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.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Words to Sinners, Reflection on Isaiah 40:1-5

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.

And this is good news.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Communion and Commission, a reflection on Luke 24:30-32

It was almost night when they got to Emmaus so they invited the stranger in.

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.

The other gospels don't tell us about Ascension; so, every year we turn to Luke: 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 commissions them, "You are witnesses that the Scriptures have been fulfilled."
Commission--I am sending upon you what my Father promised. Stay here in this city until that power comes.

While they are waiting, they gather in the temple.

I'm thinking that many of us Christians have gotten stuck in that period between Ascension and Pentecost. We have known the presence of Christ. We have heard and believed the promised made to us. We're expecting something great to come among us. We are gathered together in great joy to continue our worship of the Lord. We love church and we love the Lord and we love each other. But....

He reminds them that the part of our Bible we call the Old Testament is valid--and necessary for their understanding. We aren't supposed to cut off a large part of the Bible and we aren't supposed to cut off a large part of our neighbors--The risen Christ said to them that they were to include in their witness all nations. Does "all nations" include the people who live on my block that I have never even spoken to? Does "all nations" include people who are of a different socio-economic level?

Friday, November 27, 2015

On the road to Emmaus, a reflection on Luke 24:1-29

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 Emmaus, 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.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Reflection on 2 Kings 22:11-23:3

Back to Josiah. He realized that Judah had been ignoring the will of the Lord for a long time; so much,  that they deserved the troubles they had had. They consulted the prophetess Huldah who warned them that they had provoked the anger of the Lord, but that because Josiah had been penitent, disaster would not be immediate.

Josiah directed a public reading of the law then directed that the law be carried out. The temple was cleared of the inappropriate (and some really inappropriate things were going on in there.) He also directed that the alternative worship sites be destroyed.

They kept passover for the first time since the days of the judges.

God had warned them against having a king. Let us consider who is in charge of our lives, our decisions.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Instructions from the Lord, a reflection on 2 Kings 22:3-10

Eighteen years into Josiah's reign, he sent auditors to oversee the funds collected from the people and directed that the money be spent repairing the temple. In examining the temple, they found the book of the law. [For the contents of this instruction scroll, read Deuteronomy 32].

As I read this, I had two thoughts. First, I wondered if the US would ever get around to repairing the bridges. Second, why had I not noticed that they didn't have a Bible to look at all this time.

I'm adding a third--what does it take for us to notice that we haven't been looking at a Bible for a long, long time.

Now, a fourth thought, shouldn't we figure out how to fund the necessary repair to our infrastructure? Wouldn't that fit into caring for others?

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Reflection on 2 Kings 21

A very bad king, Manasseh, followed. So bad that the Lord told them that Jerusalem was going to be destroyed. Amon was the next king, and he also did evil--worshipping idols, abandoning the Lord. His servants killed him substituting his son Josiah as king.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Limit on Concern, a Reflection on 2 Kings 20

When he was about to die from the effects of a boil, King Hezekiah called on the prophet Isaiah. This interaction including the cure for the boil can also be found in Isaiah 38. Although King Hezekiah almost died, the Lord decided to let him live another fifteen years--and prevent the Assyrians from taking over Judah. 

The king of Babylon came to visit and Hezekiah showed him all his treasures. Isaiah said the day will come when Babylon takes over all that you and your ancestors have stored up.  Hezekiah appeared unconcerned about what would happen to his country or his children after he himself was dead.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Reflection on Isaiah 55:1-7 (posting although not in this week's Narrative Lectionary)

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 favorite ways was selling tickets for catfish suppers, grilled hamburgers, even chitlins, once. On the weeks of the suppers, the preacher would post on the sign out front:

Catfish Supper

June 27, 5-7 p.m

Cost $8

Isaiah 55:2 

She was a little disappointed that 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.... 

Sometimes when I read this passage from Isaiah, I focus on the everlasting covenant part, but, this week I'm looking harder at the repentance part. "Let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them...."

Remembering the parable of the fig tree that despite its three-year span of unfruitfulness has been given one more chance, I'm reading Isaiah's plea, "Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near."

Is there a time limit for us? Well, even if there isn't, shouldn't we start seeking? If we haven't been calling, wouldn't this be a good time to?

Abundant pardon is available. Today is a good time to ask for it, to live for it.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Not Living up to Responsibilities, a reflection on Mark 12:1-3

"What makes you think you should tell us anything?" the temple authorities had asked Jesus. He toyed with them some by asking questions they weren't willing to answer. Consequently, he didn't make a flat declaration of his source of authority. (Mark 11:28-33).  Instead, he spoke to them in parables.

For example, he told the parable of a man who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, and dug a pit for the winepress, and built a tower. He didn't oversee the operations of the vineyard himself. Instead, he took a trip and hired some workers to take care of it. They didn't do the job the way that had been intended. When the owner sent a steward to collect from the tenants his share, instead of complying with their agreement, they beat up the steward and sent him away empty handed.

Remember Jesus is talking to the persons who were responsible for the operations of the temple. Is he reminding them whose temple it is? Of whether they are discharging their responsibilities to the Lord as they should? Look back at Isaiah 11: Have they cared for the needy with righteousness? Have they shown righteousness and faithfulness to the will of the Lord?

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Ideal King, a Reflection on Isaiah 11:1-5

Isaiah was speaking to people who were aware of the devastation that the powerful Assyria had deployed. Israel had been overtaken. Judah was under threat. Yet, the prophet speaks a message of hope (Read chapters 9 and 10).

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. 

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?

Monday, November 16, 2015

An Unfruitful Vineyard, a reflection on Isaiah 5:1-7

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 to you to yield justice and righteousness. That's not what you did."

Saturday, November 14, 2015

The Request of James and John, a Reflection on Mark 10:35-45

James and John went to Jesus and asked him to do something for them.

I'm pausing here to think about what usually prompts me to pray. 

Let's go back to James and John. They asked Jesus for glory, to sit next to him. Jesus informed them they had no idea what they were asking. "Do you really want to be next to me? Are you prepared to do what I am going to have to do? Besides, it's not my choice anyway."

The other disciples were upset when they heard that James and John had sought preferential status. Jesus called them together and informed them of what it took to be great. "Greatness is not lording over everybody; for us, greatness takes a different approach. To be great, you have to be the servant. Take me for example. What I came for is not to have everybody take care of me, but, instead, to serve, even to give up my life."

Then, and even now, we have church leaders who display similar attitudes to James and John. They want to be in charge, and they want everybody to know who is in charge. They display little appetite for slavery to the needs of others.

I'm trying to imagine an advertising campaign for a church that would use some of the language that Jesus used with his disciples--that drinking the cup that he was going to drink or being baptized what he was going to be baptized. He had already told them three times about his upcoming death.

Had the disciples not been listening? Have we been?

Friday, November 13, 2015

Tests that we would rather explain away, a Reflection on Mark 10:17-31

Several years ago, three long-divided denominations, Methodists, Catholics, and Lutherans, made a public commitment to unity. Their agreement "on justification by faith, or how individuals are forgiven and brought into a right relationship with God, began with a colorful opening procession in which robed leaders of the three historic Christian traditions walked side by side."

I'm going to have to say that this doctrine is important and has been divisive. But, I wonder what joint statement they could issue on their understanding of selling all (17-22). Or, what joint statement could they possibly issue about Christianity requiring someone to desert work, home, and family (29-31)?

Yes, I know that Mark's community thought the end of the world was near and that they wouldn't have to live long without assets. But, still. What is the source of our happiness? How closely are we willing to live to Jesus' test of who would get eternal life?

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Questions that Test, a Reflection on Mark 10:2-16

Is there any reason to believe that the Pharisees had any sincere concern about women who were being divorced by their husbands, women who would have been left destitute?

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

God's Compassion on the Undeserving, a Reflection on Hosea 11:1-9

Hosea speaks the words he heard from the Lord. God is visualized as a loving parent of a stubbornly disobedient child. "The more I did for him, the worse he behaved. I taught him how to walk but he walked to places he shouldn't have gone. I loved him, fed him, cradled him in my arms, and now he would rather be with someone else."

Yet, God does not give up this rebellious, ungrateful child. Although the child deserves punishment, God continues to offer compassion.

"They will give up their sins. They will return home."

The first hearers of this message were living at the time that the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Judah were in conflict and the powerful Assyria had successfully attacked Israel taking many of its citizens into exile. Hosea reminded his listeners that the people of Israel had received much from God but had not been appreciative, that their own behavior had been part of the cause of their downfall. He used the image of Egypt to remind them that their actions before had taken them into exile. The reference to Egypt also would remind them that God did not abandon them there but led them home again. But, in that home, they had not behaved very well.

It's an old story but still is a relevant one. We, their descendants, know of the gifts granted to us and also know how we have treated them. We can base our hope on the God that spoke through Hosea, the God of warm and tender compassion, the God who will not come in the wrath we deserve but will welcome us back home.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Real Religion or Empty Worship, Reflections on Hosea 5, reading toward Hosea 11:1-9

What sins are the people being accused of? 

Is there any hope for them now? How lasting is our love of God? 

Is it any longer than that of Israel and Judah? 

What is it that God wants from them? from us? 

What are modern-day parallels to steadfast love, sacrifice, knowledge of God, and burnt offerings?

Monday, November 9, 2015

Unfaithfulness, a Reflection on Hosea 1:2-10 , reading toward Hosea 11:1-9

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Transformation, a reflection on Mark 9:2-4

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

If you keep reading Mark 9:
Then a cloud overshadowed them. And from the cloud came a voice.
What Jesus has known (1:11) is now told to these disciples: The voice tells them, "This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!" 

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

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

All the elements of Mark's account are there: the six days of waiting, the cloud, the glory, the voice, the descent from the mountain. Moses' face shone due to his experience in the presence of God. Exodus also describes the making of the tent of meeting. 

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Reflection on 1 Kings 18-20-39

Elijah sets up a test to prove that the Lord is God, not Baal. 450 prophets will call on the storm god to provide lightning to set fire to their sacrifice. They call on their god all morning and all afternoon. They hear no voice, no answer.

Who are we more likely to trust in times of danger, deprivation? Where do we turn for help? When we don't get an immediate positive solution, what do we do next?

The followers of Baal had been unable to evoke a miracle. Yet, when Elijah prayed to the Lord to do something to impress the people, the Lord responded with a fire that "consumed the offering, the wood, the stones, the dust, and even licked up the water that was in the trench."

Israel has been convinced.

Allen and Williamson in their Preaching the Old Testament point out that far more than a miracle story, our text raises questions of how we think and speak of God. Baal provides no voice and no answer. God is companion, vulnerable, affected by prayer, interacts with God's people and God's world.

But what do we think when our droughts continue? When someone else gets all the rain they need?

Monday, November 2, 2015

Testing God, a reflection on 1 Kings 18:1-19, Background to this week's reading

Ahab is king.  After marrying Jezebel, he worshipped Baal (the rain god), built an altar in the house of Baal he built and also a sacred pole." Ahab did more to provoke the anger of the Lord, the God of Israel, than had all the kings of Israel  who were before him" (1 Kings 16:29-34).

The prophet Elijah, whose name means Yahweh is God, tells Ahab what he has been told by the Lord, that a drought is coming (17:1-7).

Where does power lie? King Ahab lives in royal court, and has control over an army.

Elijah, a prophet, was first fed by ravens then stayed in the home of a widow who was so poor that she had only a handful of meal and a little oil in a jug. The Lord saw to it that she wouldn't run out of food. When her son became very ill, Elijah prayed to the Lord who listened, and the son revived (1 Kings 17:8-24).

After three years of drought, the Lord tells Elijah to go to Ahab. Risky because Jezebel has been killing the prophets of the Lord.