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.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Reflections on readings for September 30

Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,
who alone does wondrous things.
Blessed by the glorious name of the Lord forever;
may the Lord's glory fill the whole earth.
Amen and Amen.
(adapted from Psalm 72:18-19)

Isaiah 60:1-62:5
"I will greatly rejoice," Isaiah says. He talks about the gifts of salvation and righteousness. "Gratitude will spring up in you as inevitably as a garden grows from seeds."

But, keep reading.

Isaiah switches from the past tense to the future, "I'll not rest until Jerusalem is vindicated."

Jerusalem needs saving, and not only for its own sake. The salvation of Jerusalem will be a lesson for all who see it.

When Israel was in a situation so bad that its continued existence seemed unlikely, God, through the prophet Isaiah, promised to rescue them. "I will not keep silent, and I won't rest until Israel is vindicated."

Then Isaiah expands on the promise. Not only will they be rescued, but also everybody will know about it-- "her salvation like a burning torch."

OTOH, some commentators believe that the promise not to keep silent and not to rest are Isaiah's, rather than his proclaiming God's words.

Under the heading, troubling or reassuring?, no mention is made of their need to repent, or even to ask for, deliverance.

God is going to marry Jerusalem and be as joyful as a bridegroom.

How easy--or how hard--is it to imagine that God is joyful?

Quote from Walter Brueggemann's commentary on Isaiah 40-66:
It is worth noting that the term rendered "married" is from the same root as Baal, the god of fertility, and the land that is "married" is a land "baaled," or literally in the Hebrew, Be'ulah, that is, "Buelah land." The imagery of divorce or widowhood (see 54:4-6) is transposed into an agricultural term for a land barren and unproductive. Now this people is revived and the city is restored; the land is recovered for fruitfulness and productivity.....The language is especially freighted, because marriage metaphors in that ancient world include fruifulness and generativity.
Philippians 1:27-2:18
Paul, in prison, is writing to a church that he had founded. "Stay unified," he tells them, "Stick together." The example he gives them is of Christ. "He was willing to give up anything and everything."

Paul reminds them that God can work through them to accomplish God's intentions. "Any sacrifice I make for you is worth it," Paul says. "I rejoice over you, and you must rejoice with me."

Paul encouraged Christians to live in community and to care for one another. How might such a community look now?

Generations of Hope is a nonprofit adoption agency that has designed a community to resemble a nurturing small town, complete with surrogate grandparents. Created out of a shuttered Air Force base, Generations of Hope seeks to rescue children from foster care and place them with adoptive parents who have moved here. About 30 children currently live with parents in 10 homes. The community is also home to 42 older people who have subsidized rent.

Read more about this amazing experiment

In their The First Paul, Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan offer us three understandings of this passage by contemporary scholars:

    1) Christ is being contrasted with Adam, who with Eve wanted to be like God. Rather, he emptied himself.

    2) The text is referring to the preexistent Christ, the prebirth Jesus, who emptied himself to become human; that is, vulnerable, even to the point of being executed.

    3) Paul's first hearers would have been aware that the Roman emperor claimed to be "in the form of God" and regarded "equality with God as something to be exploited." They would have heard the claims that the emperor was divine, Lord, Son of God, Savior of the World, bringer of peace on earth. Paul is making the radical claim that Jesus Christ is the one who deserves the titles instead of Caesar.

Borg and Crossan say we don't have to choose between these three interpretations:
All make the same claim. What we see in Jesus--Christ crucified and raised as "Jesus Christ the Lord"--is the way, the path. This, Paul says in this text, is the mind that the followers of Jesus are to have. What we see in Jesus is the way, the path, of personal transformation. And it is the way, the path, of advocacy of a way of life very different from and in opposition to the normalcy of "this world." And it would cost Paul his life.
Psalm 72:1-20
Although this psalm is a prayer for a king, we can also pray that an elected leader would exhibit many of these attributes.

Proverbs 24:11-12
If you hold back from rescuing those taken away to death,
those who go staggering to the slaughter;
if you say, "look, we did not know this"--
does not he who weighs the heart perceive it/
Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it?
And will he not repay all according to their deeds?

Prayer for Today: O Lord, focus our attention today on your will for us. Transform us into your disciples. Amen.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Reflection on readings for September 29

My mouth is filled with your praise,
and with your glory all day long.
Do not cast me off in the time of old age,
do not forsake me when my strength is spent.
(Psalm 71:8-9)

Isaiah 57:15-59:21
Try this--Read the first section of the daily newspaper. Or, listen to someone complain about how things are going. Then read what Isaiah had to say about people who seem to have been a lot like us. They said they wanted to be God's people, but what they did was whatever suited themselves. They were regularly attending worship services, but they didn't let what they learned there change their lives very much.

Isaiah gives some examples; e.g., not paying an adequate wage to employees, quarreling, threatening violence. I'm struck by how timely these criticisms of behavior are. Can we accept that God does not approve of these behaviors now?

Then Isaiah speaks of what does constitute appropriate worship of God: to ensure that the poor are given opportunities to care for themselves, to share your own resources with them until they are able to do so.

It gets harder. Bring the homeless poor into your house. Get clothes for them. I'm hoping that God doesn't really expect me to take this literally but will give me credit for helping support a home somewhere that I myself don't spend the night. What do you think?

Offer food to the hungry. Satisfy the needs of the afflicted. Would this requirement include access to health care?

Those are the ifs. The then: Your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday.

Isaiah says that if you do these things, then the Lord will take care of you. I am helped by Walter Breuggemann's commentary on Isaiah:
We may take this conditionality of "if-then" as a hard-nosed, "legalistic" requirement, that is, as a "work." But we may also regard this conditionality as a shrewd assessment about how "social security" really works. Well-being comes only in a community of neighbors. The alternative here implicitly warned against is selfishness, greed, indifference, and exploitation that are anti-community. These latter practices are never the basis of a viable life in the world, and can never be.
If a nation--and the people that make up that nation--continually and continuously care for each other, making sure that each person has a life of freedom, is well-fed, and has afflictions addresses, well, what would such a nation be like? How could it be anything other than the way that Isaiah describes it.

Try it out.

Philippians 1:1-26
For whatever reason, English speakers dropped the singular second-person pronoun. So, we can't tell when "you" means "thee"; i.e., singular, and when it means "you"; i.,e., plural.

So, I looked up this passage in my Greek New Testament to make sure which you that Paul was writing to. And, of course, the you is plural. In the American South, we would say y'all but probably wouldn't write it.

In any case, read this passage as if it is written to your congregation, not just to you personally. Paul is concerned about how all of you are, and how all of you are treating each other, and how all of you are working to do the work that Jesus Christ intended for all of you to do.

Further, we need to keep in mind that salvation is not merely a personal matter, a case of my being plucked out of a bad situation, but rather a much bigger matter, a case of the world in which I live being transformed.

Be tough-minded, not naive: I really do prefer reading narratives and prayers in the Bible more than epistles. I like working out the story line in the narratives. I like being given ways of speaking to and listening to God. But, I get bogged down trying to follow the train of thought in the letters.

Here's an example of my trying to work out the meaning of this passage:

What Paul is praying for the congregation of Philippi--that they will use knowledge and insight to determine what to do so they will ready for the day of Christ. Paul's criteria--they will have produced a harvest of righteousness. I have to pause--does Paul mean that being pure and blameless precedes or causes righteousness or does righteousness come through Jesus Christ's efforts or some combination? Carl R. Holladay offers a good summary: Be tough-minded not naive.

Psalm 71:1-24
Use Psalm 71 to help you pray in times of despair--threats by enemies or difficulties resulting from aging:
In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me; incline your ear to me and save me.
Be to me a rock of refuge, a strong fortress, to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress.
Rescue me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked, from the grasp of the unjust and cruel.
The psalmist recognizes how God has helped in the past and asks for continued help:
For you, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O Lord, from my youth.
I have been like a portent to many, but you are my strong refuge.
My mouth is filled with your praise, and with your glory all day long.
Do not cast me off in the time of old age; do not forsake me when my strength is spent.
For my enemies speak concerning me, and those who watch for my life consult together.
They say, “Pursue and seize that person whom God has forsaken, for there is no one to deliver.”
O God, do not be far from me; O my God, make haste to help me!
Proverbs 24:9-10
The devising of folly is sin,
and the scoffer is an abomination to all.
If you faint in the day of adversity
your strength being small;

Prayer for Today: Pray Psalm 71 to acknowledge the help you have already received or the help you need right now.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Reflection on readings for September 28

Be pleased, O God, to deliver me.
O Lord, make haste to help me.
(Psalm 70:1)

Isaiah 54:1-57:14

A country church on a state highway was trying to raise enough money to pay off the mortgage on its new Family Life Center. One of the favorites was selling tickets for catfish suppers, grilled hamburgers, even chitlins, once.

On their sign out front, the preacher would post:
    Catfish Supper
    June 27, 5-7 p.m
    Cost $8
    Isaiah 55:2

No one ever told her they thought the sign was funny or appropriate.

Isaiah is writing to exiles in Babylon describing for them what their new life in an old place will be. Water for the thirsty. Food for the hungry. God promises to make with them an everlasting covenant. And because God has done so much for them, they are to reach out to strangers, to foreign strangers....

Isaiah's message focuses on the positive. God sends rain to the earth and the rain returns to heaven. But, before returning, that rain causes seeds to sprout. Isaiah relates God's promise: "As the rain accomplishes my purpose, so does my word."

Isaiah is speaking to exiles fearing their homecoming.

When is it appropriate for us to remember the need for good soil? When is it appropriate for us to remember Isaiah's words of joy and welcome and inevitable love?

This letter is written to the church--a church that apparently has some scared people in it. The advice, "When you think demons are after you, depend on God for your protection."

Ephesians 6:1-24
As the faith community considers how best all can receive whatever help they need, can we not use the metaphors in this passage?
belt of truth
breastplate of righteousness (note, not self-righteousness)
shoes so you'll be ready to step out
shield and helmet (there's a lot of folks that will be shooting arrows at you)
And not metaphorical at all, prayer.

Psalm 70:1-5
Do I want the Lord to come, or would a delay be better for me?

Proverbs 24:8
Whoever plans to do evil will be called a mischief-maker.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, strengthen us to include others into our congregation, in all things to maintain justice, to hold fast to your commands, to trust you in all things, and to be worthy of that trust. Amen.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Reflection on readings for September 27

Let the oppressed see it and be glad;
you who seek God, let your hearts revive.
(Psalm 69:32)

Isaiah 51:1-53:12
Isaiah announces to Jerusalem that they are saved. Paul will use this passage to encourage missionaries (See Romans 10:15). As did Handel, in a passage in his Messiah, How beautiful are the feet.

Notice the tension underlying the passage, a tension that exists on into our time. God is king; yet, we don't always live like it.

Their ancestors had seen God act in their lives at the Red Sea. Was God absent during their captivity?

What holds us captive? What hides the presence of God from us?

Isaiah calls to the Judean people in exile,  "Break forth together into singing, you ruins of Jerusalem; for the Lord has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem" (51:9).

Allen & Williamson in their Preaching the Old Testament point out that this instruction by Isaiah to celebrate their release from captivity and their return to Jerusalem comes at a time when they are still under the control of Babylon and Jerusalem is a devastated city.

Ephesians 5:1-39
Advice to new Christians: When you lived in the dark, you couldn't see, but, now that the light is on, you can. Consider what people do when they think no one can see them. Well, you can see now, and you can be seen.

Tangent: Light does help us see more and better. In addition, it enables growth. I'm thinking about the flowerpots I have on the windowsill. I see more blooms there than if I had put them somewhere else. Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord.

This advice can be useful to us old Christians, as well. We should be aware of what the Lord wants us to do and not to do. We should, but do we live as if we did? The advice in this letter sounds rather relevant to our own era--don't waste your time, don't get drunk. Rather, the letter tells us, be filled with the spirit. Sing praises and give thanks. Give thanks at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Of course, not every bad thing that happens to us is our fault, but we really do bring some of it on ourselves. Of course, not every good thing that happens to us is due to our own efforts, but how we live really does affect what happens next.

If we are filled with the Spirit, we're not leaving room for non-Spirit things.

Then we get to the part about the Christian household. Remember that this description fits the social order of their time. We need to try to understand how to fit the underlying message to our own times and ways.

Psalm 69:19-36

Proverbs 24:7
Wisdom is too high for fools;
in the gate they do not open their mouths.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, our God, fill us with your presence. Open our eyes to your light. Guide us into right behavior. Remind us always of the gifts you have provided for us and remind us how you wish for us to use them. Amen.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Reflection on readings for September 26

Save me, O God, 
for the waters have come up to my neck.
Answer me, O Lord, 
for your steadfast love is good;
according to your abundant mercy, 
turn to me.
(Psalm 69:1, 16)

Isaiah 48:12-50:11
How is your evangelism project doing? How has the world changed for the better because you are living your life according to principles that you have learned from God's Word?

Isaiah had been a prophet long enough to have learned disappointment. God did not let him give up. Instead, God expanded his job description: "You've been trying to do too little to too few."

They have known defeat, have been sent into exile, and now are being promised restoration.

They have been helped, and now they have a job to do.

Isaiah describes the role that Israel is to play: to say to the prisoners, "Come out," and to those in darkness, "Show yourselves."

As I read these verses, I am assuming that the original interpretation centered on those exiles being the prisoners and those in darkness could have also meant the exiles or it could mean the people who were left in Judah and were forced into collaboration and cooperation.

But, whoever was the first to hear Isaiah's words, many of us who have come after them need to heed them as well:
Come out of whatever it is that is keeping you from freely following God.
Quit keeping your loyalty to God a secret.
And, let us read those ancient promises as still holding for us. As we emerge from our fears and insecurities, we will travel a path toward much blessing. We will be sustained along the way. The Lord has sent us a guide and a leader.

And, as we are asked to cast off our timidity about being God's people, we are to demonstrate and practice that life of care for others who just never have had a chance to hear about it before.

Doesn't this passage sound like a familiar pattern we religious people follow? First, a call to everyone to worship God including a very good reason to do so. Then, we recognize and admit that we have had disappointments, that we have had experiences that have given us doubt. And into our doubt comes the assurance that yes, God will remember to take care of us.

Doubting God's presence doesn't keep God from caring about us.

Ephesians 4:17-32
Being a Christian may mean a life-change. Christians aren't supposed to be licentious, greedy, or corrupt. Another rule: don't tell lies but speak the truth. Yes, even Christians get angry, but we are advised not to stay angry. Thieves are to give up stealing and get jobs. Rather than criticizing others, we are supposed to build them up. Rather than bitterness and anger and slander, we are to be kind and forgiving.

Psalm 69:1-18

Proverbs 24:5-6
Wise warriors are mightier than strong ones,
and those who have knowledge than those who have strength;
for by wise guidance you can wage your war,
and in abundance of counselors there is victory.

Prayer for Today: At those times of despair when Psalm 69:2-13 describe your situation, pray verses 16-18.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Reflection on readings for September 25

Summon your might, O God;
show your strength, O God,
as you have done for us before.
(Psalm 68:28)

Isaiah 45:11-48:11
They had needed rescue. God can send help through unexpected sources.

God had many, many reasons to punish the unfaithful people; yet, God promises a new start.

Ephesians 4:1-16
Insights from Ralph P. Martin in his commentary on Ephesians (part of the Interpretation series).

The first three chapters is a rather idealistic picture of the church--one that can help us see what we should be working towards.

The last three chapters are in Martin's terms "ecclesiology brought to earth"; that is, some harsh realities--harsh, yet not insurmountable.

My heavily reworded summary of his summary of 4:1-16:
1. Be true to your destiny while remembering that unity is essential.
2. Unity does not mean that we are all alike.
3. Church members have different gifts.
4. Christ intends for grownups to be grownups.
5. Christ intends for the church to be grownup.

Psalm 68:19-35

Proverbs 24:3-4
By wisdom a house is built;
and by understanding it is established;
by knowledge the rooms are filled 
with all precious and pleasant riches.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, guide us into the life that is worthy of you. Guide us with your Spirit into humility, gentleness, patience, and love so that we may join with one another in building and maintaining your church. Help us into the maturity we need to keep us working together, to keep growing that church. Amen.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Reflections on readings for September 24

But let the righteous be joyful;
let them exult before God;
let them be jubilant before God.
(Psalm 68:3)

Isaiah 43:14-45:10
What makes it possible for us to consider that any situation can be improved? that our circumstances, no matter how dire, might be bettered? that we could repent and become the kind of people that God had intended us to be?

Isaiah is talking to a people who know dire.

He retells a story that they know well, reminds them of what the Lord has already done for them, rescued them, provided for their needs.

For assurances of the future, we remember the past. Yet, right after the reminder of how the Lord has saved them before, Isaiah then says, "Don't remember the old stuff."

I'm reading this directive to mean that we're not supposed to dwell on our own failings. Anguishing over what we have lost can obscure any happiness over what we have been given. Obsessing over our past failures shouldn't take the place of rectifying them.

Our new lives are possible just as new lives were possible for those ancient Israelites crossing a river while being chased by an army. I'm using verse 16 as a metaphor now. We need to get across this river to live over there--over there where our lives are not controlled by Pharaoh but rather are lived in accordance with the intentions of the Lord. It's hard and even kind of scary to change from the habits of the life we have been accustomed to--even if we don't approve of that life.

Still with the metaphor: God has the power to strike down our bad habits, addictions and obsessions. When we get across that river and are standing on dry land, we need to keep moving toward the Promised Land not go back for one more swim.

The Lord says, "I'm about to do a new thing." This new thing will be so overwhelming that they will be able forget what things had been like. As examples of how radical the new thing is, the Lord asks them to imagine a wilderness, "I'll make a path through it." The Lord asks them to imagine a desert, "I'll put a river in that desert for my chosen people."

But, not just for them. The Lord then tells them the reason for these overwhelming gifts, gifts that would be as welcome and life-saving as a path through a wilderness or a river in a desert: "So that they might declare my praise."

They don't deserve these gifts. They have sinned over and over. Yet, God speaks to them, "I'm blotting our your transgressions for my own sake. I will not remember your sins."

God makes gifts to us so that we can acknowledge those gifts; that is, so we can witness to others what God can do, what God does do. We aren't supposed to clutch our gifts to ourselves. The ancient texts taught this, and now modern people are demonstrating that it is true.

A recent example is a study made by social scientists that builds the case for survival of the kindest. Their results indicate that generosity toward others turns out to be good for us.

Ephesians 3:1-21
Paul had said, "People that we religious types did not once think should be included, well, I've been sent to tell you that they, too, are indeed included. They share in the inheritance we claim, they are family; the good news is for them as well as for us."

If I try to make a modern day application of this passage, just who would I include in the category of Gentiles?

I have trouble reading the letter to the Ephesians. The sentences are longer and more complex than those in my usual reading. Today, I tried to break them into components I could comprehend.

I started like this: "I pray that....1) the Spirit of the Father will strengthen your inner being; 2) Christ will dwell in your hearts; 3) you will be able to understand ..."

Then I realized I had left out the word "power" that was used 3 times.

The power comes through God's Spirit. Paul wants us to have the power so that we can comprehend and to know Christ.

Paul then adds that the love of Christ surpasses knowledge.

Since the English translation is ambiguous, I pause here to wonder whether Paul means our love for Christ or Christ's love for us.

I've decided to settle on verse 20: God can accomplish more through us than we would have thought possible.

Psalm 68:1-18

Proverbs 24:1-2
Do not envy the wicked,
nor desire to be with them;
for their minds devise violence,
and their lips talk of mischief.

Prayer for Today: Gracious God, we give you thanks for the times that you have forgiven us. Strengthen us now to follow the path you have laid out for us. And, God, help us to welcome others who will share our journey. Amen.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Reflection on readings for September 23

God, be gracious to us and bless us
and make your face shine upon us.
(adapted from Psalm 67:1)

Isaiah 41:17-43:13
In their despair, they had turned to idols for help. The idols weren't able to help. Isaiah describes their savior.

The Lord's servant, according to Isaiah will bring forth justice to the nations. Notice: not just to people like him, but to the nations. He won't be loud or violent but he will be effective and persistent.

The Lord says to him, "I have called you in righteousness.....a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring the prisoners from the dungeon."

Here is our task as the church, the body of Christ, to continue to bring justice to the nations (not just assume that God cares about us alone) and to continue the work of healing and deliverance.

Ephesians 2:1-22
Verses 1-3, What you used to be like: sinful, living according to the world's rules, giving in to your fleshly desires

Verses 4-6, What God has done: God, out of mercy and love, saved us by grace.

Verse 7, Why: so God can continue to show us the immeasurable riches of God's grace in Christ Jesus.

And, remember that God refuses to give up on any of us.

After reminding the Ephesians of what God had already done for them, the writer then tells them what they are to do in response--good works. You weren't saved by your works; you were saved to work.

Does the promise in verse 8 change when you realize that the "you" is, in Greek, plural? As are the other 2nd-person pronouns in this passage. How hard is it, for us moderns, to read this letter as being addressed to the church rather than to an individual, that is, the me who is reading it now?

Psalm 67:1-7
When reading or hearing other people's prayers, I sometimes find myself wondering: How honestly can I pray this prayer? Do I really want God to grant this particular petition?

My reservations may be based on whether I think God would want to do what we are asking or they may be based on whether I myself really want it.

This psalm, for example. I'm OK with the prayer asking for God's grace and presence. I'm OK with everybody knowing and praising God.

But, what if the way that God shines on them over there is through my actions? Just how is God's way made known anyway? Am I supposed to be demonstrating it? Whereas I can be sincerely grateful that the earth has yielded its increase, that I am fully aware that God has blessed us, can I also be as sincere and aware of my part in ensuring that these blessings are extended to all the ends of the earth?

Proverbs 23:29-35
Who has woe? Who has sorrow?
Who has strife? Who has complaining?
Who has wounds without cause?
Who has redness of eyes?
Those who linger late over wine,
those who keep trying mixed wines.
Do not look at wine when it is red,
    when it sparkles in the cup
    and goes down smoothly.
At the last it bites like a serpent 
    and stings like an adder.
Your eyes will see strange things
    and your mind utter perverse things.
You will be like one who lies down 
    in the midst of the sea,
    like one who lies on the top of the mast.
"They struck me," you will say, "but I was not hurt;
they beat me, but I did not feel it.
When shall I awake?
I will seek another drink."

Prayer for Today: Join in the praise of God expressed in Psalm 67.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Reflection on readings for September 22

Blessed be God,
for you have not rejected my prayer
or removed your steadfast love from me.
(adapted from Psalm 66:20)

Isaiah 39:1-41:16
God has instructed the prophet Isaiah to speak tenderly to the people, to tell them that they have suffered long enough.

You may be living in the wilderness. Prepare for God to come to you there. You may be living in a desert. Prepare for God to come to you there. There are low places in your lives. Fill them in. There are obstacles. Knock them down. When something gets in your way or trips you up, move it out of your way.

God is coming into your life.

God is coming, mighty as an army, but not to destroy. God is coming to be our shepherd, to feed us, to carry us, to lead us.

And this is good news.

Chapter 40 begins the portion of this book that Bible scholars call 2nd Isaiah. The original audience for this material was living in the time of the Babylonian exile.

We can imagine their plight. Many of us can remember our own plights--times of feeling lost or uncared for. The prophet reminds us that we are not solely at the mercy of whatever, whoever, stands for Babylon in our lives: Have you not known? Have you not heard? Come on, haven't you always known who always was in charge?

In their time, they were to be rescued from exile by the Persia army led by Cyrus. God saved them from unbelievers through the efforts of unbelievers. Nothing that unusual here. After all, Pharaoh let them leave their unpleasant jobs at pyramid building.

Babylon that seems so powerful to everyone who was alive did not seem like that big a deal to God. "Scarcely are they planted, scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth, when he blows upon them, and they wither, and the tempest carries them like stubble."

Ephesians 1:1-23
This passage reminds us of the blessing we have received through Christ--adoption, forgiveness, and redemption. God has chosen to include us. (When this letter was first read, Gentiles would have understood that they were included along with the Jews could now look at God as Father. We who are used to the idea of Gentile being a sort of synonym for Christian may not get the impact of this thought or we may not be willing to extend the adoption to groups that just don't seem to be God's type of family.)

Our inclusion comes through grace. But, having been included, we can respond.

This letter to the Ephesians (and through them to us) tells what the Spirit does for the church: enlightens the eyes of your heart--that is, helps you to catch on to what God intends for you to be doing and what God has already done for you.

To these Christians adjusting to their life after the crucifixion of Jesus, they are reminded by this letter of the power available to them through God. God put this power to work in Christ and has made him the head of the church. The church is the body of Christ, "the fullness of him who fills all in all."

In verse 11, they are told that, in Christ, they have received an inheritance. In their case, and in ours, inheritance is not just money that they can use to buy a lot of expensive stuff for themselves. Rather, the power is working among us to continue the work that Christ began and the work that continues by the church, his body, which fills all in all.

This letter to the Ephesians is also to us, "You have been called. God has immeasurable power, and has put this power to work in Christ by raising him from the dead... The church is the body of Christ."

Here's what the Spirit does for the church: enlightens the eyes of your heart
--that is, helps you to catch on to what God intends for you to be doing and what God has already done for you.

To these early Christians as they began to form congregations and missions, he is emphasizing power and what power is to be used for.

To these Christians adjusting to their life after the crucifixion of Jesus, he writes of the power available to them through God. God put this power to work in Christ and has made him the head of the church. The church is the body of Christ, "the fullness of him who fills all in all."

As I regularly do, I have been reading Boring & Craddock's People's New Testament Commentary. And, as I regularly am, I am glad that I do. For example,here's their discussion of the phrase, "glorious inheritance":

The phrase refers to God's inheritance, not the believers'. In Old Testament theology, Israel as God's chosen people is often called God's inheritance (Deut 4:20; 9:26, 29; 2 Sam 21:3; 1 Kings 8:51, 53; Ps 28:9; 33:12; 68:9; 78:62, 71; 94:14; 106:5, 4-; Isa 19:25; 47:6; 63:17; Jer 10:16; 51:19). For the author of Ephesians, to be in the church is to be incorporated into the continuing people of God, Israel (2:11-12).

Psalm 66:1-20
Psalm 66 calls on all the earth to give God praise. I don't read Hebrew but I do read people who do, and they tell me that the command is in the plural. We Southerners might read "Y'all make a joyful noise to God, all y'all" (1) and "Y'all come see what awesome things God has done" (5) "Say it, say it loud. Say it where everybody can hear it" (9)

Off on an tangent: The psalm begins with the command for all the earth to make a joyful noise, to sing. All? joyful? I'm thinking even the portion of us in a sanctuary on Sunday morning aren't all singing, and that all of them don't sound particularly joyful.

What this psalm models for us: 1) Life may have difficulties; we don't have to pretend that it doesn't. 2) We are allowed to complain to God about these difficulties. We don't have to pretend that they're good for us or that we deserve them--at least, all of them, anyway.

Then, it models for us what happens after we have come through whatever the difficulty was that we were complaining about. The psalmist gives credit to God, "You have brought us out." This gratitude is further demonstrated, "I will come to your house with burnt offerings. I will do what I promised to do if you helped me."

After these promises to God, the psalmist again addresses other persons: "Come listen to what God has done for me. I prayed. God heard."

How do we tell what God has done? Do we usually notice? Where and when is our praise heard? (9)

I left out verse 18, "If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened" because I'm not ready to deal with it today.

Proverbs 23:25-28
Let your father and mother be glad;
let her who bore you rejoice;
My child, give me your heart,
and let your eyes observe my ways.

Prayer for Today: Read again the passages from Isaiah about rescue and from Ephesians about blessings, think about your own life, your own needs, your own gifts, then pray Psalm 66.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Reflection on readings for September 21

Praise is due to you,
O God, in Zion;
and to you shall vows be performed,
O you who answer prayer!
To you all flesh shall come.
When deeds of iniquity overwhelm us,
you forgive our transgressions.
(Psalm 65:1-3)

Isaiah 37:1-38:22

Galatians 6:1-18
Tom Wright in his Paul for Everyone/Galatians and Thessalonians is a useful resource for our daily Bible reading in Galatians. (When N.T. Wright uses the name Tom, I assume he is intending to be more accessible. So, do paid Christians read N.T. and real people read Tom?)

Anyway, in his interpretation of the references to the harvest if you sow in flesh or in spirit (8), he says if you sow barley in your field, you will expect barley to grow there, and if you sow nettles, you won't be surprised to see nettles at harvest:
God has likewise descreed that those who "sow" behaviour [he's British] which relates to the flesh will reap the appropriate result which is ultimately death; and that those who sow to the spirit will reap eternal life, the life of the new age that has already broken in, in Christ, and will one day by complete.
Psalm 65:1-13
The psalm begins with an acknowledgment of the debt we owe God, "Praise is due to you, O God, in Zion; and to you shall vows be performed."

Not just us, but everyone, "To you all flesh shall come," and "you are the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas."

This psalm notes specific gifts. One is forgiveness, "When deeds of iniquity overwhelm us, you forgive our transgressions."

And God sends rain, "You visit the earth and water it, you greatly enrich it; the river of God is full of water; you provide the people with grain, for so you have prepared it."

I'm struck by the combining of these two, examining parallels between them. What happens to a life without forgiveness, if we become sunk in despair over our past sins, what barrenness of purpose, of existence, would it be? But, God's forgiveness, as abundant as the roaring sea, can make it possible for us to live lives of abundance, providing us with overflowing bounty that we can share as the watered fields provide grain for us.

Proverbs 23:24 (adapted)
Parents of the righteous will greatly rejoice;
the ones who beget a wise child will be glad.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, forgive us the times of unfaithfulness. Keep us mindful of your fidelity. Amen.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Reflection on readings for September 20

Let the righteous rejoice in the Lord,
and take refuge.
Let all the upright in heart glory.
(Psalm 64:10)

Isaiah 33:10-36:22
Isaiah was speaking to a people who had known disastrous defeat. They had deserved punishment. But, even now, the Lord will provide a home for them.

The promises of restoration begin with nature itself--blossoming of the desert. I grew up in a place without much rain so I can easily imagine the joy described, but I can also appropriate the image of the desert covered with crocus blossoms metaphorically. E.g., what would opportunities for jobs, better educational facilities, enhanced health care, and so on, do for the impoverished sections of the city in which I live and that I love?

In despair because of military oppression or natural disaster, they can look forward to repair. "God will come to save you," Isaiah tells them. Peace restored. The land restored to bounty. And more. The blind will be able to see; the deaf, to hear; the lame, to leap like a deer; the speechless, to sing for joy.

What might have seemed ordinary has come to seem extraordinary. And it will be ordinary again. 

With the promise of restoration comes the imperative: "Strengthen make firm," "Tell them to be strong and not to fear." Weak hands and feeble knees also can be interpreted metaphorically. To accept those promises includes a willingness to be able to accept them--to be willing to accept them--to prepare oneself (or, as in my example, prepare the whole city).

And we are capable of this because we can believe the words of Isaiah as words coming to us in our time and in our troubles, that God is coming to save us.

They knew despair, but they will know gladness. They have known drought, but they will know healing rain.

God's compassion is extensive.

But, what do we do while we are waiting for this transformation? In her Blessings of the Manger, Jeanne Torrence Finley recommends:
[W]e reflect on these images from Isaiah and imagine ourselves waiting with Israel for an end to sorrow and sighing. When have we wandered in the wilderness and desert? What would it mean to find streams in the desert and blossoms in the dry land of our lives? How can we join God in the work of redemption? How can we be part of restoring sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, and voice to the speechless? How can we be part of God's saving purposes? This vision in Isaiah tells us what God loves and intends for all of creation, and the vision itself is a blessing that inspires us to participate in making that vision a reality.
Galatians 5:13-26
Don't give up your freedom, Paul tells them--then adds, don't misuse it either.

Earlier in this letter, he had reminded them that freedom is not free, that Christ had paid a price for their freedom (1:3-5). And since, they had received this gift, they should not reject it (1:6-12).

These Galatians don't have to become Jews in order to be Christians. But, in no way, does Paul ever indicate that anything goes.

If we interpret the word "law" to be mean "male Christians have to be circumcised," then Paul is saying they aren't bound by the law. But, Paul doesn't always use the term "law" that narrowly.

In the sense that they--we, too--are supposed to consider that the law was intended as a way to show the people how to live in a way that would be best for all of them, a way that would promote peace and continuity, then we are to follow the law.

And, in that case, Christians are still bound by the law. "Do not use your freedom as an opportunity to indulge yourself," Paul tells them. He quotes Leviticus 19:18 to demonstrate that the law can be summed up in a single commandment, "Love your neighbor as yourself."

Love not as some sweet emotion but love taken seriously. "Through love become slaves to one another."

Paul contrasted the Spirit with the flesh, "Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh" (16). He then lists works of the flesh (and points out that they are obvious): fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, and things like these.

Compare each of these with the command to love your neighbor as yourself.

Acting on these what Paul calls works of the flesh will harm community because they do not demonstrate or require love of anybody other than oneself.

Remember the intent of the law, to build a community that would exhibit and allow God's love to prevail. Indulging in these works of the flesh would hinder the goals of God's intention. As Paul says, "If you do things like this, you won't inherit the kingdom of God."

Don't think of this kingdom as something that we have to die to get. It's a situation that could be possible for us right here and now if only we truly were to consider God our king, if only we truly were to live the way God intended--to sum it up, to love our neighbor as ourself.

If you want to read more, look at Dan Dick's sermon Fruit Smoothie.

Psalm 64:1-10

Proverbs 23:23
Buy truth, and do not sell it;
buy wisdom, instruction, and understanding.

Prayer for Today: O Lord our God, when we are wandering in the deserts of our lives, open us to recognize the streams you provide. Open us to the blossoms in the dry lands of our lives. Encourage us to join you in your work. Through your gifts, help us to join your work,  to be part of restoring sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, and voice to the speechless. Amen.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Reflection on readings for September 19

O God, you are my God,
I seek you,
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land
where there is no water.
(Psalm 63:1)

Isaiah 30:12-33:9
Isaiah cautions them that relying on the powerful Egypt will have disastrous results. Yet, the Lord is waiting for them to return and will show mercy despite their rebellious behavior.

Isaiah warns the comfortable and the complacent  that their peace will be disrupted. Yet, justice will dwell and righteousness abide.

Galatians 5:1-12
Instead of commentary, I am offering two quotations:
For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another (13-14).
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control....(22) 
Psalm 63:1-11
The psalmist says "my flesh faints for you." Someone who likes to eat when hungry or not and drink when thirsty or not can surely understand how important seeking God when put into these terms.

According to this psalm, we can receive  great joy from feasting on the presence of the Lord in the sanctuary. Or, at least, recognize what it would be like, and recognize what follows from receiving something really good--saying thank you to the provider.

Proverbs 23:22
Listen to your father who begot you,
and do not despise your mother when she is old.

Prayer for Today: Spend some time today remembering the blessings you have already received. Use the words from Psalm 63 to thank the Lord who has provided these blessings:
You have been my help,
and in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy.
My soul clings to you;
your right hand upholds me.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Reflection on readings for September 18

For God alone my soul waits in silence;
from God comes my salvation.
God alone is my rock and salvation, my fortress;
I shall never be shaken.
(Psalm 62:1-2)

Isaiah 28:14-30:11
Their corruption, their misdeeds, their showy but insincere worship make them deserving of punishment. In their devastation, the Lord will redeem them. Advice to a rebellious people: Do it right this time.

Galatians 3:23-4:31
Paul is writing to Gentile Christians who have been told that they must become Jews in order to qualify for being part of God's family. He tells them, and through them, us, that they who are not Jews are still children of God.

Faith is the criterion--not citizenship, status, gender.

Jews are in God's family. Those with faith in Christ are, as well.

The first Christians had to learn to accept non-Jews. Modern day Christians may still be having some difficulties in including people who are different. What are the modern day equivalents in 3:28?

Psalm 62:1-12
"For God alone my soul waits," the psalmist says. [Off on tangent--the word translated as "my soul" carries the meaning of the first person pronoun.] The psalmist expands on the reason for waiting only for God: God protects me. God delivers me.

And we need this refuge, the psalmist reminds us, because nothing else is an adequate substitute. We can't count on important or unimportant people. Moreover (I'm thinking about coining a new word, lessover), extortion and robbery won't save us nor will being rich keep us secure.

For those of us who do not ascribe to the doctrine of works-righteousness, we may be discomfited by verse 12, The Lord repays everybody according to their work.

Proverbs 23:19-21
Hear, my child, and be wise,
and direct your mind in the way.
Do not be among winebibbers,
or among gluttonous eaters of meat;
for the drunkard and the glutton
    will come to poverty,
and drowsiness will clothe them with rags.

Prayer for Today: Pray Psalm 62 today.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Reflection on readings for September 17

Hear my cry, O God;
listen to my prayer.
(Psalm 61:1)

Isaiah 25:1-28:13
They have heard Isaiah's prayer of gratitude for their deliverance. He now tells them that the Lord will make for all peoples a banquet. Two things are important about this banquet. First, it really is a banquet. The menu includes rich food and fine wines. Second, it's not just for them; it's a feast for all peoples. This banquet takes the place of the negative force that death has held over them, swallows it up forever. Walter Brueggemann reminds us of New Testaments allusions to this promise in 1 Corinthians 15:54 and Revelation 21:4 (Isaiah 1-39, WestminsterJohnKnoxPress).

With victory comes a call for judgment against foes. Why is it sometimes hard for us to accept blessings from God without our expecting God to punish people that we consider sinners? Thinking about the metaphor "Leviathan," I am considering that perhaps I would find it easier to think of this punishment as against sin rather than as against specific wrongdoers.

Galatians 3:10-22
Again, Paul is stressing that Gentiles to not have to first become Jews before being accepted as Christians. God accepts Gentiles into the family. For example, God granted acceptance to Abraham generations before giving the law to Moses.

Psalm 61:1-8

Proverbs 23:17-18
Do not let your hearts envy sinners,
but always continue in the fear of the Lord.
Surely there is a future,
and your hope will not be cut off.

Prayer for Today: O Lord our God, remind us that you are God of other people, too. Amen.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Reflection on readings for September 16

O grant us help against the foe,
for human help is worthless.
(Psalm 60:11)

Isaiah 22:1-24:23
Walter Brueggemann, in his commentary on Isaiah 1-39: After reading the harsh oracles against the foreign nations, we are presented with an equally harsh one against Jerusalem and Judah. When the enemy threatened, Jerusalem built up defenses but did not bother to turn to Yahweh. They celebrated victory when the enemy departed but did not mourn their leaders who had deserted them but then been captured. The oracle condemns the bad steward who had not used his authority correctly. The Lord will appoint a new steward who will keep Jerusalem secure.

Oracles against foreign natures resume. Patricia Tull, in Women's Bible Commentary, points out the insults against Tyre employ sexual imagery and innuendo, an aging and forgotten prostitute who will return to her trade. Tull comments on the timeliness of this metaphor:
More than a million young women, and even girls, are enticed from home every year by the promise of jobs...and find themselves violently forced into foreign brothels, the earnings from their sufferings benefitting captors....
After the oracles against specific nations, Isaiah warns that the Lord is about to lay waste to the earth.

Galatians 2:17-3:9
To whom is Paul speaking in these verses? To the Galatians or to Peter?

In verse 14, Paul is quoting himself in what he said to Peter in a rebuke, "If you, a Jew, live like a Gentile, where do you get off asking Gentiles to be more Jewish than you are?"

So, in verse 15, when Paul says "We ourselves are Jews by birth," I'm suggesting that he's still quoting what he had said directly to Peter.

"You and I, Peter, believe in Christ Jesus. Although we, as Jews, had been entrusted with the law, the understanding of how God wanted us to live, we now know that God has a way of including not only Jews but others, as well."

BTW, Carl R. Holladay, in Preaching through the Christian Year C, reminds us that Jews already knew that no one is justified by works of the law (e.g., Psalm 143:2; Habakkuk 2:4; Genesis 15:6).

Although these words may have been addressed to Peter, they are of course part of his argument he is using to counteract the attempts of the Judaizers who had followed him to the Galatian congregation and tried to convert the new Christians to Judaism. Paul is asserting that Christians do not have to become Jews in order to be Christians.

"It is Christ who lives in me...I live by faith in the Son of God....I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing."

Tangent from Holladay: We usually read "faith in Christ" in verse 16 to mean that we place our faith and trust in him. Some recent commentators have pointed out that this phrase in Greek is more literally translated to mean the faith that Christ has. Holladay sums it up, "This places greater stress on the work of Christ in our behalf than on our faith in our own behalf."

Psalm 60:1-12

Proverbs 23:15-16
My child, if your heart is wise,
my heart too will be glad.
My soul will rejoice
when your lips speak what is right.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, guide us into right decisions. Open us to the grace you are offering. Amen.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Reflection readings for September 15

O my strength, I will sing praises to you,
for you, O God, are my fortress,
the God who shows me steadfast love.
(Psalm 59:17)

Isaiah 19:1-21:17
God plans a complete dismantling of Egypt: pride, certitude, prosperity, and security. Restored then defeated by Assyria. The complacent Babylon will be destroyed (Walter Breuggemann, Isaiah 1-39).

Galatians 2:1-16
Affirmation that Christians did not have to conform to all the requirements that Jews had to meet. Characterized as false believers the Christians who spied on the freedom that the Galatians had. Paul had argued openly with Peter who under pressure had refused to eat with the Gentiles. "Don't get stuck on certain rules," Paul exclaimed to Peter.

Psalm 59:1-17
Prayer for deliverance from enemies combined with request that the Lord punish them.

Proverbs 23:13-14

Prayer for Today: O Lord, deliver us from our complacency, our dependence on our possessions. Shake our uncertainty that everybody else should just do what we think is right, that we are the only ones able to discern your will. Amen.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Reflection on readings for September 14

People will say, "Surely there is a reward for the righteous,
surely there is a God who judges on earth."
(Psalm 58:11)

Isaiah 15:1-18:7
Oracles continue expressing great sadness at the devastation but assurance of God's restoring power.

Galatians 1:1-24
Paul begins this letter to the Galatians by reminding them that his authority to speak to them comes through Jesus Christ and God.

He also reminds them of the importance of what Jesus Christ has done, "who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age...." According to Ronald J. Allen and Clark M. Williamson in their Preaching the Letters without Dismissing the Law:
For Paul, the cosmic rulers who distort the present world fought the coming of the new age by putting Jesus to death. That death, however, became the occasion whereby God revealed the divine power to free people from their sins, that is, from the actions and thoughts committed under the influence of the cosmic powers that turn the present into a chaotic and broken realm (1:4) Indeed, the earlier statement that God raised Jesus from the dead indicates that Jesus' death and resurrection are signs that the apocalyptic transformation is at hand (1:1).
He then expresses astonishment that they have allowed themselves to be misled by others.

Paul writes to them that he is astonished that they have allowed themselves to be misled by some other Christian evangelists: "Who are you listening to? Don't you realize that some people say that they're preaching the true gospel but they aren't even close?"

He issues an anathema against those he asserts are preaching a false gospel. He then asks a question that remains relevant to us: Whose approval is important to you? Do you care more about what the people around you think you should do or what God approves of? Are you trying to please people or Christ?

The difficulty that continues is the necessity of discerning God's will as it may different from that being espoused by some holy-appearing self-proclaimed paragons of Christians. Not everybody who claims the authority to tell us what we should be doing is really speaking the true gospel.

Paul is writing to a church in crisis. Although these Galatians had learned about Christ from Paul, they were now being influenced by some missionaries who have been preaching what Paul calls a gospel so different from the one he has proclaimed that it perverts the gospel of Christ (1:6-9).

Paul reminds them of his credentials: At one time, Paul had been instrumental in the attempt to halt the inroads of the Christian message into Judaism. Then, God told him to preach to Gentiles, to tell them about Jesus Christ.

Although he began his travels without prior conference with the central church in Jerusalem, he did at a later point meet with Peter and with James, the brother of Jesus.

Paul's understanding is that Gentiles do not have to become Jews in order to be Christians. The disciples who have been upsetting the Galatians disagree. They have been trying to convince the Galatians that being a Jew is an entry requirement.

Paul himself never quit being a Jew. But, he did not restrict Christianity to Jews alone.

Paul's idea has won out over that of those false apostles to Galatia. Yet, we still are being confronted by those who think our way of being Christian is not strict enough, not close enough to the Scriptures. Or, we may be in the strict group that is preaching to those who are not living up to what appears to be very scriptural. How could they? Complainers and complainees need to spend some time with this letter.

On the United Methodist Church website under the tab Our People,  I read:
The People of The United Methodist Church
Help people in their community
Accept you for who you are
Offer a place to belong
Care for and support each other
Show respect for other religions
Support people facing difficulty
Welcome diverse opinions and beliefs
Guide others to find deeper meaning
I think Paul would say we are on the right track.

Psalm 58:1-11
Crying out for revenge. Affirming reward for righteousness. Reassuring or troubling?

Proverbs 23:12
Apply your mind to instruction
and your ear to words of knowledge.

Prayer for Today:
O Lord, guide us to the true gospel. Keep us attentive to your will. Encourage us to build a church in which we can help our community and each other, support people in difficulty, and as hard as it is sometimes, to welcome, or at least tolerate, diverse opinions and beliefs. Amen.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Reflection on readings for September 13

Be exalted, O God, above the heavens.
Let your glory be over all the earth.
(Psalm 57:5)

Isaiah 12:1-14:32
From Walter Breuggemann's commentary, Isaiah 1-39:  Chapter 12 is a doxology affirming hope that refuses to give in to the present debilitating circumstances. Chapter 13 and 14 recount the horrendous acts of the powerful nations and promises that the Lord will act.

2 Corinthians 13:1-14
Paul said, "Some of you think that the rest of you are not thinking and living and talking as Christians should. You think you get the message much better than the others do and you are pretty open about your disdain for them."

He could be talking to some of us.

Paul's instructions to the fractious Corinthians seem, to me, to be really hard to follow: "Agree with one another and live in peace."

Yet, how else can Christians be Christian?

Psalm 57:1-11
In a time of despair, the psalmist turns to God for refuge and rescue.

Proverbs 23:9-11
Do not speak in the hearing of a fool,
who will only despise the wisdom of your words.
Do not remove an ancient landmark
or encroach on the fields of orphans,
for their redeemer is strong;
he will plead their cause against you.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, sustain us in times of trouble or doubt. And restrain us in times of self-superiority. Amen.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Reflection on readings for September 12

Be gracious to me, O God,
for people trample on me....
O Most High, when I am afraid,
I put my trust in you.
(excerpt from Psalm 56:1-3)

Isaiah 10:1-11:16
Isaiah was speaking to people who were aware of the devastation that the powerful Assyria had deployed, taking advantage of the poor, plundering the weak. Israel had been overtaken. Judah was under threat. Yet, the prophet speaks a message of hope.

Isaiah promised them a new king. This king would be supported by the Lord:
The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
The promised king would be an ideal king. A king who would be what kings should be. With his wisdom, understanding, counsel, knowledge, and fear of the Lord, this king would be a good judge. He would be fair to the poor and the meek. He would overcome the wicked.

Christians have long appropriated this vision of the ideal king to the messiah, Christ.

Questions to ask as we anticipate the coming of Christ: Do we need a powerful monarch to enforce peace? In what ways does this passage describe the church (after all, we think of the church as the body of Christ)?

Isaiah described the ideal king as caring for the poor and vulnerable. Do we see this as a necessary role for a ruler? for Christ? for the church?

Isaiah describes what the kingdom ruled by this new king will be like. Peace among natural enemies. More than peace, harmony.

In an article, "Preaching the Advent Texts: Hope, Peace, Courage," in the Journal for Preachers, Advent 2010, John Buchanan writes:
Americans read the morning paper and hope that there hasn't been another suicide bomber, that a Palestinian rocket hasn't precipitated a deadly Israeli retaliation, that more beautiful young Americans have not died in Afghanistan. We live between yearning for peace and the reality of the world in the year of our Lord 2010. And the preacher's responsibility is to help the congregation remember the promise of Isaiah's vision and to point to signs, tiny green shoots sprouting in unlikely places--shoots of Jesse.
What gifts do we bring as peacemakers--in our world, our cities, our neighborhoods?
In what ways do you see God acting to make all things new?

2 Corinthians 12:11-21
Paul lists what he is afraid he will find when he visits the congregation in Corinth: quarreling, jealousy, anger, selfishness, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder. What do visitors find when they visit a congregation today? Christians, we can do better, and we must.

Psalm 56:1-13
Another lament, another reminder to trust God.

Proverbs 23:6-8
Do not eat the bread of the stingy;
do not desire their delicacies;
for like a hair in the throat, so are they.
"Eat and drink!" they say to you.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, we seek your presence. O Lord, cure us from our habits of many congregations, like quarreling, jealousy, anger. Direct us toward being peacemakers in our communities and within the larger community. Amen.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Reflection on readings for September 11

Give ear to my prayer, O God;
do not hide yourself from my supplication.
Attend to me, and answer me;
I am troubled in my complaint.
I am distraught.
(Psalm 55:1-2)

Isaiah 8:1-9:21
Isaiah spoke to some scared people, "Don't fear people ganging up on you. Turn your attention to the Lord. Some people can see only distress and darkness, but you can see a great light."

Hear an excerpt from Handel's Messiah, Wonderful Counselor.

2 Corinthians 12:1-10
"I prayed to God to rescue me from my torment," Paul wrote. "I didn't get the response that I had wanted, but I did get the one that God thought I needed."

A lot of troublesome theology can be and has been derived from this passage. Yet, I want to hold on to the hope that is in it. Whatever happens to me, I can benefit from it, I can use it, to do God's work.

Carl R. Holladay, in Preaching through the Christian Year B, reminds us that Paul's rival evangelists had used their skills to prove that they were more powerful than Paul. He's saying that they may be winning a game but that it's not the right game.
What he knew only well was that "weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities...were more frequent and typical of his apostolic life than were visions....In this respect, his life was analogous to that of Christ. Indeed, the crucifixion of Christ came to symbolize human suffering experienced in response to a divine calling....
Psalm 55:1-23
As I read this psalm, I am thinking about the videos we in Memphis have seen of the assault  by a mob in a Kroger parking lot. Like the psalmist, we want refuge from outrage and strife. I pray, however, that we can refrain from the more vindictive verses in this psalm and focus on the reminder that the Lord takes care of rescue.

Proverbs 23:4-5
Do not wear yourself out to get rich;
be wise enough to desist.
When your eyes light upon it, it is gone;
for suddenly it takes wings to itself,
flying like an eagle toward heaven.

Prayer for Today: In times of despair, pray Psalm 55.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Reflection on readings for September 10

Hear my prayer, O God;
give ear to the words of my mouth.
(Psalm 54:2)

Isaiah 6:1-7:25
Verses 1-4 describe an overwhelming sense of God's glory and the appropriate response to it. On a throne. A high and lofty throne. So large that just the hem of his robe fills the temple. Heavenly beings attend him. They sing, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts."

Verses 5, in contrast, describes the great contrast with this glory with the human condition. Isaiah realizes that he is unworthy.

Verses 6-7 give us reassurance. Since we are not worthy, God has a way of redeeming us, of overcoming our sin. Isaiah's guilt was removed.

Verse 8 reminds us why we need this redemption. We have a task. Isaiah accepted his call.

(much of this from or inspired by Isaiah 1-39, by Walter Brueggeman)

How much of this is repeated in a typical church service? Do we recognize an overwhelming divine presence? Do we recognize our own sinfulness? Can we receive redemption? If so, what are we prepared to do with it?

King Ahaz was more willing to trust the Assyrians than he was to believe that the Lord would save his country from invasion by Aram (2 Kings 16; Isaiah 7:1-6).

The Lord spoke to this fearful king--please note that the threat he fears is real, that's he's not just timid. "Ask me for a sign," the Lord said. But Ahaz refused saying "I will not test the Lord." We can interpret his refusal as piousness or as an unwillingness to know what God wants him to do after he has already decided what's best.

The Lord gives him a sign anyway.

Ahaz had been focusing on kings and armies and enemies. Isaiah points his attention to a young woman who is about to bear a child, "She will name him Immanuel, God is with us. What you fear, you need no longer fear."

2 Corinthians 11:16-33
Paul criticizes his critics and asserts his own qualifications as a true apostle.

He recounts the dangers he has faced because of that apostleship.

Following Jesus can be risky.

Psalm 54:1-7
This psalm gives us words to pray when we have been mistreated. Notice that revenge is left to God to handle.

Proverbs 23:1-3
When you sit down to ear with a ruler,
observe carefully what is before you,
and put a knife to your throat
if you have a big appetite.
Do not desire the ruler's delicacies,
for they are deceptive food.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, sustain us through our fears, our fears of physical harm and our fears of criticism. Keep our attention focused on your will. Amen.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Reflection on readings for September 9

God looks down from heaven on humankind
to see if there are any who are wise,
who seek after God.
(Psalm 53:2)

Isaiah 3:1-5:30
Isaiah tells the people of Israel this parable: The owner of the land, with great effort, plants vines on a very fertile hill. He got grapes, but not the kind of grapes he had worked for. He vows to make a new start, to tear down the wall that protects the vines, to quit tending them, not to prune or hoe, and he will quit watering them.

Isaiah is trying to get them to think about how much sense the landowner's reaction makes. "Apply this parable to your own lives. God gave you this land and cared for your needs. God expected great things from you. God expected you to yield justice and righteousness. That's not what you did."

2 Corinthians 11:1-15
Paul asserts his apostleship as true, his concern for the congregation at Corinth to know and live out God's good news. He warns them against false apostles who may disguise themselves as ministers of righteousness.

How do we moderns discern which ministers are true apostles and which are disguised as such?

Psalm 53:1-6
God knows who is corrupt and who is true. Reassuring or disturbing?

Proverbs 22:28-29
Do not remove the ancient landmark
that your ancestors set up.
Do you see those who are skillful in their work?
they will serve kings;
they will not serve common people.

Prayer for Today: O Lord our God, guide us into lives that make our world a place of justice, of righteousness, of care for each other. Amen.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Reflection on readings for September 8

I will thank you forever,
because of what you have done.
In the presence of the faithful
I will proclaim your name for it is good.
(Psalm 52:9)

Isaiah 1:1-2:22
Isaiah presents the case against Judah. He uses the epithets Sodom and Gomorrah. It helps to understand this passage if we realize that their sin was inhospitality rather than what seems more convenient to us to be against.

"Don't be like Sodom and Gomorrah," Isaiah tells them that the Lord is saying. "They pretended to worship me, but they neglected to do any true worship. What I require is not parading around in public but rather taking care of those who need care."

What good is our worship if we ignore God's concerns?

The Lord has specific suggestions: rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.

We shouldn't comfort ourselves by saying that we don't sacrifice bulls in our sanctuaries anymore. These warnings are still relevant. What are our churches concerned about? How much time and money are we spending on ourselves and much effort are we putting into seeking what God considers justice?

The Lord gave and gives options: No matter how sinful you have been, you can repent and change. Building a world in which all have justice will result in a world in which you will benefit. Building a world in which many suffer will result in your having to live there too--a place of need and threat and fear.

Isaiah lived in a time when his nation was under threat--and a time when the leaders and the people of the nation had not been following the instruction of the Lord. Having called the powerful to repentance, the prophet also offers hope to the fearful.

Questions to consider as you read Chapter 2:

v1, What new thing have you seen--something that was totally unexpected?
Can you hope for something without working for it?

v2, What parallels do you see between the highest mountain and our places of worship?

v3, Why do we go to church?

v4, How important is the prophecy of peace for us? Do we think we are judged on basis of whether we are will to go to war?

v5, What does the phrase "walk in the light of the Lord" mean to you?

Is this passage from Isaiah about them and then, us now, or us someday?

2 Corinthians 10:1-18

Psalm 52:1-9
The psalm addresses the powerful, "Why do you boast of the mischief you have done against the godly? God will see that you pay for what you have done."

And those who have been harmed but remained faithful to God will see the downfall of the mighty ones: "See, the one who would not take refuge in God, but trusted in abundant riches, and sought refuge in wealth!"

Rich sure seems good to us much of the time, but the Psalms remind us that being rich is not satisfactory as a total goal. For one thing, it doesn't last. For another, seeking that goal at the expense of all others results in our loss of everything important.

Rather, than trust money, this Psalm reminds us to trust in God forever and forever and to thank God--publicly.

Proverbs 22:26-27
Do not be one of those who give pledges,
who become surety for debts.
If you have nothing with which to pay,
why should your bed be taken from under you.

Prayer for Today: O Lord our God,  guide us into true worship,  not parading around in public but rather taking care of those who need care. Remind us that you are our refuge so that we will trust you to take care of us in the future and be grateful for what you have done for us already. Amen.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Reflection on readings for September 7

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me.
(Psalm 51:10)

Song of Solomon 5:1-8:14

2 Corinthians 9:1-15
Paul commands the congregation to give and to give abundantly. Be careful not to fall in the trap of the prosperity gospel. Paul really wants us to be generous. He is reassuring us that God will provide enough resources for us to use them the way that God intended for us to use them.

Psalm 51:1-19
Psalm 51 is one of seven penitential psalms. I'm wondering why only seven. How often do we need words to express our recognition that we need to be forgiven?

Here's the first seven verses:
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment.
Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me.
You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Although most of the psalms are communal prayers, this psalm is expressed as an individual cry, Have mercy on me, blot out my transgressions, wash me, and purify me.
We can ask this of God because mercy is what God is like, because mercy befits God's faithfulness, because God is abundantly compassionate.

Sometimes, we need reminders that we are sinning. And, sometimes, we are so burdened by our sins that we need reminders that God is compassionate.

We can pray Psalm 51 when we recognize that we need forgiveness, that we want forgiveness:
Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.
And we can pray Psalm 51 when we want what forgiven people have--restoration
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.
Proverbs 22:24-25
Make no friends with those given to anger,
and do not associate with hotheads,
or you may learn their ways
and entangle yourself in a snare.

Prayer for Today: Pray Psalm 51.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Reflection on readings for September 6

"Hear, O my people, and I will speak,
O Israel, I will testify against you.
I am God, your God."
(Psalm 50:7)

Song of Solomon 1:1-4:16
Jewish Study Bible introduces what is called there the Song of Songs:
"While the book's origin remains obscure, the history of interpretation of the Song in Jewish tradition is well documented. From as early as the 2nd century CE, it has been understood in both human and divine terms. In rabbinic tradition, the Song narrates the words which God and Israel spoke to each other at the Red Sea, at Sinai, or in the Tent of Meeting. The descriptions of the male lover are understood as allegorical descriptions of God while the descriptions of the female lover are understood as divine praise of Israel...."
And, not surprisingly, many commentators read this book to be about human sexual love. In this passage, for example, it's spring, the couple enjoy each other, and they want to be together.

Many Christians interpret this book, as well as the rest of what we call the Old Testament, as foretelling our relationship with Jesus Christ. For example, according to the Wesley Study Bible, Wesley asserted that this particular passage describes how the church triumphs in Christ's love and gracious call.  For example, in Matthew. Jesus says, "Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest."

2 Corinthians 8:16-24
Paul and Titus are continuing their efforts for the collection for Jerusalem. (See 1 Corinthians 16 or read ahead to chapter 9).

Psalm 50:1-23
Psalm 50 begins like a description of a trial. God the Lord summons us to judgment (1). And God is the judge (2-5).

The psalm then reminds us what true worship is--not an occasional public display but rather a consistent practice of thanksgiving (8).

What we do in worship is useful as a reminder of what we are supposed to be doing all the rest of the time.

Proverbs 22:22-23
Do not rob the poor because they are poor,
or crush the afflicted at the gate;
for the Lord pleads their cause
and despoils of life those who despoil them

This is pretty threatening.

Prayer for Today: O God, our Lord, direct our attention to your will. Amen.

Prayer for Today:

Friday, September 5, 2014

Reflection on readings for September 5

Hear this, all you peoples;
give ear, all inhabitants of the world.
(Psalm 49:5)

Ecclesiastes 10:1-12:4
Chapter 10 lists warnings and advice for young people to consider; e.g., "Whoever digs a pit will fall into it," "If the snake bites before it is charmed, there is no advantage in a charmer," "Words spoken by the wise bring them favor, but the lips of the fools consume them," and "Feasts are made for laughter; wine gladdens life, and money meets every need."

In Chapter 11, the teacher offers age-appropriate advice including "Rejoice while you are young. " Then in Chapter 12, the teacher explains why--because old age is tough, really tough.

The epilogue to this book offers an appropriate summary: "Fear God, and keep the commandments, for that is the whole duty of everyone." Because I have so recently read the book of Job, I'm reluctant to affirm the last verse. It really does sound like something that Job's friends would have said; yet, it really does sound like something that we all believe.

2 Corinthians 8:1-15
There's a lot of poor people in the world. And there's a lot of the rest of us that don't think of ourselves as being all that rich. Paul told the Corinthians that they were supposed to give gifts relative to what they had. "It's only fair that those of you that have anything should be willing to share it," he said.

The United Methodist Church asks Can we feed the world? One in ten households in the U.S. lives with hunger, or is at risk of hunger. Around the world, almost a billion people go hungry.

Examples of how the church can help the poor include local food pantries, local markets, and international giving.

To read more about how the United Methodist Church responds to needs, go to the website UMC Giving

Psalm 49:1-20
Trusting in wealth and boasting of riches won't save your life.
Nobody lives forever.
Wise people die. Foolish people die.
None of them get to take their wealth with them.

Proverbs 22:20-21
Have I not written for you thirty sayings
    of admonition and knowledge
to show you what is right and true,
so that you may give a true answer
    to those who sent you?

Prayer for Today: O Lord, focus us on your will, your commands, your intentions so that we can use the gifts you have given us in the way you intend. Amen.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Reflection on readings for September 4

Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised.
(Psalm 48:1a)

Ecclesiastes 7:1-9:18
Ellen Davis, in her excellent book Getting Involved with God, comments on the teaching of how we are to live our lives as we face the reality of death: Be cheerful.
Joy is the one thing strong enough to stand up in the face of all that is disappointing, in the face of the fact that all we do achieve and value is passing away and will surely be forgotten....Yet, he tells us to do whatever we do with everything we got.
2 Corinthians 7:8-16
Hear criticism of what you have done and be sorry that you did wrong. After regret comes repentance. With repentance comes a change in the way you live your life.

Paul expresses joy at the way that they had received Titus. Boring and Craddock speculate, "The (re)conversion of the Corinthians may owe as much to Titus's pastoral skills as to Paul's theology and harsh letter." Leaders of fractious congregations may consider enlisting a Titus.

Psalm 48:1-14
This psalm begins with a call to praise the Lord. To praise the Lord who resides in this city on top of his holy mountain. This mountain, Mount Zion is beautiful to look at and is beneficial as a place of protection. Just looking at it scares enemy kings.

What scares the powerful now? Where do they, or the rest of us, become aware of the presence of God?

Mount Zion, as a mountain, is visible, permanent, and defensible from enemy onslaught. So is the steadfast love of God.

I'm looking at verses 8 and 9. They knew about Mount Zion and the love of the Lord residing there  because somebody had bothered to tell them. How did we find out? Have we told anybody else? Read verses 12-14.

Proverbs 22:17-19
The words of the wise: Incline your ear and hear my words,
and apply your mind to my teaching;
for it will be pleasant if you keep them within you,
if all of them are ready on our lips.
So that your trust may be in the Lord,
I have made them known to you today--yes, to you.

Prayer for Today: O Lord our God, we give you thanks today for what you have provided us. Inspire us now to distribute our gifts as you intend. Amen.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Reflection on readings for September 3

Clap your hands, all you peoples;
shout to God with loud songs of joy.
(Psalm 47:1)

Ecclesiastes 4:1-6:12
The teacher offers several examples of vanity, the uselessness of all our efforts. For example, our efforts for riches are based on envy, but those riches can't make us happy. Being rich and alone is not as good as being poor and having a friend. After all, when you're in trouble, a friend can be helpful.

Speaking to those of us who consider ourselves religious: Just showing up at worship doesn't cut it.

2 Corinthians 6:14-7:7

Psalm 47:1-9
In the psalm, the congregation is called to sing praises to the King, and the King is identified as God, the great king over all the earth, God, the king over the nations.

Think about the "all the earth" and "king over the nations" assertions. How hard is it for us to affirm that people who have not formally entered into our community are being cared for by God, even people who live on the other side of the earth?

Proverbs 22:16
Oppressing the poor in order to enrich oneself,
and giving to the rich, will lead only to loss.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, our God, guide us into ways of demonstrating your love and care. Direct our attention to the people around us. Show us how to share. Amen.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Reflection on readings for September 2

God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
(Psalm 46:1)

Ecclesiastes 1:1-3:22
A wise ruler is looking back over the task he had set for himself--to study and to probe with wisdom all that happens under the sun. He has spent his life appraising wisdom and madness and folly. But what he has deduced is that the same fate awaits both the wise man and the fool. He concludes that all the effort we expend is pretty useless--that we might as well have spent our time chasing the wind.

It's pretty disconcerting to some people to find the writings of Ecclesiastes in our Bible. We may be more accustomed to reading passages about hope and reward rather than this rather pessimistic collection. Much of it challenges much of what is written in the rest of the Bible. It's not pious. Well, sometimes some of us are in situations that aren't very good. Our troubles may or may not have been our fault, but we are in trouble, anyway. At those times, we can find ourselves reflected in the writings of Ecclesiastes. We aren't the first to know futility. Being in pain does not disallow us from being in God's family.

Allen & Williamson in their Preaching the Old Testament suggest questions we might ponder: What is the point of my life? What can we expect of life? What sense can we make of life?

 Ecclesiastes says all things are futile, that nothing lasts. I'm grateful to Gene Tucker who wrote about this in Preaching Through the Christian Year C: If this book and the Book of Job were not in our canon, the powerful but also potentially destructive wisdom doctrine that all is fair could go unchallenged. And that voice of challenge--rather than the positive and pious additions or the attribution of the work to Solomon--probably explains why this book is a part of the Jewish and Christian Scriptures. At least some of our ancestors in the faith did not cringe before Koheleth's strong words If the preacher finds it impossible to agree with Koheleth's conclusions about the futility of life, he or she can be sure that there are those in the congregation who at least now and then--if not always--experience such profound futility. Those voices deserve to be expressed and understood, even--and especially--in the context of Christian worship.

2 Corinthians 6:1-13
Paul described the life of a Christian missionary. "Here's how we commended ourselves to you: great endurance, afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger."

That is, servants of God will go through a lot as they reach out to people who are themselves going through a lot.

 Paul offers a checklist that is still useful for us as we invite people into our Christian community: purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech.

After reading Paul's description of evangelism, does your congregation have any repenting to do?

Psalm 46:1-11
Psalm 46 recognizes that life does have pain and disruptions. It speaks of disruptions in nature and among people. Mountains tumble into the sea because of earthquakes. Nations fall to attack by enemies.

Yet, in times of affliction, we have the comfort of the presence of God.

Listen to the comfort of Psalm 46.

Proverbs 22:15

Prayer for Today: We turn to you, O God, in gratitude for your gifts to us. Inspire us now to invite other people into our Christian community. And, O God, we ask that you inspire us to demonstrate your place in our lives by showing others purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech. Amen.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Reflection on readings for September 1

Your throne, O God, endures forever.
Your royal scepter is a scepter of equity.
(Psalm 45:6)

Job 40:1-42:17 The Lord reminds Job, "I am powerful, I have created the order by which all elements, animals, and people live. I am the giver of all, the One who knows all. Can any human do what I do."

Job replies, "I know you can do everything, that nothing is impossible for you. Hear me now."

What Job wishes for the Lord to hear is "I thought I knew you, but I lacked knowledge. Now that I see you clearly, I recant and repent."

After this comment by Job, the Lord will say to Eliphaz "I'm angry with you and your friends who have not spoken the truth about me as did Job."

The test is over. Job is returned to his life as it had been.

When Job emerges from his tragedy, he able to pray for his friends--I presume this means the ones who had been badgering him and trying to correct him throughout the book.

He died old--at 140, twice the length of what was expected in Psalm 90:10.

Many commentators think that this section was added by a different source from most of the book of Job. These verses seem to be a reaffirmation of the Deuteronomic theory of blessings as rewards for right behavior in contrast to verses 1-6 in this chapter.

Modern commentators try to reconcile both understandings by saying that whichever we hold, that God is present in our bad times and our good. We may make bad choices or bad things may happen despite our good ones, but God is still with us. And, our recognition of God's presence can help us through our difficult times.

Aside: Allen & Williamson in Preaching the Old Testament remind us that Job 42:6 is difficult to interpret:
Some scholars think that Job recognizes that both the Deuteronomic viewpoint on blessing and curse (represented in the book of Job by the friends) and Job's persistent demands to understand this notion in another framework of meaning comes up short. Having been addressed directly by the awesome God, Job recognizes that chaos is innately a part of creation and neither chaos nor prosperity can be neatly explained. While chaos is powerful, God's speeches in chapters 38 through 41 assure Job that it will not destroy the patterns of life through which God supports the world.
2 Corinthians 5:11-21
Paul tells us: At one time, we viewed Christ from a human point of view. We now know better. His death changed what we knew about him, and it changes what we know about ourselves and each other. We don't live just for ourselves; we live for him who died and was raised--raised for all.

Paul is telling us about a great do-over:
So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!
God has acted. God promises to act: Christians look forward to the coming of Christ. Christians have been changed by the coming of Christ.
At the beginning of chapter 5, Paul contrasts the earthly tent we live in with the building we have from God, an eternal heavenly dwelling. He then shifts terminology from tent to body. While we are in living in this body, we are not in the home we will have with God. Paul asserts that we need to think ahead while we are still in this body because we will be judged by Christ and receive recompense.

Paul, as usual, moves from the each to the all. "Since everyone is to be judged, we need to persuade everybody," he argues. "Everything we do is for you. Everything we do is because of the love of Christ. Christ died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them."

Paul himself had once viewed the followers of Jesus as troublemakers. He had tried to stop them until he himself was stopped by the risen Christ. Paul now sees everyone not just in the flesh but as a new creation.

Everything is new. God took action, reconciling us to God and also giving us the ministry of reconciliation.

Reconciliation--getting things back to the way they should have been before we disrupted them.

Reconciliation implies that we weren't always right and that other people didn't always do right to us. You don't need forgiveness if you have never sinned. But we did. And they did. And God reconciled the world through Christ, that is God forgave our trespasses. And didn't stop with our forgiveness. God entrusted the message of reconciliation to us.

Paul wrote to those fractious Corinthians, "In Christ, there is a new creation." They can start over. And this time they can do it right. At the first creation, God pronounced each part good.

And while it started off good, our human ancestors did mess up quite a bit.

But, remember, "In Christ, there is a new creation."

Paul goes on to tell them--and through them, us--what our assigned task in this new creation is to be. We are ambassadors for Christ. Ambassadors--we travel, reach out, communicate. God appeal is made through us--in our travel, reaching out, and communicating, we are charged with transmission of what God wants them to know.

Paul had explained the meaning to the Corinthians, and now they were to live it out so others would also know it.

Since the first creations, humans had given in to sin. Now, it's time to defeat it.
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Note: We are not being called to be self-righteous but rather to be part of and communicators of God's righteousness.

Psalm 45:1-17
Although this psalm is directed to a bride who is marrying the king, we can read it as being directed to any bride, "Forget your people and your father's house." That is, we can read it that way, but it's really hard today to imagine that any bride should be asked to break off any family contact and instead submit to her husband's authority--even if the exchange would result in lots of gifts and extravagant clothes.

I find more palatable the interpretation that God calls people to leave the comfortable and familiar to go to the uncomfortable and unfamiliar. Think of foreign missions, but don't restrict mission work to other countries. After all, there's plenty of unfamiliar places within easy driving distance of where we go to church--or, pretty likely, within walking distance.

I'm looking at verse 16 now, "In the place of ancestors, you ... shall have sons..." In the church we attend, we may hear, or say, "That's not the way we do it." Yet, it may be time to rethink the way we are used to and consider whether a new way might suit God better.

Aside: Why do Americans need a prayer addressed to a king? I suppose Christians can overcome any problem with this verse by thinking that the ancient psalmist was anticipating the birth of Christ the King. In any case, the king is this psalm has important characteristics that all persons in power should attempt to emulate: love of righteousness and hatred of wickedness.

Proverbs 22:14
The mouth of a loose woman is a pit;
he with whom the Lord is angry falls into it.

Prayer for Today: God, remind us that you travel with us when we leave the comfortable and the familiar to try new places and to meet new people. Remind us of the ways you intend for us to behave in any place, familiar or unfamiliar. Amen.