understand? Can we really see Christ in the marginalized? What if eternal life depended on it?

Psalm 31:9-18
Yes, bad things do happen to good people--and to bad people as well. In those times when we are overwhelmed by depression or grief, in those times when our enemies and our friend make fun of us, or in those times when we don't think anybody even notices us, we can turn to the Lord.

How bad you feel in a particular situation will aid in you in deciding how much of this psalm is an appropriate prayer. I myself have had days when I have sincerely needed verses 17 and 18.

Prayer for Today: choose one of the Boy Scout Prayers (


Lord, we thank you for this day.

Help us to do our best every day,

And forgive us when we slip.

Teach us to be kind to other people

and to help them at all times

Bless our parents and teachers and leaders

and all the members of Scouting

Bless us, Lord in your love for us

Help us to be a better Scouts

and let us do our best for you



Dear Heavenly Father,

Help to keep my honor bright

And teach me that integrity of character

Is my most priceless possession.

Grant that I may do my best today,

And strive to do even better tomorrow.

Teach me that duty is a friend and not an enemy,

And help me face even the most disagreeable task cheerfully.

Give me the faith to understand my purpose and life,

Open my mind to the truth and fill my heart with love.

I am thankful for all the blessings you have bestowed upon my country.

Help me to do my duty to my country and

To know that a good nation must be made from good men.

Help me to remember my obligation to obey the Scout Law,

And give me understanding, so that it is more than mere words.

May I never tire of the joy of helping other people or

Look the Other way when someone is in need.

You have given me the gift of a body,

Make me wise enough to keep it health,

That I might serve better.

You are the source of all wisdom,

Help me to have an alert mind,

Teach me to think,

And help me to learn discipline.

In all that I do and in every challenge I face,

Help me to know the difference between right and wrong,

And lead me in obedience on a straight path to a worthy goal.

By Michael F. Bowman


Lord, we are camping in the snow today;

We may fear the cold,

But we trust that your Spirit

Will guide and warm us.


We have hiked along life's pathway,

Our packs upon our backs,

We have pitched our tents and rested

Here and there along the tracks.

We have used our compass wisely

To guide us on our way

And hope to reach the campsite

Of our Great Chief Scout some day.

We have tried to be trustworthy -

Kept our honor high and clean,

We have been as loyal as any

To our Country and our Queen.

We have done our best at all times -

Kept our Promise - been prepared,

And hope our good deeds please Him

When at last our souls are bared.

We have lightened others' burdens,

With our smiles along the way,

We have kept our hand in God's hand,

Walked beside Him day by day.

And when our span of life runs out,

We'll make this gentle plea -

May we sit around His Campfire

At the Final Jamboree.

From Scouting in New South Wales


"Build me a Scout, O Lord, who will be strong enough to know when he is weak and brave enough to face himself when he is afraid; one who will be proud and unbending in honest defeat, and humble and gentle in victory...

Build me a Scout whose wishes will not take the place of deeds; a Scout who himself is the

foundation stone of knowledge...

Lead him, I pray, not in the path of ease and comfort, but under the stress and spur of difficulties and challenge. Here let him learn to stand up in the storm; here let him learn compassion for those who fail...

Build me a Scout whose heart will be clear, whose goals will be high. A Scout who will master himself before he seeks to master others, one who will march into the future, yet never forget the past...

And after all these things are his, add, I pray, enough of a sense of humor so that he may always be serious, yet never take himself too seriously. Give him humility, so that he may always remember the simplicity of true wisdom, and the meekness of true strength...

Then I, a Scouter who knew him, will dare to whisper, `I have not lived in vain.'"

Friday, February 7, 2014

Reflection on readings for February 7

Incline your ear to me;
rescue me speedily.
Be a rock of refuge for me,
a strong fortress to save me.
(Psalm 31:1)

Exodus 26:1-27:21
Moses is on the mountain--and will stay there for several chapters (a 40-day sojourn). We read in Chapter 25 the  instructions on building the dwelling for the chest that will hold the covenant document, the table, its poles, and the lamp stand, and so on. We now read about the dwelling that will hold these sacred objects. It is a tent, but not like any tent that any of us may use for camp-outs. I understand the tent. They are on a very long journey and couldn't very well transport a 60-foot long tent. But, the instructions for the dwelling's courtyard do raise some questions. It seems unlikely to me that they would be putting up posts and hanging drapes on every stop for years and years.  Many commentators think these instructions describe a tabernacle built after they are settled in the promised land and are retrojected into the wilderness story. What do we do with parts of the Bible that seem implausible on quick readings? 

Matthew 25:1-30
Bridesmaids: Jesus describes what the Kingdom will be like. Some will be prepared for its advent. Some will not. If you are wise, you will prepare. Delay in the coming should not make you think the event just isn't ever going to happen. As you read the news each day, do you doubt that God's way will overtake the world's way of being? Or, do you remain vigilant and keep prepared?

Talents: I think that I always interpreted the word "talent" as meaning "talent." I mean although I understood that Matthew was talking about money, I just assumed that he had an allegorical intent. So, I was surprised to read in Boring & Craddock that the use of the term "talent" came into the English language in the Middle Ages. Matthew was talking about money. I find that I can't let go of the allegorical meaning anyway. Yet, I am able to read the term as including money. And it's a lot of money. A talent would have taken a laborer fifteen years to earn.

Can we sympathize with that third slave? His master had entrusted him with an amount of wealth that he would never have been able to accumulate on his own. Shouldn't he be careful?
How willing are we to restrict our actions and speech because we fear the cost of saying and doing something that will offend our financial supporters?

The master comes back and rewards the slaves who had put his money to risk. "You've done so well that I'm going to trust you with even more," he tells them. What Matthew does not tell us is what the result would have been if the two risk-takers had lost all their master's money. Are they being rewarded for being successful or for being willing to try? How do we define successful, anyway?

On the other hand, some commentators read this parable as encouragement for the Christians who were surprised that Jesus had not already come back. "What should we do while we are waiting for his return?" they asked. This parable indicates that using the resources entrusted to them by their Lord is the appropriate action for Christians.

This part of Matthew's gospel is very harsh: those who have a lot will get even more; those who don't have much, will lose even the little that they have. That may be the way that bankers decide who should get the loan that will enable a business to expand, but how do we interpret it to be the way God decides which of us receives gifts?

Isn't prudence a virtue? Prudence is punished. Or, is it cowardice that is being punished? Or, is it a lack of trust in the Master?

Proverbs 8:1-11
This passage opens with the question, "Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice?" I get it that this is a rhetorical question; yet, I find myself pondering it as if I need to gather evidence for a yes answer. Is wisdom calling? Or, should I be asking whether I'm listening.

This proverb reminds us that wisdom is all around us as we travel-on the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads. And wisdom is with us at the end of that trip to town--beside the gates and at the entrance of the portals.

Wisdom has a message for us, a message we need to heed. Wisdom can tell us what we need to know in order to live our lives the way God intended for them to be lived.

Note, but no commentary: Wisdom is perceived as feminine in the Old Testament, but in the New Testament, the Spirit is masculine. Go figure.

Prayer for Today: I take refuge in you today, Lord. And, reflecting on the parables of the kingdom, I ask for your guidance in improving my judgment and my actions. In addition, today, I pray for the continued well-being for Amy Pearson, and in gratitude to you for sending her to St. Luke's.