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, 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.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Reflection on Psalm 146:5-19

Read Psalm 146:5-10. Imagine living out your Christian faith as way to show non-Christians that you truly believe this about God.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Criticism, a Reflection on Luke Luke 7:28-35

According to Luke (28:29-30), by not being  baptized by John, the Pharisees and the lawyers had rejected God's purpose for them. How has our understanding of baptism changed?

Two interpretations for v. 31-32. The first is that Jesus is quoted as comparing the people of his generation as being like children who refused to respond to adults and who refused to be empathetic to suffering. Would Jesus have a similar or dissimilar attitude to modern churchgoers? The second interpretation is that the reference is to a children's game of playing like they were at a wedding or a funeral but some children would just refuse to play along (Good as New, by John Henson, and by Sharon Ringe in her commentary of Luke.

v. 32 John was criticized for his pious behavior. Jesus was criticized for doing the opposite.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Are You the One, Reflection on Luke 7:18-27

As the stories about the amazing healing that Jesus had been doing, large crowds were following him. John sent two of his disciples to ask Jesus if he was the one they had been expecting. Jesus responding by asking them what was it they were expecting.

After John's disciples left, Jesus spoke to the crowds. He contrasted having the means to dress well with doing good. Jesus then told them that he more than a prophet. Quoting Isaiah 35:5-6, he told them that John was the messenger sent to prepare the way.

The Christian Bible ends the Old Testament with the prophet Malachi, who prophesized:
See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years. Then I will draw near to you for judgment; I will be swift to bear witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired workers in their wages, the widow and the orphan, against those who thrust aside the alien, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts. For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, have not perished.
Do we recognize Jesus as the Lord that Malachi was prophesizing? Do we recognize ourselves?

Jesus then talks about "the least,"  Is John uncertain about Jesus? Jesus is certain about John.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Word Spread, a Reflection on Luke 7:16-17

What is the expected response to the unexpected?

They have seen a miracle. A man's life has been restored. A woman's security has been restored.

The first reaction of the witnesses is fear.

But, it is not their only reaction. We are told that they glorified God.They spoke immediately, and they continued to speak. They spoke to each other and the word they spoke spread widely.

Take-away: pay attention, acknowledge, share.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

God Looks Favorably, a Reflection on Luke 7:11-15

Allen & Williamson in Preaching the Gospels list many scriptures that underlie the Jewish tradition of providing for widows and others on the margins of life:
Leviticus 22:13; Deuteronomy 10:18; 14:29; 24:17-22; 25:5-10; 26:12; 27:19; Psalm 68:5; 94:1-7; 146;7; Isaiah 1:16-17, 21025; 10:2; Jeremiah 49:1
They also remind us that Elijah in 1 Kings 17:8-24 and Elisha in 2 Kings 4:18-3 compassionately raise the sons of widows.

Jesus continues this tradition. He restores a widow's son. Allen & Williamson read this passage as indicating that the members of the church are also supposed to care for widows and others on the margin.

Through the church, God can continue to look favorably on the people. Through the church, those who need sustenance and support can receive it.

Read some of the passages that A&W have suggested. For example, "You shall love the aliens and provide food and clothing for them."  And, "Set aside some of your earnings to feed aliens, orphans, and widows." Over and over, we are told what to do, and over and over, we often act as if what we have worked for is ours to keep solely for ourselves.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Healing the Centurion's Slave, a Reflection on Luke 7:1-10

Background (4:14-40): In Luke, after leaving the wilderness, then being rejected in his hometown Nazareth, Jesus went to Capernaum, a city of Galilee. There he taught in the synagogue where he also healed a man who had the spirit of an unclean demon. Jesus then went to Simon's house and healed his mother-in-law. By the end of that day, many persons with various kinds of diseases were brought to Jesus. He healed them. When the expelled demons shouted, "You are the Son of God!" Jesus rebuked them and told than to to say anything else. Yet, he continued to heal and preach publicly.

A Roman official, a centurion, in Capernaum has a highly valued slave who is dying. Having heard of the healings already done by Jesus, the centurion asks some of the synagogue authorities to ask Jesus to come to heal his slave.

The elders go to Jesus with an earnest appeal, "You should help the centurion because he has been a help to us."

Questions that arise for me: Why would a centurion want to build a synagogue? Why did the elders think that particular argument would win Jesus' acceptance? In our own time, who are the non-Christians that desire Christ's help and who would they think to ask for intercession?

When he heard that Jesus was coming, the centurion sent a message through friends (I don't know whether they were also Jews), "You don't have to come all the way to my house. I don't deserve that much effort. Besides, you have the power to heal my servant from a distance. You just have to say the word. I know about authority because I have it. If I tell a slave to go, he goes, if I say to come, he comes, and if I say to do this, he does."

Although I wonder if there something subtle in his reminder that he has a lot of power, Jesus offers the interpretation to his remarks as evidence of great faith.

When the Jewish elders returned to the centurion's house, they found the slave in good health.

Question: How is Christ working through the church to heal?




Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Always green, a Reflection on Psalm 92:1-4, 12-15

How often does a typical Christian offer thanks and recognition to the Lord--every day or twice a day or at meals or not on some predetermined schedule?

Why do we give thanks? Do we, like the psalmist here, get something good out of praising the Lord? Do we notice what God has done? Does our joy about what God has done impel us to praise?

Look at verses 12-15. The metaphor of crops is used to describe the righteous. As visible as trees, they stand and flourish. Even in old age, they continue to produce fruit. Like old trees, old worshipers continue to be growing and productive. These righteous people don't plant themselves.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Reminder to Religious Leaders, a reflection on Luke 6:14-16

Jesus than turns to the Pharisees. Religious leaders need to be religious not just act like it when someone is looking. God knows what you are doing. God knows what you are thinking.

Monday, January 23, 2017

The Faithful (really?) Manager, a Reflection on Luke 6:1-13

Jesus has been talking to the Pharisees but now turns to his disciples. He tells them a parable about a man whose employment has been threatened. He has been managing the assets of an absentee landlord--and not managing them well in the opinion of the owner. Faced with losing his job, the manager devises a plan. He reduces the amount each tenant owes in hopes of assuring that they will help take care of him after he is fired.

The owner response when he hears about this tactic is surprising. He commends the manager for his cleverness.

What would the disciples have thought at this point? Who would they thought was the owner and the manager? Would they have pictured themselves as the manager responsible for taking care of the Lord's assets? Or did they take it more literally and suppose Jesus was describing how employees should behave or how owners should evaluate those employees' behavior? Surely, he wasn't telling them to be dishonest, was he?

Jesus then says to the disciples, "Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in very much. If you have been unfaithful, who will trust you?" He goes on to warn them that anybody who isn't faithful with worldly wealth will not be trusted with true riches (which we usually consider to be heaven). "No one can serve two masters--it's impossible". Then, he sums it up, "You cannot serve God and wealth."

This lesson seems to fit Jesus' teachings a lot better than praising a dishonest employee. One way of interpreting the parable is to picture ourselves as managers of property that belongs to God. God cares about how we make decisions about our wealth. Do we use it to the benefit of people who are not at our economic level? Sharon Ringe in her commentary on Luke suggests that the parable is criticizing the economy that permits some people to have a lot and a lot of people not having much at all. She says, "As a good manager, then, he has used the very fruits of injustice in the forging of that new community of accountability based on justice that already participates in God's project or reign".

Sunday, January 22, 2017

We have had different reactions to the Presidential Inauguration and the Women's March the next day. Here are some Bible verses that are helping me face my own attitude and to live in contentment with anyone around me who may have a completely different opinion:
Psalm 119:28-32 My soul melts away for sorrow; strengthen me according to your word. Put false ways far from me; and graciously teach me your law. I have chosen the way of faithfulness; I set your ordinances before me.I cling to your decrees, O Lord; let me not be put to shame. I run the way of your commandments, for you enlarge my understanding. 
Isaiah 9:2-3 The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined. You have made the nation great; you have increased its joy.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

What I'm Reading Today

Existentialists have often identified those two basic anxieties we have: first, of not becoming our true self and, second, of indeed becoming our true self. 
Jesus found faith where least expected (in foreigners, sinners and the unclean, for instance) and found it absent where it should have been flourishing (religious professionals and his disciples). 
All in all, I have now come to terms with the fact that my Christian faith will not so much answer all my questions as question all my answers.
(from The Splash of Words, Mark Oakley)

Response to success, a Reflection on Luke 5:6-11

Simon obeyed Jesus. He took Jesus out in his boat so he could preach. Despite his disbelief that it would do any good, he tried fishing.

They caught so many fish that their nets almost broke. They caught so many fish that their boats began to sink.

The great result when he had expected nothing frightens Simon. He begs Jesus to leave him alone, that he is not worthy to be with him.

Jesus disagrees.

He can provide fish where professional fishermen can't find them. He tells Simon and his partners, James and John, that now they will be fishing not for fish but for people.

They walk away from their boats--their livelihood, their regular lives, and follow Jesus.

Further note: the first hearers of Luke's gospel may have been familiar with Ezekiel 47:1-10. We should be, too.
A steam of water from the temple gushes like a river, like deep water. In this sea, the water will become wholesome. Every living creature will be able to live wherever this stream goes. The fish will be abundant.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Obedience of Simon, a Reflection on Luke 5:1-6

In Luke 4, we read about the negative reaction by the religious leadership to Jesus' sermon reminding them of God's care for outsiders. But, after his escape in Nazareth, he traveled, healing and, despite the earlier negative reaction, preaching in synagogues.

Response was positive. Many people came out to see him.

So many people that he needed help in order to continue to carry out his work.

He asked Simon, (whose mother-in-law had been one of the persons he had healed) to take him out in the boat a little way from shore so he could speak to that crowd that had gathered.

One lesson--Jesus needs us to help him do his work.

After he had finished speaking, and they were still in the boat out in the lake, Jesus told Simon, "Take the boat out to the deep water so you can go back to fishing"

Peter said that he could and would move the boat but that the fish weren't biting that day.

Another lesson--even people who have witnessed miracles up close don't always believe that Jesus can help them with their current need.

Related lesson--even people who don't believe at a particular moment can still follow the commands of Jesus.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Treatment of the Other

Openings by Larry Peacock is a daybook of saints, psalms, and prayers. 


The entry for December 17 asks us to remember Dom Bede Griffiths (1906-1994), an English monk who spent most of his life in India living in the style of an Indian holy man. He felt that Hindus had much to teach Christians about the inner life, and he wished to share with Hindus the Christian understanding of God who "executes justice for the oppressed, who gives food to the hungry...sets the prisoners free...lifts up those who are bowed down...watches over the strangers...upholds the orphan and the widow"


Imagine living out your Christian faith as way to show non-Christians that you truly believe this about God.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Angry Reaction, a Reflection on Luke 4:28-30

Religious people were gathered in a religious place. When they heard that God directed help to be given to people of a different religion, they got furious, even violent.

In Luke's gospel Jesus will continue to face criticism from insiders when he helps outsiders. How much have attitudes changed? How do we react in similar circumstances?

Note that although Jesus escaped from the violence intended against him that day, his way did lead to the cross. Also note that the cross was not the final end of his work.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Leaving Home, a Reflection on Luke 4:21-27

He had read to them from the prophet Isaiah, "The Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and to let the oppressed go free." Then said to them, "Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your presence."

Their first reaction is a mixed one. Although they like what he says, they aren't sure why he has said it to them. They seem to be reluctant to accept that someone that they know could accomplish great things.

Jesus responds by saying that no prophet is accepted in his own hometown.

He then reminds them that both Elijah and Elisha had gone far from home to accomplish miracles. "Many widows in Israel were hungry yet Elijah helped a foreigner. Many lepers were in Israel, but Elisha healed a foreigner." Note they weren't just foreigners, they were not of the same religion as Elijah and Elisha.

We're left to ponder whether the people in Nazareth were blocking Jesus' work among them by their own refusal to accept him as anointed by the Lord--or, whether, Luke is reminding us that God is not restricted to helping hometown folks, that God's power extends beyond the circle of believers.

Monday, January 9, 2017

This Scripture Has Been Fulfilled, a Reflection on Luke 4:14-21

The Holy Spirit had descended upon him when he was baptized (3:23). He was led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness where he was tested by the devil. Having overcome each of the temptations set before him, Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit returned to Galilee (4:1-14).

When he was in his hometown, he went to the synagogue as he was accustomed to do. There, he read passages from the scroll.

Jesus said, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor," an echo of Isaiah 61:1.

Luke tells us that Jesus said that the Lord had sent him to proclaim release to the captives and to let the oppressed go free. This call echoes Isaiah's reminder that the Lord is not that impressed with acts of piety but prefers that the nation would loose the bonds of injustice, undo the thongs of the yoke, let the oppressed go free...(58:6).

He returned the scroll to the attendant and sat down. Everybody stared at him.

The people in the synagogue that day had heard the prophecies of Isaiah many times. They would also have been aware of the times that they had failed to care for the poor and the oppressed. And, there in Nazareth, at the time they were living, they themselves would have thought of themselves as oppressed, captive to the powerful Rome.

And he said to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."

Think about the terms "today" and "fulfilled."


Sunday, January 8, 2017

Finding God in the Dark

The medieval mystic Meister Eckhart once said that God is like a person hiding in the dark who occasionally coughs and gives himself away. There's a lot of darkness we're trying to grope though at the moment, both outside and inside the Church ... and we long for a cough, just a little ought, to keep trust part o our faith in God, rather than just argument, ritual, and politics (Mark Oakley in The Splash of Words).

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Questioning

The God to whom we relate may not be fully understood. In fact, at times we want to take him on and shout at him. God is not fully understood but is always present, always in relationship no matter how shadowed....(A)s Christians we should learn to question more, to question as ritual, as an exploration of grace rather than as a search for certainty. (Quote from The Splash of Words, by Mark Oakley)

Friday, January 6, 2017

When we've done wrong, a Reflection on Psalm 51

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

The first seven verses ask for forgiveness. Sometimes, we need reminders that we are sinning. And, sometimes, we are so burdened by our sins that we need reminders that God is compassionate.

We can pray Psalm 51 when we recognize that we need forgiveness, that we want forgiveness. And we can pray Psalm 51 when we want what forgiven people have--restoration.




Thursday, January 5, 2017

The beloved son, a reflection on Luke 3:21-22

Among the people being baptized that day was Jesus. Luke tells us that the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove.

Does that mean that everyone around could actually see the Holy Spirit?

God spoke to Jesus, saying "You are my Son....," an allusion to God's promise to the king in Psalm 2:7. As God's son, Jesus is invested with and will act in accordance with God's power.

Allen & Williamson in their Preaching the Gospels without Blaming the Jews, add:
The words "my beloved in whom I am well pleased" allude to Isaiah 42:1, which describes the servant of Israel witnessing to God's faithfulness and justice. Other resist that witness and cause the servant to suffer. Luke thus shows that Jesus will bring about justice (especially after the apocalypse) by following the path of suffering love.
In Matthew's gospel the voice spoke to the crowd. Is Luke telling us that only Jesus could hear? If the crowds could see the Holy Spirit but not hear the voice, what would did they think? After all, we weren't there but the message conveyed by the voice and the image of the Holy Spirit still affects us.

And our baptism includes us in Christ's community.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Quote from Splash of Words, Believing in Poetry, by Mark Oakley

Prayers that are fashioned out of conviction that God agrees with our take on things are pale imitations of what prayer is.

Baptism of fire, a Reflection on Luke 3:15-17

Crowds had gone to wilderness to be baptized by John. They were expecting a messiah and many thought John was the one. John cleared up that misconception for them. It occurs to me that we moderns still may be confused about the source of our salvation--financial security, a fence with a locked gate, a more youthful visage, etc.

John told them that the Messiah was going to make judgments.

It might be instructive for us to reread verses 7-14. The crowds fearful of the coming judgment have asked John what they should do to escape the wrath to come. John tells them to share, to be fair, to be honest, and not to be greedy.

As I read verse 17 and picture the Messiah coming with a winnowing fork, I fear the possibility of being one of the chaff that gets blown into the unquenchable fire. What I hope John means is that the Messiah can blow away those parts of me that are not generous or fair so that what is left is a person whose baptism has made a difference to her and to the world she lives in.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Baptism rules, a reflection on Luke 3:7-14

John describes what is expected of the baptized:
    Share with those who have less than you do.
    Don't use the authority you have to hurt those who are weaker than you.
    Don't cheat.
    Don't harass.

Is this the message we offer to the newly baptized? Is this the way we oldly baptized behave?

Monday, January 2, 2017

Who's in Charge Here? What are supposed to be doing? a Reflection on Luke 3:1-6

They were still living in the land promised to them at the time of Abraham, a place abandoned during a time of need, then, after a long exodus, a place to which they had returned. A place that they had once more lost and to where they had been able to return. They are there in that place, but they are ruled by the Romans, a people who held no allegiance to the Lord of the Jews.

Luke makes this specific. He names the emperor, the governor, and the Jewish accomodators and the priests.

God has not forgotten them nor abandoned them.

The word of God comes to a prophet in the wilderness.

Who's in charge of your life? Whose presence in your life governs the decisions you make?

Important powerful people are listed in verses 1 and 2. Yet, the word of God came not to them but to John, a priest's son (Luke 1:5-25, 39-45, 57-80).

Rather than begin his work by going to any of these powerful people or the people around them, John, like Moses and like Isaiah, whose words he quotes, goes into the wilderness to speak.

John calls for a baptism of repentance. Isaiah, in speaking out against the wickedness of Judah, had called upon them to "Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow" (1:16-17).

Jerusalem in John's time would have had evil, injustice, oppression, and many people who needed financial help. He was calling his listeners to repent--to change their ways.

John also specifically includes Isaiah's prophecy that all people are included in the promise of salvation (Luke 3:6; Isaiah 40:5).