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, October 16, 2017

Need for a Change, a reflection on 1 Samuel 16:1-13

The Lord has regretted the choice of Saul as king and has informs Samuel it's time to anoint a new king. Samuel is afraid but does what God wants anyway.  Samuel misunderstands at first what is important in a leader. He thinks the one with he best appearance will do the best job. But, God tells him not to judge by outward appearance. The Spirit of the Lord comes upon David at the point of being anointed by Samuel.

Questions that arose in my mind as I thought about Samuel and David:
Who takes the role of prophet in our contemporary congregations?

Considering how many evil acts have taken place by someone using the name of the Lord, do we want to retire permanently the role of prophet?

Are our modern-day ordinations in any way similar to the anointing of a human being by a prophet?

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Hearing a Hard Message, Reflection on 1 Samuel 3:11-20

How are we to read verse 19? Do we lean entirely on the easy interpretation, "What God wants, God gets"? Is that what "the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground" means?

Or, should we be influenced by the context of this memory? Eli heard the hard word from God transmitted through the young Samuel. And Eli accepted the word. "Don't hide anything from me," he commanded Samuel. So Samuel did what Eli was willing to have done.

What would have happened to God's word if Eli had told Samuel to be quiet, quit running into his room, and go back to sleep?

Can you imagine being Eli?

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

When the Word of the Lord Calls, Reflection on 1 Samuel 3:6-10

Samuel heard God's voice but did recognize that whose voice it was.

Eli knew God, but it didn't occur to him that God would want to talk to Samuel.

It took three tries, but Eli finally caught on.

Would Samuel have ever known that God was intruding on his life if Eli hadn't told him?

When we are Samuel, we need Eli.

When we are Eli, we need to help Samuel.

Monday, October 9, 2017

One of These Days, a Reflection on 1 Samuel 3:1-5

"The word of the Lord was rare in those days...."

Had God really withdrawn from Israel? Historians can stack up the reasons why God might well have decided to ignore those people at that time. They certainly were not behaving in a way that indicated that they had been listening anyway.

Or, had God continued to be reaching out, and they just were too busy listening to their own voices and desires to pay attention?

When we feel lonely, abandoned, stuck in a situation without solution, can we hear God's voice? Or, when we feel complete, secure, satisfied, do we bother to listen?


Wednesday, October 4, 2017

The food that gives life, a Reflection on John 6:51

The feeding of the five thousand in John 6 may read to us an echo of the manna provided for a hungry people (Exodus 16). After all, Jesus reminded them to look back--to remember all that God has done in the past--and to look forward--to be assured that God will continue to find ways to provide all that is needed.

And we can remember both passages as we celebrate the Eucharist. As we step toward the altar and accept the gift of bread and wine (or juice, of course, in the UMC), we enter a changed life. Christ is in us. We are in Christ.

And as good as the rolls will be at Sunday dinner, this bread is even better.

Monday, October 2, 2017

The Journey and the Complaining about It Continue, Reflection on Exodus 16:1-18

Have you ever known anyone like the people in Exodus 16? God has brought them out of slavery, protected them from an attacking army, and provided them with water. Their response is to complain. "Oh, why did you bring us here? Things were so much better in Egypt."

What is the usual human response? How different have we human beings become over the millenia? Often, even when we can remember our deliverance, we still complain.

What is the usual divine response? When we cry out in despair, what does God do? What can we expect if we cry out in disgust with our situation?

God talks to Moses. Moses talks to Aaron. Moses and Aaron talk to the people. Moses tells Aaron to talk to them. Aaron does. Then, as Aaron is speaking, the Lord appears to the people. Or, was the Lord there all along, and the people finally woke up to the presence?

As a typical American, I think I'm hungry if it's supper time and I haven't eaten since lunch. What if I were a Puerto Rican this week? Or, someone from Houston suffering from flooding after Hurricane Harvey or somebody from Florida after Irma?

How does God send help to people in need? In Exodus, the food came down from the sky. Sometimes, God sends it through the hands of other humans. Sometimes, we are slow to help; sometimes, not.  For example,  read about UMCOR 's response to Irma and Harvey and to Maria UMCOR.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Digital Versions of Book of Resolutions and Book of Disciplines

https://www.cokesbury.com/forms/dynamiccontent.aspx?id=87&pageid=920

God finds Jacob, Reflection on Genesis 28:10-19a

Esau had sold his birthright to his brother Jacob for a bowl of stew. Then later, Esau loses the blessing due to an elder son. We weren't told that Esau resented his brother for taking his birthright, but we are told how angry he is over the loss of the blessing. When their mother, Rebekah found out that Esau had threatened to kill Jacob, she sent him to Haran to escape that fate and to find a wife while at her brother's house.

In this week's lesson, Jacob has begun the journey. He's on the way to the home of his father's father, Abraham, and his mother, Rebekah's. When it gets too dark to travel, he beds down. In a dream, he sees a ladder beginning on earth but reaching to heaven. Angels of God were climbing up and down the ladder.

The Lord God appears to Jacob and extends the blessing to him that had before him been received by Abraham and Isaac, promises a continuing presence with Jacob, and an assurance that Jacob will be able to return home.

Note that God came to Jacob where Jacob was. Jacob wasn't looking for God. Nothing is special about the place where he found God.

Questions that I ponder--
Why was Esau more upset about the loss of his blessing than of his birthright?
Why did Isaac never go to Haran?
Why does Genesis say the ladder (my NISB says that the Hebrew word could be translated as staircase) was set up on earth? Why didn't it drop down from heaven?

One of my favorite biblical theologians is John Goldingay. Here's an excerpt from his Old Testament Theology, Volume One, Israel's Gospel:

"At Bethel God promises to be with Jacob wherever he goes, yet Jacob infers that this particular place is one where God is present. It is God's house, heaven's door. Indeed, God later thus directs him back to Bethel and appears there, although also God speaks to him at Shechem (Gen 34:1-15). There is a rhythm about God's relationship with the ancestors, a rhythm of place and journey. It involves both fixed places where God appears and they worship, and journeys where they decide to go and God accompanies them...." (246).

Monday, September 18, 2017

Genesis 27:1-4, 15-23

A lot has happened to Isaac since last week's reading. He grew up but couldn't marry any of the local Canaanite girls. His father Abraham sent his servant back to their homeland to find a wife for him. He did. Rebekah. Isaac was 40 when they married. After 20 years, Rebekah became pregnant. She gave birth to twins, Esau (red-headed) and Jacob (who came out of the womb clinging to his brother's heel). Eventually Jacob tricked Esau out of his status as first-born. Esau eventual marriage to a Hittite woman made life difficult for Isaac and Rebekah.

In this week's reading, Isaac is now blind. He asked Esau, who was the hunter in the family, to go shoot some game and bring it back for Esau to eat. In exchange, Isaac promised to give him his blessing.  Rebekah helped Jacob disguise himself as Esau. Isaac was fooled; Jacob received the blessing.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Lord Will Provide, Reflecting on Genesis 22:9-14

The altar is built, wood is laid on it, Isaac is bound, Abraham is holding the knife. And God intervenes. "Don't kill your son." Abraham listens then turns and sees a ram caught in the bushes. He names the place, "The Lord will provide."


God has provided a substitute sacrifice.


God has provided an act of grace for a man who has shown over and over that he needs it.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Testing Abraham, Reflecting on Genesis 22:1-8

"After these things God tested Abraham." In their book, Narrative in the Hebrew Bible, David Gunn and Danna Fewell point out that Abraham has already sacrificed both of his wives twice as well as his older son Ishmael. They ask "What is the test? Does God think that Abraham won't risk this son in order to ensure his own safety?

He had argued with God about the proposed destruction of Sodom. Why does he not argue now? Gunn and Fewell suggest several arguments that Abraham might have used: "Take me instead. I'm old. The boy is innocent. You are a just God." Instead, Abraham gets up early and takes his son Isaac on a journey toward a place God had shown him.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

When God is Resting, a Reflection on Genesis 2:1-4

On the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done.

In 586 BCE, the Babylonians took over their country, destroyed the temple, and carried many people into exile. They had lost their home and their sacred place, the place where they had been able to meet God. Yet, God was not absent from their lives. According to Samuel Terrien, in The Elusive Presence, "Deprived of sacred space, they discovered the sacrality day of the Sabbath....The creator may seem to be absent from history, but he is present in the cosmos and offers man a means of participating in divine creativity. The Sabbath, whatever its prehistoric origins, became for the first Jews a sacrament of presence."

They needed to feel God's presence because in their lives it felt a lot like God was absent. Many others through time have needed this reassurance that although they feel as if they have been deserted or forgotten, God is still there, is still powerful, and is still interested in our lives.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Dominion, a Reflection on Genesis 1:27-31

God said to them, "Be faithful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over every thing that moves upon the earth."

Well, we've done very well with the multiplying and filling the earth part. If that's what God meant about being faithful, then we have been. But, if God was more concerned with the dominion part, we may not have been.

If dominion means something like dominate, then we humans have been working on that. But, if dominion really means something more like having responsibility for the care of, then we need to improve our efforts.

Monday, September 4, 2017

In the Beginning, a Reflection on Genesis 1:1-26

Bible scholars tell us that this part of Genesis was edited by theologians after the exile. In part, it is an assertion that the God of Israel is superior to the deities worshipped by the Babylonians. And it is an assurance that this God we worship is God who cares for the earth and all the creatures on it. Although God had allowed the exile, God could be trusted to restore the community on its return. (with thanks to Allen & Williamson's Preaching the Old Testament.

Into chaos comes the word of God.

God speaks, and light overcomes darkness.

God enters the world and brings order to it.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Home of God, a Reflection on Revelation 21:1-6

John envisions a new heaven and a new earth. Things are now different from the way they were; moreover, they are different because God has said so. Furthermore, in this new way of things, God will continue to be in our midst. God will continue to care for us.

Every day, several times a day, we face temptations to bow to the demands of the society around us. We, of course, care about assuring and protecting our own security. But, if we are Christians, since we are Christians, we have to take up residency in this new earth, one with tribes from every nation, everybody speaking different languages. We are all there together, all worshipping God.

Where once heaven and earth seemed so far apart, so separate, now, in Christ, we see heaven coming down to us. Where once we thought of God as far away, so separate, now, we experience God's presence right here, right now.

Reflection on Revelation 22:1-5

"Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life," chapter 22 begins.

The river flows from the throne of God and the Lamb--that's the source. And it flows right through the middle of the street of the city. What begins with God sustains the world.

On either side of the river is the tree of life.

This tree has leaves for the healing of the nations. The word "nations" means that the healing is not just for us insiders, but that is for them too.

Gail A. Ricciuti writes about Revelation 21:22-22:5 Interpretation April 1999

"Rome's power proves no match for the Power embodied in the River flowing from the throne of the God-Lamb, and the Tree rooted by those waters. The ultimate triumph of God is best imagined, paradoxically, in the organic, ecological realm, which proves at last enduring and indestructible in a way that all the the earthly powers were not. The final assurance we are given that God will preside over the end of history as over the beginning of creation, and really preside over it so much as dwell within it...."

The final denouement is not a threat but an invitation to us, as inheritors of a blessed future, to begin to build on earth the reality toward which our hope reaches out!

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Anointment, Betrayal, Communion, Reflection on Mark 14:12-25

Jesus is living under threat. As he is sitting at supper, a woman approaches him with a jar filled with an expensive ointment. She breaks the jar and anoints his head with the ointment. When Israel had kings, they had been anointed by prophets (See 1 Samuel 16; 1 Kings 19:16). The word we translate as "Messiah" means anointed.

Later, in a Passover meal with his closest disciples, Jesus tells them that one of them is going to betray him.

Then he takes bread, blesses it, breaks it, and gives it to them, saying "This is my body." He takes a cup, gives thanks, and gives it to them, saying, "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many."  We continue to remember this supper as disciples continue to gather. When we share in communion (every week or every month), our pastors follow those same procedures.

Then, as we disperse, what do we do next? How has our version of the Lord's Supper replicate the original one? Is there ever an echo of the presence of someone who is going to betray Jesus?




Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Reflection on Matthew 12:1-8

The religious experts knew what the scriptures say and they were very critical of those people who weren't following the rules. Jesus, on the other hand, knew what the scriptures meant and he was very critical of the critics. He summed up his interpretation of the scriptures by quoting God, "I want mercy and not sacrifice."

Timely?

Monday, August 28, 2017

Reading 1 Samuel 21:1-9 while thinking about Communion

David is fleeing from the angry King Saul who has threatened to kill him (Read chapters 18-20 for background describing why Saul is so mad and about the relationship between David and Saul's son, Jonathan).

David goes to a priest for help, but lies to him for the reason why he wants to keep his presence secret. When David tells the priest he needs five loaves of bread to sustain him during his mission. The priest tells him that the only bread they have on hand is the holy bread that is needed for a ritual and there's no one available that day to make any more. David then asked if the priest had any weapons available. The priest told him that the only weapon they had was the Goliath's and that if David wanted it, he could have it. David wanted it.

Questions arose for me. 1) Why did the lectionary compilers put this passage in a discussion of communion? 2) What is the motive that we have for joining in the Lord's Supper? What sustenance are we seeking?

Narrative Lectionary, August 2017

The Narrative Lectionary in August has been focusing on the sacraments and on Revelation. The sacrament selection this week is another look at the Lord's Supper. Suggested scriptures for sacraments are 1 Samuel 21:1-9; Matthew 12:1-8 or Mark 14:12-25. For a continuation of the study of the book of Revelation, the lectionary suggests Revelation 21:1-6; 22:1-5; and John 16:20-22.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Gifts of God, a Reflection on Psalm 65

As we come together to eat the bread and drink the cup of the Lord, we remember who is the source of our gifts and we give thanks.  Psalm  65 begins with an acknowledgment of the debt we owe God, "Praise is due to you, O God, in Zion; and to you shall vows be performed."

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Questions that arise from reading Revelation 6-7

Revelation 7:1-17
John's vision is of a multitude too great to count, a multitude made up of every nation..

Every?

Yes, every. Salvation doesn't depend on which borders surround our place of birth. Rather, salvation belongs to God on the throne and to the Lamb. Therefore, everyone joins in praise and worship.

How is your congregation getting this message of every nation?

One of the elders In this great multitude of creatures addressed John asking him "Who are these, robed in white? Where did they come from?"

John turned the question back to the questioner, "You're the one who knows."

The elder responded, "These are they who have come out of the great tribulation ordeal."

They didn't escape ordeal--which would be my first choice, but they did get through it.

Using 6:9-11, white robes are given to those who are slaughtered on earth for the word of God. Thus, we read this to be a description of martyrs who are victorious in heaven who, like Jesus, have given up their lives on earth.

John's words are intended to reassure people undergoing persecution on earth. How helpful are they to those of us who really don't suffer much because of our allegiance to the Lord? What is the message for us?

In the vision, one of the elders addresses John directly, promising him that God will shelter the worshippers (13-15).
They will hunger no more,
and thirst no more;
the sun will not strike them,
nor any scorching heat;
The Lamb (5:1-8) will be the shepherd.
The shepherd like the one described in Psalm 23. Also, read Ezekiel 34:11-30 in which God appoints a shepherd to oversee his sheep.

How far off is this promise? Do we have to die to collect on it? Or, is this vision of something that will happen to us on this earth--is happening to us on this earth?

Revelation 6:1-17 The seven seals are opened one by one. A rescuer is coming. Death will take a fourth of the earth with sword, famine, and pestilence, and with wild animals. But, those who have been slaughtered for the word of God will cry out for vengeance. The rich and powerful will hide.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Questions that arose from reading 1 Corinthians 11:21-26

Paul describes the tradition handed down from the Lord: Taking the bread, he gave thanks, broke the bread and said "This is my body, which is for you; do this in remember me." Then he did the same thing with the cup. He added, "Every time you eat this bread an drink this cup, you broadcast the death of the Lord until he comes."

Does this describe the way we still take communion? By the way, is he talking about communion or a church supper?


Monday, August 21, 2017

Questions that arose from reading 1 Corinthians 11:27-34

How disturbed should we be when we read verse 27, that eating the bread or drinking the cup inappropriately makes us guilty of the Lord's body and blood, that those of us who eat and drink without correctly understanding the body are eating and drinking their own judgment?

Who is doing the judgments that Paul is deploring  and those that he is recommending?

What are they doing that Paul find unacceptable? Is it not waiting for everybody to get to the supper?

Question about communion when reading 1 Corinthians 11:17-20

Paul informs the congregation at Corinth that their meeting together does more harm than good. The first reason he gives is that he has heard that there are divisions among them and he partly believes this. What would he have heard about your congregation? Is it possible to overcome divisions to the extent that you can share the meal in a way that it is intended?

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Home of God, a Reflection on Psalm 84:1-7

Here is a psalm that describes the joy of being able to worship in the temple, the longing to be there. I can't help but think about those Sunday mornings when we still had young children at home to get ready for church and wondering if the words of this psalm describe what I was thinking. Or, what am I thinking on a typical Sunday morning now? Does my soul long, indeed faint for the place? Do I sing for joy to the living God? Well, sometimes, I think so.

But this psalm is about more than looking forward to occasional attendance at a formal worship service. It is also about what happens to us because we have experienced the presence of God. The psalmist describes the path toward the house of God: "As they go through the valley of Baca (read this to mean a place of thirst), they make it a place of springs."

So, another question is raised by this psalm: Does the thought of attending church at the end of this week affect the way I go through the week? As I go through areas that lack something, do I work to fill the need? Or, do I even notice those needs?

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

On the Road, a reflection on Psalm 84

A worshipper of God is on a pilgrimage to the temple in Jerusalem. My husband and I are within easy driving distance of the church we attend. I read in the psalm, "My soul longs, indeed it faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God." I'm pausing to consider whether my soul longs and faints for that building I am headed toward. I do want to be there, I feel deeply (some weeks, anyway) the need to be there, but I'm not sure about the fainting part. Further disturbing to me is that while I am really, really glad to have that church and to be going there, I have never sung out loud about it while on the way.

So, what does this psalm say to me?

I'm not willing to leave it totally for the original psalmist.

Part of the difference is that the building I am talking about is one that I go to on the average about three times a week. The psalmist, I repeat, is making a pilgrimage. Yet, why would familiarity and ease about the access cause me to be less joyful?

Perhaps I am being too narrow in the application of the psalm to my religious life. Try this: my whole life is a journey toward the presence of God. As I go through my ordinary life--grocery shopping, TV watching, grandchildren enjoying, I am in the presence of God. God's dwelling place, God's courts, God's house--none of those are completely defined by any one building constructed by human beings.

So, Sunday mornings and the rest of the week, let me sing with the psalmist, "A day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. O Lord of hosts, happy is everyone who trusts in you."

Monday, August 7, 2017

What Can We Do Now? a reflection on Acts 2:37-42

Peter was speaking to a crowd of people who had not understood or recognized who Jesus was. Now they do. They ask, "What can we do now?"

Who needs to read today's scripture--the Peters among us or the crowds who didn't get it before?

It's far easier than we would want it to be to imagine religious people whose lives are being lived largely without any acknowledgement or recognition of Christ.

Peter denied knowing Christ and did so explicitly. He was afraid. Many later Christians don't voice any explicit denial, but their allegiance to Christ's teachings might be pretty hard to discern.

Who needs to read today's scripture?

Some of Christ's teachings may be easier for us to fit into our daily lives than others. Most of us can go through the day without committing acts of violence or stealing anything, for example. Harder though is giving up selfishness or fear.

Who needs to be asking the question, "What can we do now?"

Peter said, "The promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away."

We need to tell this story so others can hear, and we need to listen to this story so we can live the lives that Christ intends for us. We may be far away in calendar years from Peter's questioners, but do we really need to be far away in recognizing the need for repentance?

Monday, July 31, 2017

Health care, When they're against you, a Reflection on Ephesians 6:10-20

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


The modern-day application that came to me today was the debate we Americans are having over our government's role in health care.

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

Monday, July 24, 2017

Unity though Diversity, a Reflection on Ephesians 4:1-16

Insights from Ralph P. Martin in his commentary on Ephesians (part of the Interpretation series).

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

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

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

Monday, July 17, 2017

Surely you don't mean them, a Reflection on Ephesians 2:11-22

Here Paul is stressing that you can be a Christian even if you don't become a Jew first. We got over this hurdle so long ago that we have a hard time getting back into the mindset of the earliest congregations.

But, we need to.

We need to think about what groups we are excluding, and what basis we are using to exclude them.

Paul said to the people of his time struggling with the disputes of his time that Jesus had abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, so that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of two.

We are confident (pretty much so) that Paul didn't mean that anything goes. Should we be so confident that what we think is absolutely essential in belief or action is on Jesus' must-do list?

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Further reflection on Ephesians 1:1-14

In the Interpretation series, Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon, Ralph P. Martin reminds us that the "you also" reference in verse 13 means the appeal is to include Gentiles. Christians then needed to be reminded that somebody didn't have to be a Jew before being eligible to be a Christian. What entry-level requirements do Christians have to meet today?

Monday, July 10, 2017

Reflection on Ephesians 1:1-14

God's plan is to bring all things together in Christ. Although the first Christians were Jews, God's intention is to widen that circle.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Directions for Hallelujah Reflection on Psalm 150

The Book of Psalms ends with six psalms of praise. Psalm 150 is the last of these, the last in the book, and so helps us reflect on the entire book, all of the songs the ancient people sang and that we still--well, not sing so much--use to guide the words we use to address God.

This psalm begins and ends with the word Hallelujah--The NRSV translates if for us, praise God.
Psalm 150 gives directions for us in praising God. It tells us where, why, how, and who.

Where: in church and everywhere else, as well.

Why: in recognition of what God has done and can do.

How: with trumpet, lute, harp, tambourine, dance, strings, pipe, cymbals (I'm assuming the organ in the church can substitute for all these except for dance--what are we going to do about the dance part? maybe the organist would agree to help out with this as well?)

Who: everybody who breathes

[Under the heading "Quibbles with Commentaries" I read verse 1 as directing us to praise the Lord wherever we are, both in the sanctuary and out of it. The New Interpreter's Study Bible, on the other hand, reads this verse to mean that God's sanctuary is not in the earthly temple but in the heavens.]

Friday, June 30, 2017

Sing praises to the Lord, a Reflection on Psalm 30

In one of my Bibles, Psalm 30 has two superscriptions (what I would have called headings if I didn't also read commentaries). It is either a thanksgiving for recovery from grave illness or it is a song at the dedication of the temple. Or, it is both.

It begins with the recognition that the Lord has performed the rescue.
O Lord my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me.

It then directs the congregation to also give thanks.
Sing praises to the Lord, O you his faithful ones, and give thanks to his holy name.

It ends with the recognition that expression of gratitude is to be made openly and publicly:
You have turned my mourning into dancing;
you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
so that my soul may praise you and not be silent.
O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever.

As a person can be grateful for being healed from some personal sickness, a nation can be grateful for its restoration after a great disaster.

The notes in the Jewish Study Bible suggest that the psalm could have been used when the temple was rebuilt after exile, 515 BCE, or at its rededication after the victory of Judas Maccabaeus, 164 BCE. This psalm continues to be read on Hanukkah as well as part of the introductory liturgy for the daily, Sabbath, and festival morning services.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Gratitude for Healing, Reflection on Psalm 30

"O Lord, you brought up my soul from Sheol, restored me to life from among those gone down to the pit."

We can pray this psalm of gratitude for the healing that God has provided us.

And not just healing from physical diseases. Sheol is that lowest of places, a separation from all friends, a separation even from God. We are in Sheol at those moments of greatest distress and isolation.

But, even in Sheol, we remember our Lord.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Voice of the Shepherd, a Reflection on John 10:1-4

We are in the period of Jesus' ministry before the last supper but during a time when he is performing many miracles--displeasing his opponents, the religious authorities. Jesus said that he had come into the world to exercise judgment so that those who don't see can and those who see will become blind." His opponents responded, "Surely we aren't blind, are we?"

So, are Jesus' words in chapter 10 an answer to that question? Is Jesus talking to his followers or his enemies when he describes himself as the shepherd?

Whether he is talking to them or not, isn't he talking about them when he contrasts his own role as the shepherd with that of the thief and bandit?

He has healed a blind man; they have criticized him because he did it on the sabbath. Wouldn't a shepherd have been concerned enough about the sheep in his care not to look on the calendar before helping it?

The sheep can tell the difference between the true shepherd and the false one. They know which one to follow.

John was writing about Pharisees, but they weren't the last false shepherds. Christians must continue to distinguish between the voices speaking to them. Jesus says that the sheep can tell the difference. Is that still true of today's sheep? Do we recognize the voice of the shepherd or are we likely to follow some other attraction?

Monday, June 19, 2017

Shepherd and Host, a reflection on Psalm 23

Psalm 23 is surely the most familiar psalm to many of us. Some of us can even recite it; even more of us recognize it as soon as we hear it being recited.

I suggest a reason that it is so ubiquitous is that we need to hear its message, one of the love and protection that God offers to all of us. A love that protects, comforts, and just is always to be counted on.

John H. Hayes, in Preaching through the Christian Year B, points out that two different images of God are used in this psalm--shepherd and host.

First, the psalm begins, "The Lord is my shepherd." When we are in danger, or in need of direction, we can be comforted with that image of a shepherd taking care of the sheep who really need being taken care of, including being protected from predators, and being told when we are on the wrong path and being shown the right way to go.

Also, the psalm includes, "You prepare a table for me....." The Lord welcomes us, is generous with us, and will continue to do so; "I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long."

Hayes summarizes the diverse expressions of human experience found in this psalm:
One set emphasizes the troubles that threaten to overwhelm human life.... Another set stresses the positive instruments and acts of God's care.... Human life, of course, experiences both the negative and the positive.... This psalm presents the human predicament without any illusion about persons/ being superhumans and above pain, loneliness, and lostness; yet the symbol of God as protector and even corrector affirms the potential of a tranquil life lived amid adversaries and the harsh realities that are the ingredients of every life.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Psalm 13, a Lament Psalm

Over a third of the psalms can be categorized as Lament Psalms. They are important for us to read and to think about. They give us words to express our own sorrows, and they give us permission to use such words, to admit such feelings.

The usual format includes:
addressing God directly,
voicing the complaint,
and, often, expressing trust in God to handle the problem.

Psalm 13 begins, "How long, O Lord?" Are we uncomfortable voicing complaints and doubts?

The psalm asks the Lord to pay attention to the problem--because the situation is so dire that the psalmist must have help.

What has it taken in our lives for us to realize that we need God's help?

Or, are we usually more aware of God when we are in trouble than when things are going well?

Or, the other way around?

Following the usual pattern of a lament, Psalm 13 closes with an expression of gratitude to the Lord for rescue from the dire situation. Then, the psalmist turns to the congregation, "I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me." When we are grateful to God, do we remember to mention that to others?

Monday, May 29, 2017

Two Different Ways, a reflection on Galatians 5:16-26

Paul contrasted two ways of living: by the Spirit or by your selfish desires. He added, "They are opposed to each other, so you shouldn't do whatever you want to do." On the don't-do list: sexual immorality, moral corruption, doing whatever feels good, idolatry, drug use, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, and things like these.

Living by your own selfish desires will harm community because they do not demonstrate or require love of anybody other than oneself thus they are in conflict with the command to love your neighbor as yourself.

Remember the intent of the law is to build a community that would exhibit and allow God's love to prevail.

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

If you want to read more, look at Fruit Smoothie, by Dan Dick .

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Book rec

Jana Reiss tweets Galatians 3 in her you-really-should-buy-this-book, "The Twible": "You idiot Galatians! What part of 'saved-by-grace-and-not-by works' did you not understand?" Oh. Pretty much all of it.

https://twitter.com/janariess/status/678746858777366529

One Family, a Reflection on Galatians 3:23-29

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 22, 2017

Questions to ask myself as I read Galatians 3:1-9

When I listen to the opinions of some Christians then to some different opinions from other Christians, how should I decide which are right?

How do I grade myself on being Christian--by what I do or by what Christ has done?

Just how broad is that acceptance that Paul describes in the account of blessing Abraham and some other groups that didn't practice the rules that Abraham followed?

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Justified, a Reflection on Galatians 2:15-21

To whom is Paul speaking in these verses? We may well assume that since he is writing this letter to the Galatians, this section is addressed to them. But, if we read this week's portion in context, we may not be so sure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Gospel of Jesus Christ, a Reflection on Galatians 1:8-12

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

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

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

Monday, May 15, 2017

It's in the Bible, a Reflection on Galatians 1:11-24

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the United Methodist Church website under the tab Our People,  I read:

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

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Assertion or Pretense, a Reflection on Acts 15:1-18

Do you have to be heterosexual to be a Christian? For Methodists, the answer may be no if you're talking about joining the church. Many Methodist churches have accepted non-heteroes into membership--even if they admit who they are.

Does somebody have to be heterosexual to be ordained as a minster to the church? Obviously, or maybe not so obviously, the answer is No as long as you keep quiet about your sexual proclivities. But, Yes, if we modify the question to Can you be ordained in the church if you are unwilling to keep quiet about your same-sex relationship?

Christians have long been in disagreement, sometimes in torment, over the public acknowledgment of minister's sexual behavior. For example, married men (or any women--married or unmarried) cannot be ordained as a priest in the Catholic church (except for those situations in which an exception is made; e.g., an already married Episcopal priest moves converts to Catholicism).

Monday, May 8, 2017

What is Necessary to be a Christian? a Reflection on Acts 15:1-18

Back in the beginning of Christianity was a debate whether somebody who didn't follow all the Jewish laws could be a Christian. Some who held the strict view asserted you couldn't be saved unless you were circumcised (I don't know how this rule was interpreted for women).

Then Paul and Barnabas accepted some Gentiles into the church. Some Christians, quoting scripture, said that nobody who didn't follow the Jewish law could be Christian (Check Genesis 17:14, "Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant").

A church trial resulted. After hearing both sides, Peter asked, "Why are you challenging God by placing a burden on the shoulders of these disciples? On the contrary, we believe that we and they are the saved in the same way, by the grace of the Lord."


Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Another reflection on Acts 8:26-39

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

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

Philip responded by telling him about Jesus.

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

Monday, May 1, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some points to consider:

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Early Trial, a Reflection on Acts 6:8-7:2a.

Stephen was an outstanding spokesman and example for Christians. Opposition to his ministry arose. When they couldn't out debate him, they secretly enticed some witnesses to assert false claims about him. The witnesses testified at his trial, "This man never stops speaking against this holy place and the Law."

Christian preachers have through our history been accused of dissenting from accepted theology and church law.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Early Dispute in the Church, a Reflection on Acts 6:1-7

It was a time of church growth (Look back at Acts 5:12-16) although not without some harassment (Acts 5:17-42).  The growth had begun to spread among non-Jews. And, as the church took in people with different backgrounds, including immigrants, complaints also began to increase. For example, some of the Greek-speaking disciples thought they were not being treated as well as the original members.

The Twelve called a meeting of all the disciples and asserted that they had other responsibilities that deciding how to distribute the food. "This feeding everyone is cutting into our preaching time." They suggested that seven well-respected men who were Spirit-endowed and exceptionally wise be put in charge of serving the food.

Thus, the community selected seven (including a convert) to be in charge of this service. The original disciples would concentrate on prayer and preaching. The division of labor proved to be a success. The number of disciples increased significantly.

This passage to me is another example of "more of the same." Churches today still have disagreements. Long-time members and new members may have different attitudes and priorities. Moreover, even if everybody agreed on everything, people have different talents.

How does the Church divide the necessary work up? How do individual congregations?

Monday, April 17, 2017

The First Easter, a reflection on Luke 24:13-35

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 spoke to? Does "all nations" include people who are of a different socio-economic level?

Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Empty Tomb, a Reflection on Luke 24:1-12

The women had followed Jesus from Galilee. They had witnessed the crucifixion. Having accompanying  his body to the tomb. They withdrew in time to recognize the Sabbath.

On the first day of the week, at early dawn, the women brought spices to the tomb. But, when they got there, they saw that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. They went in but couldn't find his body. Suddenly two men appeared to them. The women were then told that Jesus was not there, but he had risen.

The women told the disciples what they had witnessed, but weren't believed. Peter did go check for himself to see if the body was missing. It was, but Peter still didn't believe what the women had told him.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Response from Jesus; Response to Jesus, a Reflection on Luke 23:39-47

The authorities had condemned him to a humiliating, painful death. Many onlookers had just watched--not voicing agreement with what was happening but saying nothing in protest. But other witnesses, powerful people and soldiers, had mocked him. Even one of the criminals condemned to the same punishment derided him in the same terms as the others had, "If you're the Messiah, then start saving."


The first dissenter to the scoffing and mocking is the other criminal who is being crucified with him that day. "We deserve this punishment because we have done what they have accused us of doing. This man has done nothing wrong." He then addresses Jesus directly, "Remember me when you come into your kingdom"


Jesus had not responded to the leaders or soldiers or the criminal who kept deriding him. But, he does respond now, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise." Jesus has not done anything to prevent his death that day, but death is not the end of life.


Converted that day was the Centurion. Or, had he already been converted? (See Luke 7:6-10.) 

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Reading toward Good Friday, Mockery, a Reflection on Luke 23:3-38

The leaders scoffed, "Let him save himself if he's the Messiah." The soldiers also mocked him, "If you are the King, then save yourself." Their point--since he was being crucified, then just how powerful could he be?

Allen & Williamson in Preaching the Gospel remind us that Jesus never claimed to be the Messiah or the King of the Jews. Rather, he spoke of himself as the "Son of Man" and of the kingdom of God:
But Luke's leaders and soldiers misunderstand salvation, seeing it entirely in terms of the continuation of life or military "liberation" and not as the restoration of people Israel through forgiving of sins, including the marginalized, feeding the hungry, or dying the death of a martyr, a witness, to all of these.
Those long-ago leaders and soldiers thought that anyone who couldn't stop his own death sentence must not have much power. We might ask ourselves what is proof to us of power? What goals do we think the powerful should have? And, we might also ask what salvation means to us--whether it can begin only after we die or whether it can start right here, right now.

Also we might consider what kind of people, what kind of actions that we make fun of.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Reading toward Maundy Thursday, a reflection on Luke 22:22-27, How do we recognize greatness?

They have gathered for Passover and are eating what we now term the last supper. Jesus has just told them, "My betrayer is at this table." Their response is, what seems natural to me, to argue about which of them would be capable of doing such a thing."

Then their argument morphs into a dispute over which of them should be considered the greatest.

I'm wondering how much modern day Christians have changed over the millennia. When we meet, how to our discussions go? What differences of opinion and attitude do we exhibit? Are any among us capable of betraying Jesus?

Back to their time: Jesus told them that assessment of greatness would be different among them that the current social description would have it. "Who is greater," he asked, "the one who is served or the one who serves?" He then gave them a hint, "I am the one who serves."

How do we recognize greatness?

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Reading toward Maundy Thursday, a reflection Luke 22:15-21

Jesus told them, "I won't eat or drink any of this meal until God's kingdom has come." He then took the bread, gave thanks, broke the bread, and said for them to share it, "This is my body, which is given for you." Taking the cup, he said, "This cup is the new covenant by my blood, which is poured out for you."

Hear the echoes from the first Passover, gathering for a meal, preparing for escape from persecution, and the need for a sacrifice.

However, at this Passover, is someone who will betray Jesus.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Reading toward Maundy Thursday, a Reflection on Luke 22:1-14

Jesus told Peter and John what to do to prepare for Passover. They followed his instructions, and all the disciples gathered for the meal. Jesus took his place at the table then told them, "I wanted to eat this meal with you before I suffer."

We may not be as familiar with Passover as Luke's first readers were. Look back at Exodus 12. God gives instructions to those Jews living in bondage in Egypt. They have just witnessed the series of plagues--frogs, gnats, flies, disease in livestock, skin sores, thunderstorms, invasion of locusts, darkness--but Pharaoh had refused to let them go. God told Moses that because of that refusal. one more plague was coming--the death of the firstborn sons. God then instructed Moses of how the sons of the Jews were to be saved.

Prepare a meal. Serve lamb. When you cut up the lamb meat, put blood on your doorposts and lintels. That night all the firstborn of Egypt will be slain. The blood will be a sign to me to pass over you.

In Jesus' time, centuries after that Exodus, the Jews were again subjected to a foreign ruler, Rome this time, not Egypt. They still celebrate the memory of that first Passover, that time of escape, with a meal. 

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Give Thanks a Reflection on Psalm 118:19-23


We also read portions of Psalm 118 on Palm Sunday. Luke's gospel may not have mentioned palms, but we did have branches at least in the psalm.

On Palm Sunday, we read this psalm that describes the reaction to the people when the king returned victorious from battle. We read them now in the week after Easter again grateful to God for the victory of our king.

The Lord is my strength and might; he has become my salvation.


We acclaim the victory, yes, but we also recognize what impact that victory has on us--how we are to live now.

I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the Lord.


We wouldn't need victory if we didn't already know rejection, but our lives have both. In Eastertide, we don't have to pretend that our lives haven't had and don't have grave difficulties. But, in Eastertide, as well as the rest of the year, we can remember and be thankful what the Lord has done and continues to do for us.

You are my God, and I will give thanks to you; you are my God, I will extol you. O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Entry into Jerusalem, a Reflection on Psalm 118:19-23

Some congregations will be celebrating Palm Sunday this week. Some will center their worship on the Passion. Some will combine these two.

Psalm 118 is appropriate for Palm Sunday celebrations. It begins with the call to give thanks to the Lord. Verses 3-18, omitted by the lectionary, are in the voice of the king describing the defeat of Israel's enemy. At verse 19, the king prepares for entry into Jerusalem. We hear words of thanksgiving for what has been done and a call for continued protection.

These ancient words still speak to us and for us.
This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.
Bind the festal procession with branches, up to the horns of the altar. (Caveat: translators disagree on this verse.)
You are my God, and I will give thanks to you; you are my God, I will extol you.

Even if a congregation postpones mention of the arrest, trial, and crucifixion to Holy Week services, we know that they follow this triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Carl Halladay in Preaching through the Christian Year C points this out:
If one applies Psalm 118 to Jesus' entry into Jerusalem, it must be remembered that for the original supplicant, the valley of anguish lay in the past, on the fields of war; for Jesus, the valley lay ahead, within the walls of Jerusalem.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Another way to look at Luke 19:29-44

Did you notice something different in Luke' description of Jesus' ride into Jerusalem? Did you notice something missing?

In Matthew, Mark, and John, crowds are there.

The something different: He comes in riding on a colt not a donkey. I checked the other gospel versions. In Mark 11:7, he's also on a colt, but in Matthew 21:7, he rides on both. (Don't try to imagine this, oh, go ahead.)

The something missing: The palms

Allen & Williamson in their Preaching the Gospels without Blaming the Jews:
Luke's omission of these branches is significant. Branches recollect 1 Maccabees 13:49-53. For three centuries Palestine had been under foreign rule. In 141 BCE, Jewish rebels defeated the Syrian oppressors. When the Jewish victors recaptured the temple, they waved branches. The branches became a symbol of Jewish independence, By omitting them, Luke signals that the church is not a revolutionary movement and encourages his community to live within Roman rule even while criticizing that oppression and recognizing that God will judge Rome ...

Sharon Ringe, in her commentary on Luke says that palm branches were used to greet a general returning after a victory. "Instead, people cushion Jesus' ride with their own clothing, divesting themselves of symbols of their status instead of putting on trappings of war.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Reflection on Luke 19:29-40

The people recognize Jesus as the king as he comes riding in on a donkey (look at Zechariah 9:9--go ahead and read the rest of the chapter as well to help understand what the people were expecting from the king and the Lord). Crowds gather, they throw their cloaks on the road (as had been done for King Jehu, (2 Kings 9:13).

Large numbers of followers begin to shout loudly their thanks to God for giving them this king.

But, not everyone is pleased.

When some in the crowd tried to get him to get his disciples to quiet down, he responded "Even if they were silent, the stones would cry out." He's reminding them what Habakkuk had said about the powerful who try to protect themselves from debtors (Habakkuk 2:6-11).

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Salvation of Zacchaeus, a Reflection on Luke 19:1-10

As a tax collector, Zacchaeus would have been viewed as a collaborator with the occupier. Zacchaeus is also rich, and as Sharon Ringe reminds us in her Commentary on Luke, rich people don't fare as well; e.g., 12:13-21; 16:19-31; 18:18-25.

Yet, Jesus invites himself over to his house. The people who were there did not approve of Jesus' willing association with someone they perceived to be a sinner.

Zacchaseus' response was to vow to give up half his possessions and repay four-fold anyone he had cheated.

Then Jesus declares, "Today salvation has come to his house because he too is a son of Abraham." As a son of Abraham, he is not clutching his wealth to himself but sharing it with the poor who need it and returning what he did not deserve. Sharon Ringe asserts:
Because of his political and economic role as a chief tax Collector, Zacchaeus has never been in a position to consider membership in the people of God something on which he can presume (note John the Baptist's warning in 3:8). In fact, some would say that his profession has made him the equivalent of a Gentile. 
Suddenly his membership in the chosen people is reinstated. His earnest promise is not mentioned as a reason, but one is left with the sense that they are connected. His embrace of the opportunity to give alms ... does not earn his new identity.... But the lifestyle he has embraced makes his identity evident.

"Salvation has come to his house," Jesus said. The question of salvation is not how we get it but what we do with it.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Reflection on Luke 18:35-43

Although they tried to hush him up, he kept crying out to Jesus for help. Jesus heard that call and had the man brought to him. "What do you want me to do for you?" Jesus asked. The blind man said, "I want to see." Jesus responded, " Receive your sight; your faith has saved you." And the man did receive his sight. And he followed Jesus.

Where are you in the story--
the blind man needing help?
the crowd trying to shut someone up who is disturbing them?
someone who has received help and goes around telling where that help comes from?

Monday, March 27, 2017

Reflection on Luke 18:31-34

On the way to Jerusalem, Jesus took time to confide in his disciples what was to happen to him, that he was to be ridiculed, mistreated, spat on, and killed, and then that, on the third day, that he would rise up. We are told that they didn't understand, that the message was hidden from them. They just didn't get it. What messages are still failing to get through to today's disciples?

Monday, March 20, 2017

How Was I Supposed to Know? a Reflection on Luke 16:19-31

When alive, the rich man enjoyed being rich. He dressed well and ate well. He used his money to satisfy himself well beyond need although he might have shared some of it with that poor, sore-covered man who was right there by his front door.

We know that the rich man was aware of the poor guy--he even knew his name. I'm pausing here to wonder why I think that ignoring the needs of people whose names we know is different from ignoring those of strangers.

He not only knows the name of Lazarus; he wants to be waited on by him. "I need something. Send Lazarus to help me."

Abraham informs him that the situation is now reversed: the one who had good things now doesn't, and the one who had suffered in his lifetime is now comforted. Moreover, the time to change that is past. The rich man has lost the opportunity to use anything that he once controlled.

The rich man reacts by wanting to ensure that his relatives don't end up the way he has. He begs Abraham, "Send Lazarus to warn my brothers so they won't have to end up the way I have." Abraham reminds the rich man that those brothers have already received sufficient warning because they have access to the Bible. Abraham says that he doesn't think the Bible works for everyone, but that a visitation from someone who has died would.

I would be willing to interpret this remark as a reference to the resurrected Christ, but Abraham's next remark limits that willingness. He says, "If they don't believe the Old Testament, they won't believe the New one either."

Believing in Christ does not mean that we are to cut up and throw away the front part of our Bibles. And if we were to do that, we would miss a whole lot about the necessity of helping the poor. Just saying.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

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, March 14, 2017

Radical Welcome, a reflection on Luke 15:20-24

I can read this parable as an illustration of repentance and forgiveness in a family. The younger son has sinned and recognized his sin. Or, at least, he has recognized that he needs his family. Admitted to himself not yet to those he has sinned against. But, before he can do that, his father comes to him, comes not reluctantly or grudgingly but running.

His father embraces him. Then, the son speaks his words of repentance.

Or, paying attention to the introductory words of this chapter about the grumbling Pharisees and scribes, I can read this parable metaphorically. Who is welcome at the table? What prevents someone from being worthy of sharing a meal with us? Who gets to decide? Which comes first--repentance or grace?

Further, what is this grace for, anyway--and, who's it for? Remember that Abraham was blessed to be a blessing (Genesis 12:1-3). Remember Jonah's assignment. (Thanks to Allen & Williamson, once again). Also, remember that foreigners had been included in the Exodus (Numbers 9:14; Judges 1:16)

Monday, March 13, 2017

The Prodigal, a Reflection on Luke 15:1-19

The respectable people sure didn't like it that Jesus was willing to associate with people who weren't so respectable. And they said so out loud. And Jesus answered them out loud.

The Parable of the Prodigal Son (or, as some put it, the Parable of the Two Sons, or, as others put it, the Parable of the Waiting Father) is part of his response.

Something like what was upsetting the religious leaders keeps on happening. People who don't behave the way we want our children to grow up should be welcomed into our fellowship? Join our local church? Speak at the Annual Conference? Who makes the rules? Who gets to decide who is following them? Have they read the Bible? Don't they care?

These are questions that the respectable church members can ask. Jesus is talking to the respectable people of his time. But, before we address their attitude, let's look at an example of someone who inarguably does not behave the way he should have.

In the parable, the younger son does behave in an unquestionably poor way. He demands his inheritance before his father dies. He squanders it in dissolute living. Then the economy turns against him. Just as he runs out of money, so does the whole country. He finds an unpleasant job that doesn't even pay well.

So hungry that he's eating pig food, he starts comparing his situation with the one his father provides for his employees.

Whether he would have repented even if his circumstances had been different, we don't know.

What we are told is that even though he no longer feels that he deserves to have the status of a son, he wants to return to his father--because his father treats non-sons well.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Out from under, a Reflection on Luke 13:33-35

"Jerusalem, Jerusalem," Jesus laments. "How often have I wanted to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you wouldn't let me."

Jesus wanted to protect them, and they chose not to let him. They didn't need him. They could take care of themselves.

Certainly we can recognize that impulse.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Fair Warning, a Reflection on Luke 13:31-32

Jesus is continuing his journey to Jerusalem. On the way, some Pharisees warn him that Herod wants to kill him. That's the same Herod that when confronted by John the Baptist had him beheaded.

The Pharisees warn him. We are accustomed to thinking of them as enemies of Jesus. Fred Craddock in Preaching through the Christian Year C points out that in Luke's gospel, offers a more favorable description of this group than do the other gospels; e.g., many are open to Jesus (7:36; 11:37; 14:1) even though they do disagree with his interpretation of the law. Another example is the Pharisee, Gamaliel, and Paul, of course (see Acts 4:34; 23:6).

Jesus hears their warning, but stresses to them that despite certain dangers, his work must be done.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Repent, Now, a Reflection on Luke 13:1-9

Jesus had said to the crowds "You can look at a cloud and know when it's going to rain, but you seem to be missing more important signals (my rewording of Luke 12:54-56).

He then brought up some recent misfortunes. "They weren't repayments for misdeeds, but sin does have consequences."

Not all misfortunes indicate that the sufferer deserved what happened. Bad things do happen to good people. But, don't let that lull you into a misunderstanding. Repentance is necessary.

Jesus then told them the parable of the fig tree. The fig tree owner was ready to cut down the fig tree that hadn't produced any figs for three years, but his gardener argued for one more chance, "Let me dig around it and fertilize it, and then if it produces fruit, well and good. But, if it doesn't show any change after this other chance, then cut it down.

Unlike the Galileans sacrificed by Pilate or the eighteen who were killed by the collapse of the tower of Siloam, we may well deserve punishment. Let us look at our lives for the last three years and measure how much fruit we have produced. What would the owner of the orchard have to say? Would the resources we consume be more profitably put to use by other trees?

Don't confuse a delay in judgment with approval of what we're doing.
Let us not be lulled by all the mercy we have received. It's time to repent.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Mary and Martha, a reflection on Luke 10:38-42

I was amazed when as an adult I learned that a traditional interpretation of the roles of Mary and Martha was that Martha depicted service and Mary contemplation. Therefore, whereas good works are good, they aren't as good as listening.

Mary had been my model for a different reason. I had interpreted the distinction between their actions as doing unseen work back in the kitchen or getting to sit in the room where people are discussing important things. I really liked the idea that Jesus thought this was the better part.

Shelly Cochran, in The Pastor's Underground Guide to the Revised Common Lectionary stresses that we shouldn't use it to make women like Martha fell inferior to others. I concur with her and can say that I have heard words of discomfort about this passage from several women whose call has been to work in the kitchen so the other church folks--including a happy-to-be-fed me--can enjoy good meals and companionship.

A further point--is Jesus saying silent listening is the only best thing a follower can do? No, go back and read about the good Samaritan again.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Love God and Neighbor, a reflection on Luke 10:25-28

Jesus had just prayed "All things have been handed over to me by my Father" and "No one knows who the Father is except the Son chooses to reveal him." (10:21-24).

Then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. From the text, I'm not sure whether he has walked in among the group of seventy that have just returned joyously from their mission or whether we are being told about a totally different occurrence.

In either case, this expert asks a provocative question--we're assuming provocation over sincerity since Luke says he asked it to test Jesus. "What must I do to inherit eternal life?"

Tangent: Even after looking up the Greek words that are translated as "do" and "inherit,"  in my Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon, I don't know what the connotations of the word "inherit" is. I think I have usually read this question as if he asked what he had to do to deserve or merit eternal life.

If the expert had asked the question to see if Jesus could get the answer right, then I think he would have been reassured on that point anyway. Jesus told him that since the answer to his question was in the Bible, he could recite it himself.

And he could and he did, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your strength and with all your mind and your neighbor as yourself." (Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18)

He had asked about how to inherit eternal life and Jesus responded by asking him what the Bible said. He responded to Jesus' questions about the law by quoting passages about loving God and loving neighbor.

Leaving aside the concern about whether believing or doing is more important--or even if we can do one of those without the other--the lawyer answered the question about eternal life by talking about something that begins immediately. Eternal life does not have to wait until after we die. It can be now.

Another tangent (but to me not an unimportant one): Asked a very important question, Jesus quotes the scriptures, what we often term the Old Testament. He does not make a distinction between the Old Testament God and the New Testament one.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

When you're in a ditch, a Reflection on Luke 10:29-37

The lawyer asks for more clarification. He knows that he is supposed to love his neighbor but asks who is his neighbor.

When Jesus doesn't answer a question with a question, he often answers with a parable (in effect, a longer form of a question). Here, he responds with what we are accustomed to call the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

You remember it--a traveller is attacked by robbers, left half dead on the road. Two different respectable religious professionals saw him but crossed over to the other side of the road to avoid him. Yet, a foreigner stopped to help him and helped him with great generosity.

Jesus asked the lawyer, "Which of these three is the neighbor?" The lawyer knew the right answer. Jesus told him to "go and do likewise."

We might translate Jesus' instruction to mean that if he (or we) came across someone in great need, he was supposed to offer help. But, read Jesus' question again, "Which of these three is the neighbor?" That is, from whom are we willing to accept help?

Can we get our heads around the idea that a foreigner of what seems to be us dubious religious outlook would be willing to do something that people we have always respected think is too difficult to do?

Priortizing Responsibilities, a Reflection on Luke 9:57-62

As they travel along the road, people volunteer to go along.

One said, "I'll follow you anywhere." Jesus responds by warning him of the dangers. Another said, "I'll follow you as soon as I take care of some necessary matters." Jesus responds to him by telling him what matters most.

What are we supposed to do with this reminder? What priority do we put on our comfort and safety as compared to being witnesses for Christ? What priority do we put on family responsibilities? How much does Christ expect of us, anyway?

Monday, February 27, 2017

Priorities, a Reflection on Luke 9:51-56

Jesus has told his closest followers what is going to happen to him--suffering, rejection, and resurrection. He has also told him that those who follow him will have to make sacrifices. They don't get all that he tells them. They even argue over which of them is greatest. And they complain about who gets to use Jesus' name in doing Jesus' work (9:21-50).

Knowing his death was coming soon, Jesus turns toward Jerusalem. On their way, they enter a Samaritan village.

The Samaritans don't want him there. Luke tells us that they didn't want t receive him because his face was set toward Jerusalem. Two possibilities here and both may be a factor.

There has been a long dispute between Jews and Samaritans since the exile. Samaritans are descendants of people who stayed behind and so were not considered to be the real people of God by the descendants of the exiles. We can think of our own contemporary ethnic distinctions to understand how somebody could feel superior to somebody else based on what somebody else did or didn't do a few hundred years ago.

Or, it could be interpreted that the Samaritans refused to harbor Jesus because they knew what was likely to happen to him in Jerusalem--the suffering part, not the resurrection part. We can think of current examples of reasonable people not wanting to associate themselves with certain failures. Rome was problem enough for them anyway without adding to it.

In any case, the disciples wanted to destroy the village that refused them hospitality. Jesus said no and led them to another village instead.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Questions that arose for me, a Reflection on Luke 9:37-45

Which disciples had been unable to heal the child? Were they ones who had not been to the mountaintop to witness the transfiguration and see the cloud and hear the voice? Or, even after all those experiences, were Peter and John and James unable to cast out spirits? Who is Jesus calling faithless and perverse? Does he mean the crowd or does he mean the disciples who were not able to perform the miracle?

If the crowd didn't know who Jesus was, or all of the disciples, how did the father know that Jesus could heal his son? How did the demon know that Jesus was the one it had to obey?

In verse 36, we are told that they kept silent and told no one what they had seen on the mountain. But, in verse 43, everybody who saw what happened recognized the power of God acting in this man Jesus. If everybody knew it, why did Peter and John and James have to maintain silence?

Then, in verse 45, we are told the meaning was hidden from them so they wouldn't be able to grasp it. What other meanings seem to be hidden from us yet?

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Lord of the Mountaintop, a Prayer for Transfiguration Sunday

Discipleship Ministries of the UMC offers a prayer for Transfiguration Sunday
Lord of the Mountaintop, a Prayer for Transfiguration Sunday

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Voice from the Cloud, a Reflection on Luke 9:34-36

Peter and the others witnessed the transfiguration of Jesus. They were there when Moses and Elijah suddenly appeared, these two figures so important in the history of their people, of the formation and molding of their faith.

Just as Moses and Elijah were leaving, Peter said to Jesus, "Let's make three dwellings--one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah. We suspect that Peter wanted to hold on to the moment so that they could revisit the experience. Or, we can suppose that he wanted to mark the place so that others coming after them could see where this event had happened.

While he was still speaking, a cloud came and overshadowed them, terrifying them. They had been able to see Jesus in a new way. They had been able to see Moses who had led the people to the Promised Land, and Elijah who had spoke the words of the Lord to the people facing exile. Now they could see no longer.

In their Preaching the Gospel, Allen & Williamson point out that a cloud is
a traditional Jewish way of representing the divine presence (see e.g., Exodus 13:21; 16:10; 19:9; 24:15-18; 40:34; 1 Kings 8:10-11; 18:44-45; Ezekiel 10:3-4; Psalm 18:11).

This loss of vision terrifies them. Then from the cloud comes a voice.

They could see things that no one had seen before. They could see nothing. Then they learn more.

A voice comes from the cloud announcing "This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!"

Luke tells us that they didn't immediately tell anyone what had happened.

Monday, February 20, 2017

On a Mountain, a Reflection on Luke 9:28-33

They are on a mountain. Jesus has come to pray. He has brought Peter and John and James with him.

[I had intended to, but didn't get around to, doing a search on mountain experiences in the Old Testament and Jesus' praying in the New, and which events in Jesus' life included the presence of those three particular disciples.]

While he is praying, his appearance changes and his clothes become dazzling white. Moses and Elijah become present.

The disciples although they were weighed down by sleep have stayed awake and witness this.

Allen & Williamson write in their Preaching the Gospels without Blaming the Jews:
Jewish apocalyptic writers anticipated that in the final manifestation of the reign of God, persons would have transformed bodies in the luminescent white of the heavenly world (e.g., Daniel 10:6; 1 Enoch 62:15-16; 2 Enoch 22:8; Luke 24:4; Acts 1:10; 1 Corinthians 15:35-49; Revelation 4:4; 7:9).

Moses and Elijah are talking to Jesus about his departure. Allen & Williamson point out that the Greek word for departure is exodos emphasizing that what is going to happen at Jerusalem will also be a way of liberating God's people.

Note: The season of Epiphany begins with the visit of the Magi to pay homage to the newborn Jesus. The last Sunday in Epiphany for many churches is Transfiguration Day (although some recognize the Transfiguration on the second Sunday in Lent), marking the startling change in the appearance of Jesus.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

A Cry from the Depths, a Reflection on Psalm 130

Psalm 130 is classified as a lament psalm. David cried over the loss of his son. And each of us has our own losses and regrets. This psalm reminds us that in our loss, we can turn to the Lord. We can expect God to pay attention to us--although we can't claim that we deserve any care. And we can ask God to forgive us.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Guest Reception, a Reflection on Luke 7:40-47

The respectable man sees Jesus allowing the not respectable woman to approach him, even to touch him. From this, he concludes that Jesus can't be a prophet if he can't even tell who's deserves to be allowed to get close.

Think about your own congregation. If respectable people judged you negatively based on the number of unrespectable people in your pews, what would they say about you? Jesus pointed out that the woman had performed actions which really should have been done--but weren't--by the host. Think about your congregation again. What are some ministries that you are neglecting to do? Could you use some outsiders to point them out to you?

Jesus responded to the criticism by posing a question, a not unfamiliar trait of his. "Who would be most grateful to have a debt forgiven--somebody who owed a lot or somebody who owed a little?"

The host was worried about being tainted. The uninvited guest was grateful for the gift that Jesus provides.

Monday, February 13, 2017

An invited and an uninvited guest, a Reflection on Luke 7:36-39

He has accepted a dinner invitation from somebody respectable. Somebody not respectable shows up. I wish I could think of some appropriate sermon illustration to insert here. I must know a lot of them, but none are coming. But if I could it would be start like this:


(Fill in the name) Methodist (or some other denomination) Church was having its Sunday morning service when in walked (here's where I need the great example of an illustrative sinner) .....


She doesn't belong to the establishment, but she sure does know Jesus and his importance. She has brought a jar of something expensive and anoints him with it. She washes his feet--try to remember the last time you even thought about doing this even for someone you knew--and dries them with her hair.


The reaction of the host--How can he be a prophet? He doesn't even recognize what kind of woman he is letting touch him in public.


In his time--and in ours, Jesus sure could upset the respectable. And, in his time and in ours, he can attract the sinners.