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

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Hope in the Lord, a Reflection on Psalm 131

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

Back to the psalm.

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

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

Monday, December 26, 2016

Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, Luke 2:22-40

As a human child, born to Jews in that part of the world, he was taken to the temple in Jerusalem. This ritual was in response to the law that the first born belonged to the Lord. Note that the law intended for the parents to offer a substitutional sacrifice, e.g., a pair of turtledoves or pigeons.

Notice how Luke blends into his account both law and the Spirit. The family is religiously scrupulous--in ways that may no longer be applicable in their specifics but are admirable in their attentiveness. They come to the temple because their religious practices require it. Simeon comes to the temple because he has been led by the Spirit. Look around you at church Sunday. The people you will see there have come because they think it is the right thing to do, the expected thing. And you will see people who have been led there by the Spirit. And for some, both apply.

A traditional canticle in Evening Prayer is the Nunc Dimitis, Simeon's prayer of praise to God when he sees the infant Jesus brought into the temple. YouTube has many, many videos of this canticle; e.g.  Nunc Dimittis (Stanford).

Another blending in this passage--the salvation promised by the prophets is not just for the traditional religious insiders. As you pray Simeon's prayer, consider who are the Gentiles in our world
Read about Anna's response, and think about your own.

Here are some excuses that will not work:
I'm too old.
I'm not important.
I don't have family support.
I'm not able to get around very far.
At least, they didn't work for Anna. She spoke out freely and to everyone. Why is it that we don't speak about what we know?

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Ascribe to the Lord, a Reflection on Psalm 96

Verses 7 and 8 in the Common English Bible say "Give to the Lord....". The New Revised Standard Version says "Ascribe to the Lord." Several years ago as I was reading this passage in the NRSV, I wondered when was the last time that I heard the word "ascribe" in conversation. I don't think I use it often--or, ever. So, of course, I googled it. That's how I learned that ascribe is used as a company name. For example:
Our Ascribe™ Consumer Content Platform provides the ability to extract insight from unstructured data anywhere and transform it into actionable insights. ... (my source at the time was, but when I checked it to confirm the source, I couldn't find this citation for a company).
Although I'm not sure what a content platform is, I do see a powerful metaphor in their description of what it does--provide the ability to extract insight from unstructured data. I'm asking myself, "Where did I see God today?" That is, as I go through my normal day, as I meet people and events, how do I see God working through them, being present to me?

But not just noticing.

As I continue to read the description of the content platform, it promises not only to extract insight but also to transform it into actionable insights. That is, to do something with the awareness.

Psalm 96 promises that the Lord is coming to judge the world, to judge it with righteousness and with truth. May we live lives that make this news good.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Who gets the news first, a Reflection on Luke 2:1-14

Augustus is emperor; Quirinius is governor. The emperor decrees that all persons be registered; that is, the emperor is going to make sure that he gets taxes from everybody under his control.

Then there are some folks who can't issue decrees. The only things they control are somebody else's sheep. And it is to this kind of person that the angels go with their news. Not the emperor, not the governor, but the shepherds.

The shepherds.

Although shepherds had a positive image in the Old Testament--think of the 23rd Psalm for example--shepherds living and working at the time of Jesus' birth were not viewed positively. Rather, they were regarded as lower class, untrustworthy, migrant workers who used other people's grass to feed their sheep.

The shepherds were not expecting the news. They were at work, and, to their society at the time, not very well-thought-of work. Yet, the Lord sent a messenger to them with the good news.

The response of the shepherds was immediate. They went to Bethlehem at once to see for themselves. And when they had seen, they told what they had seen.

Think about who God trusted to receive and carry messages. Try to imagine a modern-day counterpart to first-century shepherds. Would you be interested in anything such people had to say to you? Is it hard for you to imagine God's telling them something before letting you know?

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Prayer inspired by Luke 1:26-49

All creation rejoices,
with Mary,
that you choose to be born
and not remain Pure Being,
in her,
in us,
in this blessed realm of time and space.

You come to us,
and become through us,
in this evolutionary adventure of life, divinity fleshed in a Bethlehem birth but also in all willing souls,
who, with Mary,
and other up and becomes,
consent to give birth to you.

(from If Darwin Prayed: Prayers for Evolutionary Mystics, by Bruce Sanguin)

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Reflection on Luke 1:26-49

God can and does choose unexpected recipients for good news.

Long before, the Lord had promised David that his descendants forever would have their own place and not be disturbed by their enemies (2 Samuel 7:1-16).

Gabriel comes to Mary who is living in the land that King David ruled but is now ruled by Caesar in Rome. "Mary, you're going to have a son who will live out that promise made to David."

Imagine how the early Christian communities explained this promise to Gentile converts. How do we explain it to today's communities that have not traditionally been part of our church?

Gabriel, the messenger sent by God, tells her that her child is to be the Son of God. He adds the news that her cousin Elizabeth is six-months pregnant. Her fear and her questioning turn into acceptance, “Here am I. Let it be with me as the Lord wishes.”

God chose Mary. Mary accepted God’s choice.

Why did God choose Mary to bear the Savior? Why didn’t God pick a woman from one of the more powerful prominent families? Why would God choose the backwater of the Empire to be the birthplace of the Savior? Why not Rome, say?

Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior. From now on, all generations will call me blessed because of what God has done for me.”

Continu reading verse 50-55. She then describes what God has already done. Notice how Mary’s song emphasizes differences: God has brought down the powerful and lifted up the lowly. God has fed the hungry and sent the rich away empty.

Questions: Who should be reassured by this song? Who should start worrying?

Mary reminds us that God has helped Israel according to the promises made to our ancestors. God’s promise is to Abraham and his descendents forever.

Question: How do these words sound to us Christians when we realize that both Jews and Muslims consider Abraham to be their ancestor, as well?

Monday, December 12, 2016

Prayer for the Less-than-Confident, a reflection on Luke 1:26-49

Come, angel Gabriel,
mute the voice of disbelief within, and the voice of cynicism without, telling us that we are not
smart enough,
important enough,
powerful enough,
to birth your dream for creation.

(from If Darwin Prayed: Prayers for Evolutionary Mystics, Bruce Sanguin).

Monday, December 5, 2016

Promises, a reflection on Isaiah 61:1-11

The prophet is proclaiming God's welcome to the returning exiles, "You are released from your captivity." He is echoing the words from Leviticus 25 that describe the jubilee, the point at which a debtor is freed from burden and allowed to return home.

We are reading this scripture during Advent;  so, we usually interpret these words during this season as predicting how much better off we'll be when Christ returns. This year, I'm struck by how they fit not only the Advent season but also the specific economic condition in which so many are finding themselves this day.

Isaiah has just said that he has been sent to preach and care for oppressed, broken-hearted, captive people. His message to these who had been mourners is renewal and restoration. John Goldingay comments on this promise, "Disgrace will give way to splendor and recognition as a people YHWH has made commitment to" (Old Testament Theology, Vol 2).

Moreover, this relationship with God will never end, "I will make an everlasting covenant with them."

Questions to consider:
What are the obligation inherent in being a blessed people? How frightened should we be to read the Lord's words, "I love justice, I hate robbery and wrongdoing; I will faithfully give them their recompense." If the covenant is everlasting, can it be broken?

I saw a lot of ads for Christmas gifts in the newspaper this morning. We're in a season of thinking about (obsessing about?) what to buy for others and what we hope others are buying for us. And then I read this passage from Isaiah.

We're going to get new clothes but these garments are metaphorical. We're going to be clothed in salvation and righteousness. In addition to not requiring more closet space, these gifts are ones that we should have asked for, ones that will change our lives.

And not just our lives. These gifts are not just for us insiders. Read verse 11. These gifts are for all the nations.

On which list do you put salvation and righteousness higher than, say, a new big screen TV or one of those retro gamer crates? Do you think it is good news that God has promised salvation and righteousness to foreigners? Does it depend on how foreign they are?

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Everyone, a reflection on Joel 2:12-13, 28-29

In verse 28, the Lord is quoted as saying, "I will pour out my spirit on everyone, so everyone can share what I can do" then in verse 29 lists categories that describe opposite kinds of people--old and you, rich and poor, employed or unemployed, male and female.

Who in your congregations now share their knowledge of God?

Whose visions are you likely to trust?

Monday, November 28, 2016

All means all, a Reflection on Joel 2:12-13, 28-29

As we move through Advent, we read this message (warning?) from Joel: Sound the alarm. The day of the Lord is coming, a day of darkness and gloom. (Read Joel 2:1-11).

Yet, even in the face of our deserved judgment, the Lord continues to beckon, "Return to me."

Let us heed Joel's reminder: Rend your hearts and not your clothing (13).

What do we need to give up (or to take up) that is our way of fasting, weeping, and mourning?

Keep reading.

In verse 13, we see the familiar doxology of God's mercy (Exodus 34:5-7). Then, in verses 28-29 comes God's promise to us, all of us--old, young, male, female, free, slaves. God's spirit will be poured out on all of us so that we can prophesy, that we can dream, that we can see visions.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Reflection on Daniel 6:6-27

Daniel's outstanding achievements were so outstanding that his competitors became jealous. They plotted a way to have Daniel thrown into a pit of lions. The Lord protected him. King Darius was so impressed that he had Daniel's accusers along with their whole families thrown to the lions.

Darius published a proclamation throughout his kingdom that the God of Daniel was the living, eternal, all-powerful God.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Reflection on Jeremiah 36:27-28

After the king had destroyed the scroll that told of God's words telling that repentance was necessary and would be beneficial to them, God told Jeremiah to get another scroll and rewrite the message.

Question arising from reading this passage: How many times do we have to hear before we're ready to listen?

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Reflection on Jeremiah 36:21-23

The people of Jerusalem (and out of Jerusalem) had gathered at the temple. At the gate of the temple, Baruch read from the scroll that recorded the words that the Lord had spoken to Jeremiah. (Jeremiah was not allowed to speak there.) Although the king himself had not been in attendance, he got a report. When he heard the words that Baruch had read, the officials directed him to bring the scroll and read it to them.

When they related the words to the king, he began cutting off pieces of the scroll and threw them in the fire.

Back to us: When we are told what God wants us to do, and it's not something we want to do, do we react the way the king did?

Monday, November 14, 2016

reflection on Jeremiah 36:1-8

The Lord had told them over and over what they were supposed to do. Over and over they had ignored those commands.

Trying yet again, the Lord told Jeremiah: Here are your choices. Doing bad things results in disaster. But, if they repent, I'll forgive them.

Since Jeremiah himself was not allowed to enter the house of the Lord in Jerusalem, he commissioned Baruch to carry the message. "Write down all I have been told and read it in the hearing of all the people of Judah who have come to the house of the Lord."

Baruch did as he was told.

Questions that arise from reading this passage: How is God's word being communicated to us? Do we bother to repeat to anybody what we have learned?

Monday, November 7, 2016

An unclean prophet, a Reflection on Isaiah 6:1-8

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?

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Justice or Mercy? a reflection on Jonah 4:1-11

Jonah had warned Nineveh that God was going to destroy the city. Much to Jonah's disappointment, they had repented. So God's mind was changed. Jonah was not happy. He demanded of God, "Why did you forgive the Ninevites? The reason I had fled from the assignment to come to Nineveh was that I had thought of you as a merciful and compassionate God. Then when you forced me to come here anyway,  I expected you to demonstrate justice not mercy.  I give up."

Jonah waited to see what would happen next. God provided him with a shrub to give him shade to make him more comfortable while he waited. Then God sent a worm to destroy the shrub and followed that by sending a dry hot wind. Jonah was so angry that God had killed the shrub that he said he was ready to die.

God asked him, "Why are you so sympathetic to the shrub when you were so unforgiving of the people of Nineveh? Can't you see why I would pity those people?

Can we? Which is more important--justice or mercy? Can justice include mercy?

(influenced by Kelly J. Murphy in Women's Bible Commentary)

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Amnesty for Immigrants

Compare Clinton//Trump stands on amnesty:

A proposed comprehensive immigration reform bill that was debated in the United States Senate creating a guest-worker program to help employers fill low-paying jobs:

Resistance to amnesty

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

From the belly of the beast, Reflection on Jonah 2

In the first chapter of the book of Jonah, we are not given any hint about why the Lord had picked Jonah for the assignment. We are not given any hint that Jonah had ever sought out the Lord's attention for help or to give thanks.

Now, that Jonah's life is in danger, he finally does pray, "I called to you when I was in distress, and you answered. When I was dying, I remembered you; I prayed to you."

He appends to his prayer of gratitude a slam against false worshipers: "They forsake their true loyalty, but I will know and remember and announce by word and action that deliverance belongs to the Lord."

After his prayer, the Lord delivers Jonah from his plight. We're not sure whether Jonah's prayer was in response to things that God had done for him over and over in the past, or whether Jonah is anticipating this particular rescue, or whether the editors of the book were worried about chronology.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Running Away, Reflection on Jonah 1

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

As far way as Nineveh is, God cares anyway.

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

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

The Lord does not give up. The ship is caught in a big storm. Everybody on b0ard is praying--to many different gods. They have not had the opportunity to know about the Lord our God.

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

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

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

Questions to consider:
Have you slept through challenges?

Are there groups to whom you are unwilling to approach?

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

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

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Restoring Her Son, a Reflection on 1 Kings 17

Her son died.

In her grief, she turned on Elijah, blaming him.

Elijah took her son and prayed to the Lord to let the child live.

The Lord heard Elijah's plea; the boy revived.

When Elijah brought her son back to her, the mother responded, "Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the Lord is truly in your mouth."

Lessons in this lesson:
People who know God turn to God in time of need.
God cares for people who aren't necessarily very important to the world.
Recipients of God's care can react with gratitude.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Movies about Jonah/ Louis Armstrong
Louis Armstrong:

Listen and Obey, a Reflection on 1 Kings 17

Elijah was a prophet of God at a time when the king of Israel, Ahab, married Jezebel, a worshipper of Baal. God was angry with Ahab. Elijah said so. The Lord told him "Go hide by the Wadi Cherith. It has plenty of water, and I'll see you get food." Elijah did what he was told, and things worked out for a while. Then the wadi ran dry (16:29-17:7).

The Lord told Elijah where to go for food.
I'm thinking about how unlikely the choice might have seemed to Elijah. The place was at the center of Baal worship. The person he was supposed to get help from was a woman. He, a stranger, was supposed to approach a woman. Moreover, she was a widow; that is, she wouldn't be expected to have much in the way of financial resources.

But, the Lord had included the assurance, "I have have commanded her to feed you."

Elijah trusted the Lord enough to comply with the instruction.

When he got to the widow's place and asked her for some food, she told him, "As sure as the Lord your God lives, I have only enough for me and my son to have one small meal and then we'll die."

Apparently although she lives in Sidon, she knows about the God that Elijah worships--and obeys.

Elijah responds to her, "Do not be afraid. Go ahead and fix the meal for you and your son, but, first, make me a little cake. The Lord God of Israel will provide you with all the food you need for as long as you need."

She did. And the Lord did.

She trusted God's word that came to her through a prophet, a foreigner.

Monday, October 17, 2016

A Kingdom with No End, Reflection on 2 Samuel 7:1-17

David had been victorious over his enemies--internal as well as external ones. He has been made king over all of Israel. He has brought back the ark of God from where it had been hidden during the battles. they put the ark in a tent and made offerings to the Lord.

David is living in a house and decides that the ark should have a house as well.

The Lord tells Nathan what to tell David about this idea.

The Lord is responsible for the beginning of David's story, his success against his enemies, and for David's future. David has it backwards if he thinks that it depends on him to provide a house for the Lord.

The Lord will build David's house.

The house and kingdom shall last forever.

A problem arises for us as we read these verses. David's son, Solomon, did build a temple--that was destroyed by the Babylonians. After the return of the exiles, a temple was built to replace it. Did the people think that God meant only for David not to build a temple? How did we discern that great houses of worship are appropriate and helpful?

We usually read the word "house" in this section to also mean "family." That is, we interpret God's promise to mean that David's descendants would rule Jerusalem forever. How long is forever? Foreign powers overtook their land. David's house was taken into captivity.

Another problem with the promise of forever. Would that mean that no matter what David or his children, grandchildren, and great (and so on) grandchildren did, that God would remain in relationship with them, provide for them? That is, does sin matter to God? Are we not being help responsible for our actions? See 1 Kings 9:4-7 for a statement of the conditional covenant).

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Don't Gloat Too Soon, a Reflection on 1 Samuel 2:1-10

What people today can sing Hannah's song with gratitude and sincerity? Who hopes to see God act in the way that Hannah describes?

How could the powerful be happy about the promise that their weapons will be destroyed? Or, how could people who now have full stomachs look forward to having to accept jobs that pay barely enough for food?

Do those rich, powerful, well-fed folks somehow think they deserve what they already have? Hannah thought differently. "Get over yourself," she said.

God cares about the poor, Hannah promises.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Lack of Perception, a Reflection on 1 Samuel 1:9-20

Hannah did not have what society valued in a woman and what she herself wanted desperately. The other wife had many children but lacked the love of their husband. She acted out her resentment and jealousy.

Elkanah did notice that Hannah was upset but didn't know or wouldn't admit knowing why.

We can generalize and modernize this situation. Some people have more things than others do. The haves sometimes lord it over the have-nots. Jealousy affects us badly. People in authority sometimes are clueless.

In Hannah's case, she was determined to make her life better. Her solution was prayer.

When he saw her praying, the religious authority assumed she was drunk. Was he also clueless? Or, was he that unaccustomed to seeing fervent prayer?

Hannah responded to his criticism by explaining who she was and what her situation was.

Eli may not have discerned her sincerity before, but after hearing, he could. He told Hannah that God was going to grant her petition.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Sin and Intercession, a Reflection on Exodus 32:7-14

While Moses is on the mountain receiving instructions from the Lord, the people have remained below. They've been there a long time, and they think that Moses has deserted them. Without Moses, they think they have lost the Lord. They want a visible substitute; they demand that Aaron make new gods for them. Read Exodus 31:18-32:6.

When we think about what the modern day equivalent of the golden calf would be, we need to reflect on what helps us to feel confident enough to continue with our journeys and to what we are willing to make sacrifices. Note: journeys and sacrifices can be literal or metaphorical in this analysis.

The Lord looks down and sees them partying. The Lord says to Moses, "I ready to destroy them." But Moses intercedes with three arguments:

1. These are your people. You saved them from slavery.

2. You showed their captors how powerful you are. Do you want them to think you saved them just so you could be the one to kill them?

3. Remember your promise to their ancestor Abraham that you would provide descendants for him.

After hearing what Moses had to say, the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on the people.

We continue to offer intercessory prayers pleading with God to change what is happening to us--even, or especially, those outcomes that we may deserve.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Losing Sight of God, Reflection on Exodus 32:1-6

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

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

When he formed the golden calf and built an altar, he then proclaimed that the festival would be to the Lord. What was he thinking?

How easy or difficult is it for us to distinguish between what looks like Lord-worship and what is actually something-else-worship?

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

Monday, September 26, 2016

Starting Over, Reflection on Exodus 12:1-11

The Hebrew people are still in Egypt. Pharaoh has not yet admitted defeat. He is still refusing to listen. Things don't seem to be getting better. Things don't seem to be changed.

Yet, the Lord says to Moses, "This is the beginning. This is the first month of a new year." Then, the Lord gives what seems to me to be a surprising instruction, "Have a feast. Have a big feast. And put on your traveling clothes."

We may be living in the midst of trouble, of sadness, of disappointment. We may feel stuck in a situation that is painful and seems impossible to escape. We may wonder if God has forgotten us.

What is the purpose of the feast? Is it to help them forget how bad things are? I don't think so.

Can we learn anything from this passage to help us face our troubled times? Can we hold onto hope through difficult times?

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Thinking about our time, questions raised by Genesis 37:3-8, 17b-22, 26-34

Questions that arose for me when I read this story of Joseph and his brothers and thought about the over rivalries described in the Bible:
    Why are these stories included? What are we supposed to learn from them? 1) Do they remind us in some ways of what is going on in some churches, in some denominations? 2) and scarier for me since I am an old person: Do the mature always resist new ways? perhaps even scarier: Are the young ones sometimes right?

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Having Been Wronged, a Reflection on Genesis 50:15-21

Joseph's brothers had so resented him when, as a youth, he had lorded it over them that they had, after considering murdering him, instead, sold him into slavery. Later, he was able actually to lord it over them. He had risen to a high position in Egypt and had used it to bring his whole family there where they could escape the famine back home.

Now, their father is dead, and the brothers fear that Joseph will finally exact revenge on them. He doesn't. "God intended this for good," he says to them.

Joseph chooses not to do revenge. God gets to handle the revenge. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Genesis 37:17b-22, 26-34

Although Jacob is certainly aware of the consequences of intra-family jealousy, he seems to encourage it. After he has received a bad report about the brothers from Joseph, Jacob sends him out to see how they're doing and to report back to him.

Knowing what Joseph is thinking and saying, the brothers decide to get rid of him. The first-born, Reuben, and the fourth-born, Judah, step in to stop the murder. Instead, they sell Joseph as a slave to some traveling Ishmaelites (hear the echo of the rivalry between Isaac and Ishmael?).

Spoiler Alert: Coincidentally, or providentially, Joseph's dream will come true. Read Psalm 105:16-22.
When he summoned famine against the land, and broke every staff of bread,he had sent a man ahead of them, Joseph, who was sold as a slave.
His feet were hurt with fetters, his neck was put in a collar of iron;
until what he had said came to pass, the word of the Lord kept testing him.
The king sent and released him; the ruler of the peoples set him free.
He made him lord of his house, and ruler of all his possessions,
to instruct his officials at his pleasure, and to teach his elders wisdom.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Genesis 37:3-8

Jacob has returned home, is living where his father lived. In one way, he's living as his father lived: He has a favorite son. Isaac's favorite stayed home; the other son, Jacob, went into exile for decades.

The story changes as it repeats. In this generation, the father's favorite goes into exile.

This favorite son, Joseph, a 17-year-old tells his older brothers about his dream in which the stalks of wheat in the field that they have gathered bow down to his stalk. They didn't like him before and now hate him.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Faith, a Reflection on Genesis 15:1-6

During Lent one year, I posted this reflection:

When in doubt, he says so, a reflection on Genesis 15:1-6The passage begins, "After these things..." I looked back to see what these things had been. They include the rescue by Abraham (He's still called Abram at this point) of his nephew Lot who had been captured by an army in their sack of Sodom. The kings in the area, including Melchizedek who was also a priest, had blessed Abraham in recognition of his defeat of their shared enemies. The king of Sodom had tried to reward Abraham but he refused taking anything that would make him seem a beneficiary of those powers (14). 

Abraham is there because the Lord had told him to move to this place (12:1-3). When they had arrived in Canaan, the Lord had informed Abraham that although the land currently belonged to the Canaanites, in the future it would belong to Abraham's descendants (12:4-7). Before there were any descendants, though, Abraham allowed his wife, Sarah (whose name has not yet been changed from Sarai), to be taken into the Pharaoh's harem. The Lord intervened, and Abraham got his wife back (12:10-20). 
But still no children by Sarah. 
In a vision, the word of the Lord came to Abraham. First, the Lord reassures Abraham then tells him he will be rewarded very well. Protection right now and, later, rewards to come. 
Abraham does not respond immediately with awe and gratitude. Rather, he reminds the Lord that the previous promise of descendants had not even begun to be fulfilled.
Can Abraham believe the shield part if he doesn't believe the rest of the promise? Remember, he has moved his family a large distance because he had believed what the Lord had told him.  
When Abraham doubts, he expresses those doubts openly and directly. 
The word of the Lord comes to Abraham. "Look at the sky and count the stars. There are too many to count. That's how many descendants you are going to have." 
We are told that Abraham believed the Lord.
Side points: The commentary to verse 6 in the New Interpreter's Study Bible points out that the word translated as "believe" also means "trust" and that the New Testament authors interpreted this verse in contrasting ways:
     The apostle Paul, in his explanation of God's inclusion of the Gentiles into the kingdom of God, later interpreted this verse to mean that faith apart from the works of the Law, is the ultimate basis for salvation. By contrast, the Letter of James interprets this verse to mean that works must accompany faith.

Percy C. Ainsworth wrote about "The Habit of Faith" in Weavings. Here's an excerpt:

Faith does more than hold our hand in darkness; it leads us into the light. It is the secret of coherence and harmony. It does not make experience merely bearable; it makes it luminous and instructive. It takes the separate or the tangled strands of human experience and weaves them into one strong cable of help and hope.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Genesis 2:4b-7, 15-17; 3:1-8

I've been reading Carolyn Sharp's Irony and Meaning in the Hebrew Bible. In discussing the different versions of creation in Genesis, she posits that while Genesis 1 with its interest in power and the controlling of chaos is a countering of the muddiness and unpredictable relationships we see in Genesis 2-3. She then asks,
Is Genesis 1 being ironized by Genesis 2-3, or does the ironic commenting work in the reverse?

Monday, August 15, 2016

Bless the Lord, a Reflection on Psalm 103:1-7

This psalm is a psalm of praise. It calls for praise and gives reasons why this praise is due.

But, who is the psalmist addressing?

The psalm begins "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me." When I pray this psalm, I am calling on myself to pray with my total being--not just part of me but all of me. And I repeat--I am telling me to do that.

John Goldingay in his Old Testament Theology, Volume 3, points out that this psalm assumes we can argue with ourselves and that we may need to stir ourselves up to that praise that is due the Lord.

These verses provide us with a reminder of what God does that makes us so thankful: forgives, heals, rescues, loves,  satisfies, vindicates.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Ask, Knock, a Reflection on Luke 11:1-13

One of his disciples asked him to teach them how to pray.

The first request in the prayer is "Your kingdom come." I'm wondering now how much that request centers in my own prayers. Or, am I more likely to skip over to the what I need right now part?

Now I'm wondering what the rest of my prayers would be like if I and all those around me lived in a world run according to what God wanted. Would I need to ask for bread? Would I need to remember to ask for only the bread I really needed? If I in every way and in every day acknowledged God as the one in charge, would I still need forgiveness for sins or would I have been able finally to quit sinning?

After giving them the model prayer, Jesus then describes for them what lives ruled by God's rules could be like. We would want to satisfy friends needs rather than be more concerned with our own comfort. And, our friends would be more concerned with answering our needs.

We may have already begun to learn to live in the way God intends. Jesus reminds them of the care they have for their own children. He then says "If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"

Then, as the community that is the church, the gifts we have already received and continue to receive from the heavenly Father are the means by which we can assure that our neighbors receive whatever they need.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Aftermath, a reflection on Job 42:7-17

After Job says "I relent and find comfort on dust and ashes," the Lord turns 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.

And some commentators interpret the book of Job as an allegory on the exile.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Restoration, a Reflection on Job 42:1-6

The Lord has been speaking to Job (Ch 38-41) reminding him, "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."

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.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Remember who's in charge, a reflection on Job 38:25-27

Four of Job's friends have visited him and gave him not very helpful counsel. The last one to visit was Elihu who told him that nobody could find the Almighty, "He is powerful and just but won't provide answers" (Job 37:23-24).

Then the Lord answered Job from the whirlwind. The Lord reminded Job of who was in charge (38:1-34). And who was not (35-38).

Questions that may arise from reading this passage: Is the Lord accessible to us? If the Almighty is almighty, what is our responsibility? Do we expect God to speak to us, to guide us, punish us?

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Post-prandrial boatride, a Reflection on John 6:15-21

The meal that Jesus provided, like that of the original Passover, was about more than food on one day. And it was about more than satisfying physical hunger.

When the Jews in Egypt needed rescue, the Lord had sent Moses. Hear the echoes of the Exodus story in this week's passage from John's gospel. A meal, shared. And rescue from the threatening waters.

Another echo--Jesus identifies himself to the disciples as "I am."

Another tangent: The disciples were at sea because it was dark and Jesus had not yet come to them. What responses have we made to darkness and loneliness? How has Jesus come to us even when we were in some boat in the dark? And, did he get in the boat then or not?

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

God Replies, a Reflection on Job 38:1-11

Reposting of earlier entry:
In the Job text, the Lord does speak, and, to emphasize the importance of the words, is speaking for the first time in the book.

"Man up. Answer these questions. Where were you when I was creating? Who gave me any help or advice about anything?"

Tangent 1: Please note that later the Lord will say "I'm angry with those three guys who kept mounting pious arguments to Job when he was suffering. Job is the one who has spoken right of me," (42:7-10). Thus, I'm asserting that God is okay with our needing to express laments.

Tangent 2: Allen & Williamson in their excellent Preaching the Old Testament quote Charles R. Balisdell's suggestion to exercise what he calls "tone of voice exegesis,"
that is, noticing that the way one inflects the text--the tone of voice--makes a significant difference in the meaning that one assigns to the text. The reader can intone the divine speeches with feelings as different as anger, arrogance, impatience, disdain, humor, or compassion

Monday, July 18, 2016

a reflection on Job 31:35-37

Job insists that he is innocent of all the charges that his friends have given as reason for punishment--so insistent that he says that if anybody would write an indictment, he would wear it publicly, and take it to the Almighty and tell him that he was innocent.

Note that Job, like his friends/accusers, accepts that God makes the rules and decides who is following them.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

I'm reading Elaine Heath's "God Unbound, Wisdom from Galatians for the Anxious Church." Here's an excerpt:
It is time for us to ask a better set of questions about being a vital church. Rather than counting Sunday morning worship numbers and the amount of money in the offering plate, let's raise questions about how people are living through the week. How is the church contributing to the flourishing of its neighborhood? In what ways are people in the church being equipped to bear the gospel into their own neighborhoods and workplaces? In what ways is the church living up to its baptismal vows to resist evil and injustice in whatever forms they present themselves? Questions like this help us live as bread and wine, given to the world.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

I Know My Redeemers Live, Reflection on Job 19:23-27

Job had replied to those who had been reproaching him, "How long will you torment me?" He recounted a list of people who had failed him, forgotten him, despised him. Attacks. Laments. 

Then this. Job speaks confidently that he will be rescued and that he will be in God's presence. Many commentators and other readers assume that Job is talking about God when he says redeemer. For example, hear an excerpt from Handel's oratorio, Messiah: 

I know that my redeemer lives

Monday, July 11, 2016

Reflection on Job 14:7-15, Is there hope?

As I read this Editorial in the Dallas Morning News and reflected on the violence and the hopeful aftermath, I thought about the woes of Job

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Reflection on Job 7:11-21

Job has pled with his friends to rescue him, "Tell me what you think I've done wrong. I am innocent. Rescue me." (6:22-30).

Dissatisfied, disappointed, Job is ready to give up. Death would be better than the life he has now. God has deserted him. In despair, he says to God, "What have I done to deserve this? Whatever it is, forgive me so this punishment can end and I can just die."

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Who's to blame, a reflection on the book of Job

According to Job 2, it's the Adversary, not the Lord, that causes the disasters to fall on Job. But, the Lord allows it. Do we need to make a distinction between what God does and what God allows to happen?

Monday, July 4, 2016

Unhelpful help, a reflection on Job 3:1-10; 4:1-9

The adversary in an attempt to prove to God that he could cause Job to stop being loyal to God.  Job has lost his sons and daughters and has been struck with severe sores all over his body.  His wife in desperation and despair cries out to him, "Curse God and die!"

Job replied that God who can send good is certainly capable of sending bad.

Three friends show up to comfort him. After a week of silence, Job curses the day he was born. One of his friends, Eliphaz, speaks to Job, "You have performed many good deeds. You have offered encouragement to many people."

He adds, "Now, that you are suffering, shouldn't you depend on religion for comfort? After all, nobody who does the right thing is destroyed. God destroys sinners."

Question: How often do we say stupid, harmful things that are based on our own sincere beliefs? How often do we assume that someone else's tragedy is really his own fault?

Thursday, June 30, 2016

when prayers aren't answered how and when you wanted, a reflection on Luke 17:5-6

Jesus had been instructing the apostles, and, at times, the crowds, in discourse and with parables what life with him would be like and what is expected of those who follow in his way.

They may have needed to have their confidence bolstered. They asked to have their faith increased. Jesus replied, "If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could get a mulberry tree to jump in the ocean just by telling it to."

When I was in the 5th grade, somebody gave me a necklace with a mustard seed encased in a plastic ball. I used to look at that tiny seed and wonder why the trees around me weren't listening to me. And I lived in a place where the trees weren't very big.

Other Bible readers, like me, have been troubled by this passage. Is Jesus promising us that we will be able to perform superhuman actions or great magic tricks? Or, is Luke using hyperbole or even metaphoric talk?

So, today, I turned, as I often do, to Fred Craddock in Preaching through the Christian Year C. He points out that the "if" in Jesus' statement can be translated in two ways, The word "if" could be describing a condition contrary to fact. Or, "if" could be describing a condition according to fact.

Try substituting "since" for "if" to see how this would sound in English. Craddock says Jesus is giving them "an indirect affirmation of the faith they have and an invitation to live and act out in that faith. They ask for an increase in their faith. He says that the faith you already have is effective and powerful beyond your present realization."

Do we deserve any special praise for following Christ? for accomplishing what he has required of us? Or, as Christ's servants, aren't we when we think of ourselves as doing good as dramatic as getting a tree to jump in the lake, aren't we even then just doing our job, just doing what Christ's servants are to do?

Monday, June 27, 2016

reflection on Job 1

Job 1
Reading the book of Job may raise some uncomfortable questions for us. For example, we're told that Job is a good man. He is honest, a person of absolute integrity, fears God, avoids evil. What else could God want?

One explanation (thank you, Harold Kushner) is that we shouldn't expect to get the answer of why bad things happen to good people but, rather, that we are hearing when bad things happen to good people. When not why.

The Elusive Presence, by Samuel Terrien agrees: “It is the theology of presence, not the problem of suffering which lies at the core of the poem.”

Friday, June 24, 2016

Need and abundance, a Reflection on 2 Corinthians 8:7-15

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 Book of Discipline ¶ 122. The Process for Carrying Out Our Mission-We make disciples as we:

Proclaim the gospel, seek, welcome and gather persons into the body of Christ; 
Lead persons to commit their lives to God through baptism by water and the spirit and profession of faith in Jesus Christ; 
Nurture persons in Christian living through worship, the sacraments, spiritual disciplines, and other means of grace, such as Wesley's Christian conferencing; 
Send persons into the world to live lovingly and justly as servants of Christ by healing the sick, feeding the hungry, caring for the stranger, freeing the oppressed, being and becoming a compassionate, caring presence, and working to develop social structures that are consistent with the gospel; and 
Continue the mission of seeking, welcoming and gathering persons into the community of the body of Christ.

Ekklesia reports that Rich countries have snubbed poor . What would Paul say to us?

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

No congregation is an island, a reflection on 2 Corinthians 8:1-6

Paul has been on a mission to raise funds for the impoverished church in Jerusalem. In this letter he asks the Corinthians to give. To answer the excuse of not having much money, he reminds them that the troubled Macedonians kicked in generously.

We Methodists of today also are asked--even the cash-strapped congregations--to add support to causes throughout the world. We no longer can depend on Paul to travel around the world; so, we have Apportionments

Monday, June 20, 2016

How to tell if someone is a Christian, a Reflection on John 13:31-35

They had gathered for a meal, one that we know was their last meal together. Jesus insisted on washing their feet. At the meal, Jesus told them that one of them would betray him. When he identified Judas as the betrayer, Judas immediately went out into the dark (13:1-30).

Jesus speaks to the ones who remain. "Now the Son of Man has been glorified and God has been glorified in him." Glorified, that is, made visible. It is now apparent that in Jesus, God is made visible to the world. Note the now.

"I am going to with you only a little longer. Where I am going you cannot come."

"I am giving you a new commandment: Love one another as I have loved you." Of course, this commandment was not new in the sense that they had never heard it before. See Leviticus 19:18 and Deuteronomy 6:4. What is new is that they will understand this commandment in terms of what Jesus does and what they will be willing to do.

He then told them the test by which Christians would be known--that they loved each other. Go back and read again: Now the Son of Man has been glorified and God has been glorified in him. By the love that Christians show each other, we can not only tell that they are Christians, we can see the glory of God.

Note: I am quoting generously from the commentary by Gail O'Day and Susan Hylen,

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

A Father Had and Has Two Sons, a Reflection on Luke 15:25-32

If Jesus had stopped at verse 24, we still would have a powerful example of unmerited grace--a father forgiving his son and celebrating his return. When we sin, we can find hope that we will be forgiven. When someone sins against us, we can find an example of how to show forgiveness.

But, Jesus did not stop with the celebration.

Rather, he introduced the elder brother. Like the Pharisees and scribes who had been complaining that Jesus was associating with sinners, the elder brother had always been obedient. And, like them, he wasn't happy at all about the inclusion of someone who had not exhibited much obedience.

He's particularly upset by the extravagant celebration. "I've done everything you could have expected, and now, you are giving a dinner for him!"

The father reminded the elder son that he still was going to get everything that he had been expecting to get. Celebrating the return of the younger brother did not change the status of the elder brother. "But," the father insists, "You need to be happy about his return. He was lost to us and now has been found."

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

What We Might Become, a Reflection on 2 Corinthians 5:20-21

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.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Reconciliation, a reflection on 2 Corinthians 5:16-19

Many days I use my Abingdon Press Lectionary Bible to read the scripture for that day. This Bible is arranged in lectionary order. Each week has the lections for that week. But, only the verses that are in that week's lectionary.

That's not enough some days. For example, today, I read the first verse in the lesson from 2 Corinthians, "From now on, therefore...." and stopped at the therefore. What was the fore that was different from the now on, I wondered. So, I got out a bible that is arranged in Bible order and looked back at the verses preceding this week's selection.

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.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Reflecting on Mark 8:22-26

Okay, something really good, really life-changing even, occurs, and I don't even recognize the change--Ever happen to you?

Doesn't answer my main question about the miracle: Why did he think the people were trees? Possible answer: He had been blind from birth and didn't know what people or trees looked like. Okay, go back to first question: Has something really good happened to you, so good that your past experiences hadn't prepared you for the change?

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

additional reflection on 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:10

I finally got around to reading what Allen & Williamson (Preaching the Letters without Dismissing the Law) had to say about the passage. An excerpt: Believers don't have to wait until after death to be in God's presence. The Spirit is with us now.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Interpreting 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:10 with the help of Ted Loder

Holy Spirit,
   this mortal thus made
      turns now to you to be remade.
Shush me to a stillness
   in which I can abide,
      unthreatened, for a time,
and let the wave of your grace
   roll, break, spread
      on the shore of my soul. 

(taken from "During the embarrassments," Wrestling the Light, Ted Loder)

Monday, June 6, 2016

Reflecting on 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:10

My paraphrase: We're getting older and our bodies are deteriorating. Yet, we are confident that things will get better when we move from here to go to where God is. Luke Timothy Johnson says it much better, "The apostles hope for a future glory; they do not enjoy it now....(S)uffering is meaningful for the future...They feel the anguish of being pulled between the desire for God and the need to serve others."

Thursday, June 2, 2016

You are the salt of the earth, a reflection on Matthew 5:13

Jesus gives two metaphors to describe disciples--salt and light.

Why salt? What characteristics of salt are displayed in discipleship? Salt preserves, keeps, protects. And, salt improves the taste of something. Was Jesus saying that the church was to do these things?

"You are salt," he said. Then he went on to remind them that if salt didn't perform the functions it was intended for, then is was not of any use and would be thrown out.

Is the church--or substitute "your congregation"--preserving, keeping, and protecting, or, making things better (Note: go back and read verses 1-12 to aid in answering)?

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Keep the lights on, a further reflection on 2 Corinthians 4:5-12

Beverly Gaventa, in Texts for Preaching B,  points out:

This passage may be particularly important for those churches that were once referred to as "mainline." The frantic search for answers to declining membership and for new identity for denominations might well be set in a larger context, one that at least considers the possibility that in some sense the church's ministry cannot be defeated, despite all appearances to the contrary.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Prod or Comfort, a reflection on 2 Corinthians 4:5-12

Paul wrote to the Corinthians of what seems like a paradox, that extraordinary power belongs to God but we who follow God may not always appear very powerful. Look at Christ, Paul says, he suffered and died. We may undergo afflictions, suffering, persecution. Keep looking at Christ. His life is now made visible in what we do.

The church is the Body of Christ.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Keep on forgiving, a reflection on Matthew 18:21-22

Jesus had strong words for his disciples. Look back at 18:6-9 for the imprecation against the strong interfering with the humble. He commanded them to seek the ones who stray and to bring them back into the fold (10-15).

But, what happens when that sheep is back in the fold and you would really rather have him leave. Last week's gospel lesson outlined a procedure for helping the church member change behavior. "If he won't change," Jesus said, "Treat him like a Gentile or a tax collector."

[Look back at Matthew 9:9-10 and 14:21-15.]

Now Peter asks, "How many times do we have to go through this procedure before we can give up on somebody?" Jesus' response is a number too big to keep track of.

Don't read this message as a word to those who are being abused that they need to stay in relationship with someone who will continue to harm them.

Don't read these words of Jesus as saying that sin does not matter. This message is to Peter. If the church is going to make it, then church members have to work together.

On a tangent: Am I right to read a requirement for repentance to precede Peter's forgiveness? After all, in the parable, the debtor begs the king for forgiveness.

The Power of Forgiveness ( explores recent research into the psychological and physical effects of forgiveness on individuals and within relationships under a wide variety of conditions and translates it into a popular, accessible documentary film for national public television.

The film also explores the role forgiveness holds in various faiths traditions. It provides an honest look at the intensity of anger and grief that human nature is heir to. We see in the film that there are transgressions people find themselves unwilling or unable to forgive. Through character-driven stories the film shows the role forgiveness can play in alleviating anger and grief and the physical, mental and spiritual benefits that come with it.

This includes feature stories on the Amish, the 9/11 tragedy and peace-building in Northern Ireland, along with interviews with renowned Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel, best-selling authors Thomas Moore and Marianne Williamson and others.

And take a quiz to see how forgiving you are.

(Thanks to the heads-up from Alive Now, September/October 2008 that alerted me to this website.)

Monday, May 23, 2016

Forgiveness thwarts Satan, a reflection on 2 Corinthians 2:1--10

Paul explains that he has delayed returning to Corinth because of an earlier troubled visit. He asks them to forgive the trouble maker that had caused Paul the trouble there.

"He didn't hurt just me because his hurting me hurt you. But, you've punished him adequately. Try now to forgive him. Try now to offer him comfort. Try now to show him that you love him. If you forgive him, so do I. When we are able to forgive, Christ has kept us from Satan's schemes."

That's what Paul said. I'm still working on what I think.

Friday, May 20, 2016

question arising from my reading 2 Corinthians 1:1-11

In verse 4, we are told that God comforts us in all our trouble so that we can comfort other people who are in every kind of trouble. I'm wondering now how often I make this connection in my own life. Why do I think God offers me comfort?

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Don't be afraid, a reflection on John 14:25-27

When they had asked him to show them the Father, Jesus told them they had already been able to see the Father. He added "Even if you don't believe my words, you've got my works to convince you."

Believe what you have heard me say. Or, believe what I have said. Or, let what you have seen me accomplish be proof.

Then he extends this pattern to include them: Those who believe in me will also be able to do the works that I do.

He's leaving them. But, the world will not lose what he has been able to do. The ability that Jesus has demonstrated to help them out will continue after the physical separation.

"In a little while, the world won't be able to see me any more, but you will."

"The Father will send an Advocate for you, the Holy Spirit."

Jesus outlines the work of the Advocate: to teach them and to remind them of everything that Jesus had said to them.

Jesus had spoken the words of the Father. The Holy Spirit will continue to speak to them--and to us.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Consolation, a reflection on 2 Corinthians 1:1-11

Paul tells the congregation at Corinth: God consoles us in our afflictions so that we may console others. God raised Jesus and will rescue us.

[Scholars tell us that 2 Corinthians as we have it in our Bible is a compilation of several letters written by Paul then combined but probably not in chronological order.]

In their Jewish Annotated New Testament, Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler point out that the relationship between affliction and consolation raised in 1:3-11 is the backbone of the arguments we will read in 4:7-10; 4:16-5:10; and 12:7-10.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

1 Corinthians 12:1-13

Different people have different talents, Paul told them. It's still true. For example, I cannot sing, but I like to stand in front of a room full of people and talk.

Paul lists several gifts that the Spirit has given to different church members. Moreover, every one of the gifts is important, even necessary.

Different talents but same source and for same reason.

Explore your Spiritual Gifts.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Varieties of Gifts, a Reflection on 1 Corinthians 12:1-13

Look back at the first chapter of Corinthians--Paul has heard that the congregation has divided into groups and the groups are not getting along. The more things change .... you know the rest.

Paul continues to lecture and warn and remind them of what they should be concerned about.

In Chapter 12, he talks about spiritual gifts. (We aren't sure whether the Greek term should be translated as "spiritual gifts" or "spiritual persons").

Paul tells them, and through them, tells us that a congregation is made up of people with different gifts. Both words are important: different and gifts.

Gifts denotes that we don't get these talents or abilities by ourselves. The Spirit of God has passed them out to us. Different is also important because difference is essential if the whole thing is going to work.

Note the pattern from unity through diversity in order to enable unity.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Reactions to the Pentecost Surprise, a Reflection on Acts 2:1-4 (5-13)

The Holy Spirit appeared suddenly, loudly, and effectively. The reaction was mixed. Some were bewildered, amazed, astonished.

Even when they found themselves able to understand in their own languages what the recipients were saying, the first witnesses either didn't know what was happening or made up a reason that seemed reasonable--they must be drunk.

Miracles or any exciting phenomena do not necessarily generate faith.

Peter responded to the lack of understanding and the rude remark by preaching a sermon.

Nonbelievers will not agree with our explanations. At least right away. After all, why should they? Allowing experience to explain phenomena is not unexpected.

Be careful with those sermons. They don't always help the unbeliever. At least right away.

I'm wondering what fraction of the people listening to a sermon on any Sunday are unbelievers. I'm wondering what they think about what they see happening that we explain has come through the Lord.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

1 Corinthians 15:1-26

Paul reminds the Corinthians the message he terms of first importance: Christ died, was buried, was raised, and appeared to witnesses including Paul himself.

Paul has received this gospel and is passing it on to the Corinthians. His knowledge is based on experience and scripture.

Now, back to us. We have had the opportunity of good, faithful teaching by hard-working teachers who were filled with grace and able to demonstrate that grace to us. And we have been faced with not-so-faithful, not-so-grace-filled teachings and examples. Let us hold firm to the good news proclaimed through Paul. Let us come to believe--and act as if we did. Let God's grace to us not be in vain.

The First Commandment, a Reflection on Mark 12:28-34

When a scribe asked Jesus which commandment is the most important of all. Jesus responded by quoting Deuteronomy 6:4-5 and Leviticus 19:18. He has been quoting Scripture to his opponents over and over. And although some have not been very happy with him about this, in Mark's version, this scribe is convinced.

Are we?

Do we love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength? Do we come even close to loving our neighbor as ourselves?

What is the most important thing for Christians to do or to argue about not doing?

What are the most important matters that should be discussed at the General Meeting this year?

(repeat from earlier in year)

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Knowing Fully, a Reflection on 1 Corinthians 13:12-13

How do we know that God loves us?

Is it because of something we have read? Or, is it because of something we have witnessed? Or, is it because of something that has happened to us? Or, something that we have witnessed ourselves doing?

How do we know that God loves us?

"Someday," Paul says, "we will know fully that which we can only know in part now."

But, we can start living into that day already. The love that we will know then is begun already in us where we are now.

We can see God's love in the community that surrounds us. We can be part of God's love now.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Get over yourself and get over them, too, a Reflection on 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

If we were compiling a manual on congregational development, We could file this passage under the heading Building & Maintenance. 

If your group wants to stay together and stay healthy while together, then some attributes are necessary. 

Love and tolerance.

Paul's description of love (notice we aren't talking about romantic feelings) includes patience and kindness. Moreover, it excludes envy and causes of envy like boasting, arrogance, and rudeness.

Implicit in this description is that the Corinthians were not all alike. Some had assets are qualities that the others lacked--otherwise, why would they have been envying or boasting?

A model congregation would include people with different talents (remember chapter 12) and different resources. But, differences can arouse ill feelings. Paul tells them that patient, kind love must be present for them to be an effective church.

And when those with whom we are associated fail to be patient and kind; when they continue to boast and be arrogant and rude, what are we supposed to do then?

Paul says love is the answer to this, too. Love means that we put up with their shortcomings, that we live as if we believe what Christ has told us, and that we look past what's happening right here right now to what is to happen.