It took a year to read the Bible, then almost 9 months to read the Apocrypha. Now, I'm going to try to offer reflections on the Narrative Lectionary. But, I won't be posting daily--at least, for a while.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Ready Response, a Reflection on Acts 8:32-35

The Ethiopian had been reading from Isaiah (53:7-8), a passage first heard by a weak nation in tribulation caused by a powerful invader, a passage about suffering.

Who is the Ethiopian talking about--himself or somebody else?

Philip responded by telling him about Jesus.

Christians continue to appropriate the stories of Israel in exile. Some of us think all the prophets were talking about Jesus. Some of us think that we can understand the meaning of Jesus better as we learn the history of God's dealing with suffering through the millennia that preceded Jesus' time on earth.

Lectio Divina: Psalm 22:31 Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord, and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

A guide to guiding, Reflection on Acts 8:26-31

Through the first seven chapters of Acts, Peter and the other apostles have been preaching in Jerusalem. Successes and setbacks. Steven was condemned to death. Saul (more about him later) watched the stoning.

The persecution became so severe that the apostles scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. (Go back and read again Acts 1:8.)

Philip is preaching in Samaria where crowds are listening eagerly to him and seeing the signs that he did (8:4-8). Peter and John returned to Jerusalem. And Philip is directed by a messenger from God to go to Gaza.

He is performing signs, drawing crowds, being praised, and baptizing. Philip is in a productive mission field. And God tells him to travel the wilderness road.

On the trip, Philip came across a court official of the Ethiopian queen who was returning from a trip to Jerusalem. He had gone there to worship, and when Philip saw him, he was reading from the prophet Isaiah.

We can speculate whether he had already read the part of Isaiah where eunuchs and foreigners are included in Israel's promise (56:1-8). [Tangent: We can further speculate on whether we ourselves have spent much time with that passage and whether we talk and act as if we believed it.]

The Spirit sent Philip over to speak to this foreigner. Philip responded to this command by running over to his chariot.

He asked him if he understood what he was reading. The Ethiopian replied, "How can I, unless someone guides me?" And he asked Philip to join him.

Some points to consider:

People who don't look like or who haven't been brought up like us may be sensing the call of God. God may be talking to us, and we ought to be listening.

If someone wants to understand scripture, and we're standing right there, we need to be prepared to step up to the need.

OTOH, scripture may not be transparent even to someone who has studied a lot. We need to look at the Ethiopian as a good example of someone who knew he needed instruction and was willing to admit it.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Fruit or Fruitless, A Reflection on John 15:6-8

Continuing the metaphor of the vine, Jesus has just said that those who abide in him will bear much fruit. He then points out what happens to branches that do not bear fruit.

He is reminding us of the futility of the church trying to make it without adhering to the life and commands of Christ.

What fruit is your congregation producing? your denomination? Here's an introduction to the plans of the Tennessee Annual Conference of the UMC

Monday, April 27, 2015

Pruning, A Reflection on John 15:1-5

Go back and read Isaiah 5: The farmer worked very hard to make things right for that vineyard. Yet, the vineyard was a disappointment. The farmer responded.

Here in John's Gospel, the vineyard again is used as a metaphor: The branches that don't produce fruit are removed from the vine. The branches that do produce fruit are pruned so that they will produce more.

Consider the effect on your community from what your church congregation is doing.
Would that community be better or worse off if your congregation pruned some of its actions and practices from the vine?

If the answer is "better off," then what further pruning would make the effect even better?

BTW, according to the notes in the New Interpreter's Study Bible, the other "I am" sayings include: bread of life, (6:35, 48, 51; light of the world (8:12; 9:5); gate for the sheep (10:7, 9); good shepherd (10:11, 14); resurrection and the life (11:25-26); the way, and the truth, and the life (14:6).

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Love One Another, a Reflection on 1 Peter 1:22-23

Peter is writing to the new converts: The resurrection of Jesus Christ gives us hope. Rejoice because you are also included.

He outlines the appropriate response to the news of salvation:
Consider what's important.
Consider what lasts.
As Beverly Gaventa puts it in Texts for Preaching, a new life and a new way of living it are required:
While this new birth is intensely personal, in that it involves individual human beings who find their lives radically changed by the gospel, it also involves an intensely social dimension. Those who experience the new birth belong to one another in a profound and unrelenting way. These newborns are not members of disparate family units, each of which may take its own infant and go home. They belong to one another, as surely as they belong to the God who granted them this new birth.
How much of Peter's instruction is palatable to us today? Do any congregations exhibit the kind of love that he is talking about?

Not included in the lectionary, but read it anyway, is his quotation from Isaiah:
All human life on the earth is like grass,
and all human glory is like a flower in a field.
The grass dries up and its flower falls off
but the word of the Lord endures forever 

Saturday, April 25, 2015

New Way, a Reflection on 1 Peter 1:17-21

This letter was written originally to Gentile converts. "You're one of us now. You've been rescued from the futile ways that your ancestors lived. Christ has ransomed you."

How do we read the letter today? What does it say to our lives?

First, I'm struck by the term "exile." I hear people refer to America as a Christian country. Yet, I read polls that indicate that when asked what their religion is, the largest number report "none." Furthermore, as I read the morning paper or listen to conversations, I don't always hear Christian principles discussed. Have I, like these ancient people, inherited futile ways? Worse, am I passing on futile ways to the generations that follow me?

What do I have faith in? What are my hopes set on?

Friday, April 24, 2015

It's time to move, Reflection on Psalm 23

Gary Sims, when he used to write the Reflections each week for First United Methodist, Albuquerque, asked these questions:
Do you dwell in the house of the Lord?
If not, when are you planning to move in?
Will it be after you take care of a few things in your life?
Do you have an agenda or plan that you want to follow before turning your life over to God?
Are you putting God's goodness and mercy on hold?
Are you counting your blessings to see if your cup is overflowing?
Are you looking for a bigger cup?
Do you see that now is the time to move into God's house so that these promises of life can begin?

Thursday, April 23, 2015

By Whose Authority? a Reflection on Acts 4:5-12

Peter, a religious man, has been acting on his religious training and experience, is now called to account by religious authorities.

"Who gave you the authority to do this?"

Holly Hearon  asks:
When have you experienced a life-giving event in your life that has been viewed with suspicion by others? When have you found yourself suspicious of what someone else has identified as a life-giving event? What criteria should be used in assessing such moments?

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Shepherd in the Scriptures, a Reflection on John 10:14-15

To help us understand the term "shepherd" and its meaning to the first hearers of John's gospel, here are  a couple references to the term from the Old Testament."

Sometimes, "shepherd" refers to God. For example,
He blessed Joseph, and said, "The God before whom my ancestors Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day (Genesis 48:15).
Sometimes, "shepherd" refers to an employee of God:
Joseph is a fruitful bough, a fruitful bough by a spring; his branches run over the wall. The archers fiercely attacked him; they shot at him and pressed him hard. Yet his bow remained taut, and his arms were made agile by the hands of the mighty one of Jacob, by the name of the shepherd, the rock of Israel, by the God of your father, who will help you, by the Almighty who will bless you with blessings of heaven above. Blessings of the deep that lies beneath, blessings of the breasts and of the womb (Genesis 49:22-25).
Other references include Genesis 29:9; Numbers 27:17; 1 Samuel 17:15; Isaiah 13:14. New Testament references include Matthew 2:6; Acts 20:28; Hebrews 13:20; and Revelation 7:17. 

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Caring for the sheep, Reflection on John 10:11-13

Important distinction: attributes of the good shepherd with that of the hired hand. A good shepherd is willing to give up his own life to protect the sheep in his care. A hired man is willing to give up the sheep in order to protect himself.

Sometimes we can read these words as reassuring. When I am in trouble, Christ was protect me. Surely, the first Christian communities would have needed such reassurance.

But, we can also read them as prescriptive. We who are the body of Christ, we who are the church, have in our care many who need protection. Or, we should have them in our care.

Look around you. How are the sheep doing in your town? When trouble comes to them, do you run toward them or away?

Another distinction--that may not be important: sheep in my fold and sheep that do not belong to my fold. Who are the other sheep? Do you consider them to be the responsibility of your congregation?

Monday, April 20, 2015

Delayed Recognition, a reflection on Luke 24:13-35

Not everyone catches on right away. Jesus was right there with them. And they didn't recognize him. They knew about the resurrection. They were even surprised that their travel companion didn't seem to.

They may not have been able to recognize Jesus right away, but they are ready to talk about him to strangers who show interest.

They tell of what they had been expecting and what they had been told.

They tell this stranger about Jesus, how he was a prophet and the one who had been sent to redeem them; yet he had been handed over by the religious authorities to the Romans who had consequently condemned him to death and crucified him.

The story got stranger. Some of the women in their group had told them that when they had gone to visit his tomb, a vision of angels had said he was still alive. Hearing this, some in the group went to the tomb and confirmed that the body was missing, but they didn't see Jesus.

And, on the road to Damascus, they don't recognize him yet.

Although the one that they had hoped would rescue them had himself been executed, although they had not been able to see for themselves the angels that some of the women had said had told them that he was not alive, they still allow a stranger to walk along with them, to talk with them. They even listen to a sermon from him. Then, since the day is almost over, they invite him to stay with them.

Loss. Disappointment. Frustration. Yet, an offer of hospitality.

And at the table, when he took bread, blessed it, broke it, and shared it with them, they recognized him.

Loss, disappointment, and frustration did not end with those first Christians.

And, as we celebrate Holy Communion, we can recognize him.

As soon as they recognize him, they can understand something that has already happened, something that they hadn't noticed at the time but now makes sense to them--"Were not our hearts burning within while he was talking to us about the Bible?"

It's night, they've had a long walk, it's after supper, and they decide to go back to Jerusalem right then, not the next day.

The recognition of the Lord has to be shared, and shared immediately.

In Jerusalem, they learned that the Lord had also appeared to Simon.

Note the repeat about how he had been made know to them in the breaking of the bread. We usually interpret this to be related to Holy Communion, but we may also want to think about we recognize Christ in our midst when we share those ordinary meals as well.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Lawlessness/Righteousness, a Reflection on 1 John 3:4-7

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

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

Here is the commentary by William Loader:
This then enables us to see 3:1-7 in perspective. It is not about how many morality boxes we can tick to qualify ourselves as righteous or as a child of God. It is about whether love flows. Here, too, it is not about how many acts of love we summon up our energies to perform - ticking the goodness boxes, but how much we open ourselves to receive the love which God gives, which in turn flows through us to others. Love gives birth to love. Later the writer will speak of our loving because we were first of all loved by God (4:19). The author might say today: no amount of doing good deeds and no amount of having impressive spiritual experiences will count for anything if it is not connected to a real change that is relational. It may be cosmetic goodness and religion, but without that love it is nothing much. Paul made much the same point in 1 Corinthians 13.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Children of God, Reflection on 1 John 3:1-3

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

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

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

(with thanks to William Loader, First Thoughts.)

Friday, April 17, 2015

Praying at bedtime, a Reflection on Psalm 4

Psalm 4 is a traditional choice for night prayer. The next time you are kept awake from anxiety, try praying it yourself.

This psalm begins with a direct address to God:
Imperative--what the psalmist wants God to do.
Answer me when I call, O God of my right!
Reminder--what God has already done.
You gave me room when I was in distress.
Imperative--an echo of what the psalmist wants.
Be gracious to me, and hear my prayer.
Then the psalm addresses adversaries
Accusation--Read this portion as God speaking to us:
How long, you people, shall my honor suffer shame? How long will you love vain words, and seek after lies?
But know that the Lord has set apart the faithful for himself.
the Lord hears when I call to him.
When you are disturbed, do not sin; ponder it on your beds, and be silent. Offer right sacrifices,and put your trust in the Lord.
Then the psalm returns to an address to God:
There are many who say, "O that we might see some good! Let the light of your face shine on us, O Lord!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

After a Miracle, Reflection on Acts 3:12-19

Even seeing the healing first hand, they all were astonished that the beggar was now able to walk. Even after hearing Peter invoke the name of Jesus, they couldn't understand what had just happened.

In response to their lack of understanding, Peter preaches to them. "Did you think that we did this? Have you forgotten the God of Israel? You may have rejected Jesus, the one that God chose, but God has not rejected him."

We today are living among people who also have heard about God, about God's gifts, and God's faithfulness. Yet, they don't expect God to do anything good for them, and they don't recognize when God does. They may have neglected God or they may have collaborated in acts that were in opposition to what God wished.

What now?

Peter preaches, "Repent. Even your sins can be forgiven.

Tangent: Verse 16 says that Peter was able to heal the man through faith, but is not explicit whether Peter is talking about his own faith. Nothing is said about the beggar's faith before the healing (1-10).

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Fulfillment and Commission, Reflection on Luke 24:44-48

After the meal, he reminded them of words that he had spoken to them before--that he is the fulfillment of the promises of the law, the prophets, and the psalms. We Christians need to get both the before and after of this reminder. What we call the Old Testament, they thought of as Scripture. Old is still good. And Jews are still included in God's care. We haven't ousted them.

And not just Christians and Jews. Jesus reminds them, "The Scriptures foretold my death and resurrection. They tell that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed to all nations."

And then to this group of disciples who have been huddled together in fear and, even in the joy of recognition, have been disbelieving, he now gives a commission, "You are witnesses that the Scriptures have been fulfilled."

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Sharing a Meal, Reflection on Luke 24:40-43

They've heard first-hand from eye-witnesses. Yet, they're startled and terrified. They think they're seeing a ghost. To reassure them, Jesus speaks to him.

And he shows them his hands and feet--the wounds inflicted by his enemies.

Off on a tangent--I'm pondering the question of whether they would have found it easier to recognize a returning leader who had left them in triumph rather than in an ignominious death.

Their reaction is a mixture of joy and disbelief.

His reaction is to suggest that they share a meal. And as in Emmaus (and earlier, in Bethsaida, Luke 9:10-17), he eats with them.

He eats with them. In Preaching through the Christian Year, Fred Craddock writes:
Luke is also saying no to those doctrines of resurrection that were really pagan notions of the immortality of the spirit. Christians believe in the resurrection of the dead, not escape into a spirit world.
And Luke is saying no to those notions of spirituality that view the body and all things physical as inherently inferior or evil. Those who view themselves as just passing through this evil world tend to neglect the physical, economic, and political needs of other human beings. Luke reminds us that the risen Christ said, "Look at my wounds," and, "Do you have anything to eat?"

No one can follow this Christ and say that discipleship means only concerned with "souls."

Monday, April 13, 2015

Surprise and Fear, Reflection on Luke 24:36-39

In the verses just before this passage, Luke tells us that after his resurrection, Jesus appeared to them and shared a meal with them at Emmaus. It took them a while, but they were able to recognize him. Then he vanished from their sight. They returned to Jerusalem to tell the eleven disciples and their companions.

While they were talking about this, Jesus appeared and spoke to them. Their reaction is surprise and fear.

He's back, and they are startled, and they are afraid.

What does it take for a disciple to expect the appearance of the Lord? What does it take for a disciple to get over being afraid? What doubts do they have? What doubts do disciples of our time have?

Sunday, April 12, 2015

In the Light of Victory, a Reflection on 1 John1:6 -2:2

Easter Day has shown us the care and power of God. Yet, we wake up today and sin still thrives in the world. Alister McGrath (Read "In the Light of Victory" and many other excellent essays in Bread and Wine.) reminds us that many distinguished writers trying to explain this for us used the situation during WWII. Occupying power. Life lived under the shadow of a foreign presence. Then comes the news of a far-off battle that has turned the tide of the war.

In one sense, the situation has not changed, but in another, more important sense, the situation has changed totally.
I remember once meeting a man who had been held prisoner in a Japanese prisoner-ow-war camp in Singapore. He told me of the astonishing change in the camp atmosphere which came about when one of the prisoners (who owned a shortwave radio) learned of the collapse of the Japanese war effort in the middle of 1945. Although all in the camp still remained prisoners, they knew that their enemy had been beaten. It would only be a matter of time before they were released. And those prisoners, I was told, began to laugh and cry, as if they were free already.
In one sense, victory has not come; in another, it has. The resurrection declares in advance of the event God's total victory over all evil and oppressive forces--such as death, evil and sin. Their backbone has been broken, and we may begin to live now in the light of that victory, knowing that the long night of their oppression will end.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

From the beginning, Reflection on 1 John 1:1-5

There cannot be a solitary Christian.

Christianity is fellowship. And has been from the beginning.

In this epistle, the writer is saying to a community: We could see the visible Jesus. We could touch him. In him we were able to visualize life with the Father. And in our fellowship, we continue to see and to touch and to know.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Blessings of Unity, A reflection on Psalm 133

Commentators tell us that Psalm 133 is one of the group called "Pilgrim Psalms," that were sung as pilgrims traveled toward Jerusalem to worship. "How very good and pleasant is it when kindred live in unity!"

Good and pleasant and necessary.

As necessary as for life as water--Mount Hermon was the source of the Jordan River. As good and necessary as their goal--Zion, the place that God had blessed, the place where blessings were bestowed. (with thanks to John H. Hayes' contribution to Preaching through the Christian Year, Trinity Press International.)

Christians in the time of Paul also recognized the value of unity. And we moderns need to, also.

Recommended reading for today is an article by Robert Wright,  "One World, Under God," from  Atlantic magazine. Here's an excerpt:
Other features of Paul’s business model pushed even more powerfully toward interethnic bonding. They revolve around the traits Paul sought in his most important recruits, whether Jews or Gentiles, and his strategy of recruitment. And they explain how he wound up preaching not just interethnic tolerance or even amity, but interethnic brotherhood, interethnic love. 
In ancient times, as now, one prerequisite for setting up a franchising operation was finding people to run the franchises. Not just anyone would do. Christianity is famous for welcoming the poor and powerless into its congregations, but to run the congregations, Paul needed people of higher social position. For one thing, these people needed to provide a meeting place. Though historians speak of early “churches” in various cities, there seem to have been no buildings dedicated to Christian worship. Borrowed homes and meeting halls were the initial infrastructure. The book of Acts suggests that Paul’s founding of Christian congregations depended heavily on, as Wayne Meeks put it in The First Urban Christians, “the patronage of officials and well-to-do householders.”

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Loving your neighbor, Reflection on Acts 4:32-35

It's odd reading this passage in the same week that Americans' income tax is due. Now, the government wants a lot. Then the church wanted it all.

Remember: no social security, no medicare, no unemployment insurance. How were people who needed help to be cared for?

Giving everything seems hard--and it seemed hard to them, too. Keep reading in this chapter.

But, back to this lesson: Luke has emphasized that discipleship to Jesus involves one's possessions. See Luke 6:20-26; 12:13-21; Acts 11:27-29, among others.

Is there a conflict between being of one heart and one mind (v.32) and having private ownership? Even if we cannot imagine common ownership, is there any way we can accept a modification of this principle?

What is our respsonsibility to our fellow citizens?

How do you find a connection between verses 33 and 34? What is our responsibility toward the needy (v.34)? Does this responsibility leap across national borders?

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

So that you may believe, Reflection on John 20:24-31

The disciples who had seen Jesus believed, but Thomas hadn't been there the day Jesus had shown up. "I need to see for myself. I've got to put my finger on the spot where the nails were," he told them.

A week later, Jesus appeared to Thomas. "Touch me. Do not doubt but believe."

Thomas believed. Read the passage carefully. We are not told that Thomas, despite what he had thought earlier, had to touch Jesus in order to believe.

Keep reading. Look at verse 31. John's gospel is written so that we can believe. Thomas and the other first generation Christians saw Jesus and believed. They knew the presence of God through the seeing of Jesus. We later Christians are able to know the presence of God through their witness. And--through our witness, other Christians will come to believe.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The Nucleus of the Church, a Reflection on John 20:22-23

As God had breathed into nostrils of the man formed from the dust of the ground,  making him a living creature (Genesis 2:7), Jesus breathed on the those frightened disciples who had locked themselves in.

He said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit." We remember he had promised to send them an Advocate (14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7), the Spirit of truth to abide with them and in them.

He assigned to them the authority to forgive or not to forgive.

To have a church that continues to do the work of Christ, they must be at peace with each other. I am deeply troubled by the way some of our modern congregations are using this verse to expel people they find disagreeable. Yet, I can agree with the expulsion of some persons who have caused damage and would have continued to be harmful if the congregation or the denomination had not cut them out of positions of responsibility.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Through locked doors, Reflection on John 20:19-21

Mary had told them that she has seen the risen Jesus, but they are afraid anyway.

A sermon was not enough to liberate them from their fears.

Jesus came to them, anyway.

We may still not be willing to start our lives anew. Jesus may come to us, anyway.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Recognizing the Resurrected Christ, a reflection on John 20:1-18

Reading for Easter Day: Acts 10:34-43; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; John 20:1-18 or Mark 16:1-8

The alternate gospel readings for today differ in the details. I am certainly not going to try to iron over those differences. Rather, today, I'm reflecting on John's message.

Mary Magdalene, one of the women who had stood near the cross (John 20:25) has come before daybreak to the tomb. When she sees that the stone has been rolled away, she runs to tell the disciples. Peter and the other disciple (we assume John) race each other to get there.

John gets there first, looks in, and see the burial wrappings left behind. Peter then goes in and also sees the wrappings and realizes that the cloth that has been on Jesus' head has been rolled up. Then John goes in, and we are told that he saw and believed.

What does he believe? What does belief do for him?

After the disciples left, Mary stayed. As she is weeping, angels come to her--to comfort? She sees Jesus but does not recognize him immediately.

She has a short conversation with him but is able to recognize him only when he speaks her name.

Jesus tells her to go tell. She obeys. She is the first witness to the resurrection.

Yet, as we read in the next verse, the disciples are so afraid that they lock themselves in. What do we believe? What does belief do for us?

Mary finally did recognize Jesus and did do what he told her. Yet, she was not immediately able to convince the disciples.

I remember a story that someone told me years ago. Although I can't remember the source, I want to repeat it anyway:
When the National Zoo in Washington D.D. moved to a spacious new area, the rhinoceros was confused. It now had a wide-open living space, but it had lived in a cage too long. Even though it now had more room, it quickly made a boundary the exact dimensions of its old cage. it wore an oval path in the grass that corresponded to the old iron bars.
The resurrected Christ can appear in our ordinary lives. We may be able to recognize his presence. Or, like the rhinoceros, we may restrict ourselves to our old path. I ask again, what does belief do for us?

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Easter Vigil

The lectionary readings for the Easter Vigil are:
Old Testament Readings and Psalms
Genesis 1:1-2:4a and Psalm 136:1-9, 23-26
Genesis 7:1-5, 11-18; 8:6-18; 9:8-13 and Psalm 46
Genesis 22:1-18 and Psalm 16
Exodus 14:10-31; 15:20-21 and Exodus 15:1b-13, 17-18
Isaiah 55:1-11 and Isaiah 12:2-6
Baruch 3:9-15, 3:32-4:4 or Proverbs 8:1-8, 19-21; 9:4b-6 and Psalm 19
Ezekiel 36:24-28 and Psalm 42, 43
Ezekiel 37:1-14 and Psalm 143
Zephaniah 3:14-20 and Psalm 98

New Testament Reading and Psalm
Romans 6:3-11 and Psalm 114

Matthew 28:1-10

Quoting the poem by Hafiz, Holy Saturday the Space Between,  Christine Valters Paintner expresses how much of our lives rest in the space between loss and hope, how our lives are full of Holy Saturday experiences.

Selected verses and prayers based on those verses from the readings of the vigil:
You are indeed my rock and my fortress; for your name's sake, lead me and guide me, take me out of the net that is hidden for me, for you are my refuge (Psalm 31:3-4).

We give thanks to you, O Lord, for you are good, for your steadfast love endures forever (Psalm 136:1).

A king is not saved by his great army; a warrior is not delivered by his great strength. The war horse is a vain hope for victory, and by its great might, it cannot save (Psalm 33:16-17).

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

And by your offspring shall all the nations of the earth gain blessing for themselves, because you have obeyed my voice (Genesis 22:18).

You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures for evermore (Psalm 16:11).

In your steadfast love you led the people whom you have redeemed; you guided them by your strength to your holy abode (Exodus 15:13).

O God, I will trust you, and will not be afraid; for you are my strength and my might; you are my salvation (Isaiah 12:2).

I stretch out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like a parched land (Psalm 143:6)

Friday, April 3, 2015

Lesson learned, reflection on Good Friday

Readings for Good Friday-- Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Psalm 22; Hebrews 10:16-25; John 18:1-19:42

Pilate's questions: Are you the King of the Jews? What have you done that has caused you to be arrested?

Pilate's job is to protect his government and he wants to know if this man Jesus is a threat to peace and stability.

Jesus responds that he is not the kind of king that Pilate has been trained to watch out for. He doesn't have an army, for example.

Pilate asks again: Are you a king? Jesus responds "That's what you say," then adds some remarks that I think would have been unintelligible to Pilate:

For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice. 
And, isn't it hard to understand how truth can prevail without having an army? without being a threat to powerful people? How can we defend ourselves against truth, anyway? 
After all, Jesus didn't say that his followers were going to withdraw from the world. He said that it wasn't the world that gave him his authority.
Pilate sentenced him to death.

In an essay about Good Friday, Virginia Stem Owens talks about how beautiful the spring trees are in her native Texas. But, one year, she found herself offended by them:

...I was driving to work in College Station on Good Friday through a miasma of dogwood and redbud and not feeling good about it at all. It was a sparkling, resplendent day. Thickets of wild plum thew up their dark arms in dreamy clouds of white. Primroses, tenderly pink and gold, filled up the ditches along the road.
I was not pleased. This was not a penitential landscape. Good Friday is not the time for beauty.
I drove along, vaguely offended by the fields of flowers in full cry and the hillsides spangled with Easter white. This is the week, I thought, that the Savior of the world dies. This is the day when all that is good and true goes down to suffer death at the hands of the arrogant, those swollen with the pride of power. And what is the world doing? What is the earth, its own life threatened by those same enemies doing? Did it care? Was it grieving? No. It was shouldering aside the clouds and the husks of its dead self in order to break into life....
All week I had been reading the penitential Psalms and examining my sins. .... But now it was Good Friday. What did you do after you'd confessed all your sins and cleaned out all your closets? I took one last look around the bare cell of my heart for some forgotten fault, at the same time being careful to avoid the danger of manufacturing contrition for its own sake....
But what else was there to do on Good Friday? Already, on this spring morning, as I was descending the hills toward the river, Jesus was beginning his climb to Golgotha. What else was there to do? For the women who followed him, "Looking on afar off" (Mark 15:40 KJV), for those standing beneath the cross, what was there left to do?
Nothing. Quite obviously just nothing....Because Good Friday is the day when you can do nothing. Bewailing and lamenting your manifold sins does not in itself make up for them. Scouring your soul in a frenzy of spring cleaning only sterilizes it; it does not give it life. On Good Friday, finally, we are all mourners and mockers alike.....Good Friday is the day when we can do nothing at all.
Our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness. His blood and his righteousness.
I passed the intersection at Carlos with its one blinking, yellow light and crossed the bridge over the pipeling that carries the coal slurry to the plant a few miles further on. From there the road bent northward to cross the river.
As I broke out of the ines and into the fertile bottomand, the spring again assaulted me. The land below, emerging from the tendrils of morning fog, was a tangle of luxuriant fertility.
Clouds of pink and white, effulgent enough to inebriate the soberest soul, lured one's live of vision into the darkest trees. Acres of bluebonnets streaked up the red clay banks of the river. The earth, on this Good Friday, cast forth its life, heedless of the sacrifice that sustained it. Its callous, regardless life, sucked from the source it can never repay, never replenish. Continually drawing on the death of its Savior to live. Just like me.
Read the entire essay and many others in Epiphanies, edited by Eugene Peterson and Emilie Griffin, published by Baker Books.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Preparation. Sacrifice. Redemption. Memory, a Reflection on Exodus 12:1-14; John 13:1-17, 31b-35.

They're preparing to share the Passover meal.

The passage from Exodus reminds of the directions for the first Passover. The Lord had told them that on the night before they were to escape slavery in Egypt, the entire congregation of Israel was to assemble in order to slaughter lambs for a meal. Each household would have a lamb and include neighbors whose household was too small for its own lamb.

And the passage reminds of what is remembered as they continue to gather--their rescue. After the supper, a plague had come through Egypt striking down the first-borns. Only Israel had been saved.

Jesus knows that on this Passover, his hour has come. He knows of his upcoming death and of the betrayal by one close to him.

On this last Passover, with the memory of what happened on the first one and what has happened to his people since, Jesus chooses to wash the feet of his disciples.

Peter considers this unseemly, but Jesus insists, "You'll understand later."

We, the church, are living in the later. I'm wondering which is harder to understand--that I am to allow Jesus to stoop down and perform the work of a lowly servant, or, that Jesus is asking me to emulate him, that I'm expected to stoop down and perform servant work.

Jesus tells them how his disciples will be recognized. They will be the ones who have love for one another.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Don't Lose Heart, Reflection on Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 70; Hebrews 12:1-3; John 13:21-32

The Lord God gave Isaiah a job--to bring the people home from exile. And the Lord God gave him tools--a tongue of a teacher and an ear to listen. Isaiah's job turned out to be a hard one. He was a prophet long enough to have learned disappointment and long enough not to give up. 

The reading from Hebrews also expresses perseverance. The task is not easy, but we have an example in Jesus. He endured pain, ignored shame, and now sits at the right hand of God.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that wa set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. consider him who endured such hostility aainst himself from sinners, so that you may not grow wear or lose heart.
Here we are in Lent, that time set aside on the Christian calendar for reflection and repentance. Today, we read about the last meal that Jesus shared with his closest disciples before his crucifixion. His people, sharing a table, eating together. And one will betray him.

Jesus knows about the upcoming betrayal and knows the identity of the one who is to betray him. The others don't seem to have a clue. Jesus knows and he allows the betrayal to take place.  Even with difficulties, God's work is to be done, God is to be made visible to the world.