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

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

On Reading the Daily News, Comments by Merton

Some time ago, I advised: If you don't already own Watch for the Light, get a copy immediately.

I'm repeating that advice today because I just read Thomas Merton's essay, The Time of No Room.

About pessimism, he asks:
Is it pessimism to diagnose cancer as cancer? Or should one simply go on pretending that everything is getting better every day, because the time of the end is also--for some at any rate--the time of great prosperity? "The kings of the earth have joined in her idolatry, and the traders of the earth have grown rich from their excessive luxury" (Revelation 18:3).
Into this world, this demented inn, in which there is absolutely no room for him at all, Christ has come uninvited. But because he cannot be at home in it because he is out of place in it, and must be in it--his place is with those others who do not belong, who are rejected because they are regarded as weak; and whit those who are discredited, who are denied the status of persons, and are tortured, eterminated. With those for whom there is no room, Christ is present in the world.

Urban Renewal, Reflection on Revelation 21:1-6a

As we read this passage on New Year's Eve (or Day), we see the word "new" over and over.
  • New heaven.
  • New earth.
  • New Jerusalem.
  • All things new.
Throughout the Bible, the word of God has come to disconsolate, misbehaving people and promised that they did not have to remain in despair. "Come home," God has said to exiles. Here, God promises, "I'm coming to be with you."

Or, hasn't God been here all along? What makes all of these things new is that maybe now I can realize that God has been here and always will be. What needs to be new is that I start to pay attention.

A second point: As so many of us look for this-life salvation by rushing to the suburbs, we might notice that God may prefer the urban life. God is going to bring us a new Jerusalem. Jerusalem, a holy city; not Babylon, the city of sinful, selfish rulers. Try to re-think heaven (this-life or after-life) not as sitting on a lonely cloud listening to harp music but as a night-time urban neighborhood. After all, God is promising to dwell among mortals.

Lectio Divina: Revelation 21:2-3

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Carpe Diem offers some help in making the most of time: Poems for the New Year

Being Given Dominion, Reflection on Psalm 8

"O God," the Psalmist sings, "When I consider your glory, when I consider your power, when I consider what you have created, I wonder why you bother with us."

God is greater, much greater than human beings. Yet, don't get too humble. God has a job for us.

Many of us can use this psalm to prod us or to assure us of the value of what we're trying to do--or, ought to be. We're responsible for maintaining, caring for, being responsible for, God's creations--human and earthly.

Lectio Divina: Psalm 8:3-8

Monday, December 29, 2008

Prayer for New Year's Day

Creative God, you make all things new in heaven and on earth.
We come to you in a new year with new desires and old fears,
new decisions and old controversies,
new dreams and old weaknesses.
Because you are a God of hope,
we know that you create all the possibilities of the future.
Because you are a God of love,
we know that you accept all the mistakes of the past.
Because you are the God of our faith,
we enter your gates with thanksgiving and praise,
we come into your presence with gladness and a joyful noise,
and we serve and bless you. Amen.

(from Maren C. Tirabassi, the United Methodist Book of Worship, 294)

A Time for Every Matter, Reflection on Ecclesiastes 3:1-23

We'll have a new calendar this week. The lectionary for New Year's Day includes this reading from Ecclesiastes that begins by discussing time. Here's what strikes me as I read this passage:

There's a time for something to happen and a time for its opposite.

God wants us to enjoy ourselves. God wants us to behave ourselves. (Are these opposites, too?)

God controls the time. God judges what we do with our time.

Lectio Divina: Ecclesiastes 3:1-13

Sunday, December 28, 2008

I Will Rejoice, Reflection on Isaiah 61:10-62:3

"I will greatly rejoice," Isaiah says. He talks about the gifts of salvation and righteousness. "Gratitude will spring up in you as inevitably as a garden grows from seeds."

But, keep reading.

Isaiah switches from the past tense to the future, "I'll not rest until Jerusalem is vindicated."

Jerusalem needs saving, and not only for its own sake. The salvation of Jerusalem will be a lesson for all who see it.

As we rejoice in the coming of Christ, we also recognize that the world we live in is not quite perfect even yet. We still need to sing of salvation and to look forward to it, as well.

Lectio Divina: Isaiah 62:1-3

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Prophet Anna, Reflection on Luke 2:36-40

Here are some excuses that will not work:
I'm too old.
I'm not important.
I don't have family support.
I'm not able to get around very far.

At least, they didn't work for Anna. Why is it that we don't speak about what we know?

Lectio Divina: Luke 2:36-38

Friday, December 26, 2008

Sunday School Lessons for January

Look on page 4 of the Mississippi Advocate for the January Sunday School Lessons:

  • January 4 Exodus 1:8-21, Midwives Serve God
  • January 11 Joshua 2:1-4, 12-14; 6:22-38, Rahab Helps Israel
  • January 18 Joshua 3:1-13, Joshua Leads Israel
  • January 25 Judges 3:1-13, 24, Samson's Mother Prepares for His Birth

Boxing Day, December 26

Judith Flanders, in the New York Times today reminds us of the history of Boxing Day

Holy Innocents.

Some liturgical calendars remember the slaughter of infants by a fearful ruler by setting aside a holy day commemorating Holy Innocents

Since the traditional date of December 28 falls on a Sunday this year, the remembrance may be scheduled for Monday, December 29.

Because we remember these innocents that Matthew told us about, we also consider the innocents of our own time who still suffer. For example, because of harsh economic times many children now lack safe care: Donna St.George, Washington Post, December 21, 2008

We remember today, O God, the slaughter of the holy innocents of Bethlehem by King Herod. Receive, we pray, into the arms of your mercy all innocent victims; and by your great might frustrate the designs of evil tyrants and establish your rule of justice, love, and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

The True Light, Reflection on John 1:1-14

Commentators have explained that John was impressing upon us that the Word was always in the world, was present at its creation. We use these opening verses of his Gospel to support our understanding of the Trinity.

Yet, as I read this prologue on Christmas Day, I am pondering on verse 10, "He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him." Why did the world not know him? Has the world caught on yet?

I keep reading. Verse 11 says "He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him." Okay, many of the Jews of his day did not convert to Christianity. But, how many Christians of my own day really accept Christ? Do we show evidence of this acceptance by the way we live our lives?

John 1:10-14.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Messengers, Reflection on Luke 2:1-20

“In that region,” this text for Christmas Eve begins. The region that Luke is referring to is the portion of the Roman Empire. Look back at verses 1-7. Augustus is emperor; Quirinius is governor. The emperor decrees that all persons be registered; that is, the emperor is going to make sure that he gets taxes from everybody under his control.

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

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

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

Their response was immediate. They went to Bethlehem immediately to see for themselves. And when they had seen, they told what they had seen.

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

Source: Mississippi Advocate

Lectio Divina: Luke 2:17-20; Titus 2:11-14

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

How Beautiful, Reflection on Isaiah 52:7-10

Isaiah announces to Jerusalem that they are saved. Paul will use this passage to encourage missionaries (See Romans 10:15). As did Handel, in a passage in his Messiah, How beautiful the feet. (There's several downloads of this aria available for MP3 players, if you want to invest 99 cents.)

Notice the tension underlying the passage, a tension that exists on into our time. God is king; yet, we don't always live like it.

Their ancestors had seen God act in their lives at the Red Sea. Was God absent during their captivity?

What holds us captive? What hides the presence of God from us?

Lectio Divina: Isaiah 52:7

Monday, December 22, 2008

What's Important

Read the Christmas version of 1 Corinthians 13 at Miss Glass is Half Full

The King is Coming, Reflection on Isaiah 9:2-7

The lectionary gives us this passage from Isaiah as the first reading for Christmas Eve. Many Christians read verses 6-7 as a description of the Christ child.

Isaiah was talking to a people who had suffered defeat: A light is shining on people in the dark. This image is reassuring--as with joy at the harvest.

And he offers a trouble image, as well--They will be as joyous as victors sharing plunder.

More reassurance follows--the yoke you bore is broken, the stick that beat you is broken, the rod that controlled you is broken.

Then Isaiah reminds his people of the price of their release: their enemy will be trampled, their uniforms set on fire.

Focus on the positive message as you look toward Christmas Eve, but don't forget entirely the negative. Consider the promises that God makes through the prophet Isaiah and the warnings.

Lectio Divina: Isaiah 9:6-7

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Revelation of the Mystery, Reflection on Romans 16:25-27

Paul ends his letters to the Romans (or, as some scholars believe, someone has added this portion to his letter to them) by reminding his readers who God is and what God has done for them.

The good news was a secret to you for a long time. The prophets spoke to their own. Now the good news is available for you, too. God wants you to be included.

Those who have not been a part of the family of God can now share in the faith. We give thanks to Jesus the Messiah.

Lectio Divina: Luke 1:37-39.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

A Kingdom with No End, Reflection on 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16

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

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

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

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

The Lord will build David's house.

The house and kingdom shall last forever.

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

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

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

We're reading this text in the week before Christmas to help us understand what Gabriel was promising Mary when he said that her son would be given the throne of David and would rule forever.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Offertory Prayers

GBOD Stewardship has suggested Offertory Prayers for January

The Magnificat

The Scriptorium on Flicker offers this depiction of the Magnificat

Who's Included? What's Promised? Reflection on Luke 1:51-55

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

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

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

In verses 54-55, Mary reminds us that God has helped Israel according to the promises made to our ancestors. God’s promise is to Abraham and his descendents forever.

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

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Accepting Blessings, Reflection on Luke 1:47-50

Mary responds to Elizabeth’s good news and her own with a song of praise. Like Hannah before her (see 1 Samuel 2:1-10), Mary begins by praising God: “My soul magnifies the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior. From now on, all generations will call me blessed because of what God has done for me.”

The lectionary this week offers an alternative response to the reading from 1 Samuel: Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26. Mary's response in Luke echoes David's in Psalms:

I will sing of your steadfast love, O Lord, forever; with my mouth I will proclaim your faithfulness to all generations.....

Listen to yourself today. Are your words a song of praise to what God has done?

Lectio Divina: Psalm 89:1-4

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Accepting the Call, Reflection on Luke 1:34-38

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

God chose Mary. Mary accepted God’s choice.

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

Note: Today's and the next two days' posting are excerpts from the Sunday School lesson for December 7, 2008, Mississippi Advocate.

Lectio Divina: Luke 1:37-38

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Finding Favor with God, Reflection on Luke 1:30-33

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

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

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

Monday, December 15, 2008

Prayers for 4th Sunday of Advent

Opening Prayer:
Holy God, the mystery of your eternal Word took flesh among us in Jesus Christ. At the message of an angel, the virgin Mary placed her life at the service of your will. Filled with the light of your Spirit, she became the temple of your Word. Strengthen us by the example of her humility, that we may always be ready to do your will, and welcome into our lives Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen (United Methodist Book of Worship 256, citing Liturgy of the Hours, U.S.A).

The UM Worship Homepage suggests other prayers appropriate for this Sunday including a Prayer of Confession:

Let us confess our brokenness and sin to God and to one another:
God of David and Mary, we confess our impatience and lack of discipline.
The pace of the holidays sweeps us along like leaves before the wind.
We are set on what we want
so that we are blind and deaf to angels.
We are not yet prepared to say with Mary,
"Let it be to me according to your word."
We need moments of stillness,
even in snarled traffic or noisy store,
when Christ is conceived in us.
We yearn for love to find a home in us.
Forgive us for attitudes and anxieties that keep you out.
Turn our hearts and spirits toward you and each other
in acts of compassion and justice,
through Jesus who brings your rule among the nations. Amen.
[Here continue with the pardon sequence as on UMH p. 8.]

Blue Christmas/Longest Night Worship With Those Who Mourn

From the UMC Worship Homepage:

Blue? Yes, blue as in the blues. As in "I am feeling blue." Not everyone is up and cheery for the Christmas holidays. Dealing with the death of a loved one, facing life after divorce or separation, coping with the loss of a job, living with cancer or some other dis-ease that puts a question mark over the future, and a number of other human situations make parties and joviality painful for many people in our congregations and communities. There is a growing attentiveness to the needs of people who are blue at Christmas. Increasing numbers of churches are creating sacred space for people living through dark times. Such services are reflective, accepting where we really are, and holding out healing and hope.

Some churches hold a service of worship on the longest night of the year, which falls on or about December 21st, the Winter Solstice. There is an interesting convergence for this day as it is also the traditional feast day for Saint Thomas the Apostle. This linkage invites making some connections between Thomas's struggle to believe the tale of Jesus' resurrection, the long nights just before Christmas, and the struggle with darkness and grief faced by those living with loss.

Follow this link for more ideas about how to observe a blue Christmas: Blue Christmas

Pondering an Unexpected Greeting, Reflection on Luke 1:26-29

Earlier in this first chapter of Luke’s Gospel, an elderly couple, Zechariah and Elizabeth, unexpectedly find that they are finally going to become parents. Then, an unmarried young woman, Mary, the cousin of Elizabeth, unexpectedly finds that she is going to have a baby. An unexpected message to unlikely recipients.

Mary is perplexed, “How can such a thing happen?”

Scriptures have many earlier references to unexpected births after a long wait; remember Sarah, Rachel, Hannah, and, perhaps, Samson's mother, other women long barren who were married to prominent men.

God can and does respond to Sarah's question, "Is anything impossible for God?"

Mary's story is different in a couple of ways. She is very young. She is not married to someone important.

God can and does choose unexpected recipients for good news.

Lectio Divina: Luke 1:29

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Rejoice always, Reflection on 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

Paul is writing instructions to an early Christian congregation that remain quite applicable to modern ones. Respect each other; be responsible for each other; be good to each other (12-15).

Rejoice always.
Pray without ceasing.
Give thanks in all circumstances.

Remember that letter is addressed to a congregation. We can gather in worship to sing hymns. But, Paul said "always." That kind of rejoicing would be a transformation in our daily life together in which we could recognize the gracious gifts that God has bestowed on us, the support that God's presence gives us to help in meeting everything that not so good that breaks into our daily lives, as well.

Pray without ceasing. We pray in worship. We pray when we leave the building. We are always aware of God's presence. We are always aware that neither are we left alone to face the world nor can we alone conquer it.

Give thanks in all circumstances. Does Paul really expect us to be thankful in all circumstances? Or, is Paul reminding us that God is always leading us into new circumstances?

(If you read Preaching the Letters without Dismissing the Law by Allen & Williamson, you may recognize their influence on my thoughts.)

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Joy, Reflection on Psalm 126

The Psalmist asks for our fortunes to be restored "like watercourses in the Negeb." His first readers would have known what a lavish gift he was asking for.

In the desert region of the Negeb, creek beds were almost always dry. But, when the rains came, they were rushing rivers. If you knew the central Texas of my childhood, you would be familiar with what we called a gully, a wash, or an arroyo.

Imagine now a shallow depression in the desert. That's what you've got. Dust. Now, imagine, a heavy rain.

Despair followed by joy.

Lectio Divina: Psalm 126:3-6

Friday, December 12, 2008

Garden Promises, Reflection on Isaiah 61:10-11

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

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

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

Questions: On which list do you put salvation and righteousness higher than, say, a new TV or Wii--by-me or buy-me? Do you think it is good news that God has promised salvation and righteousness to foreigners? Does it depend on how foreign they are?

Lectio Divina: Isaiah 61:10-11

Thursday, December 11, 2008

A People Whom the Lord Has Blessed, Reflection on Isaiah 61:8-9

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

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

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

Lectio Divina: Isaiah 61:8-9

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Renew the Ruined Cities, Reflection on Isaiah 61:1-4

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

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

Jubilee is intended to forgive debts and to allow people back in their homes.

Can we read financial rescue into Isaiah's words, or is better not to? Do we think that God cares about financial debts as well as moral sins? Can we pray for forgiveness of both?

Lectio Divina: Isaiah 61:1,4

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Official Response, Reflection on John 1:24-28

When we read the term "Jews" in this gospel, we need to remember when John was writing, what was going on in his world, what the controversies were, and who his immediate audience was.
When the Fourth Gospel uses the term "the Jews" to indicate opposition to Jesus, it does so to name the people on the wrong side of a christological debate, namely, those who do not accept (a) that Jesus is the Messiah and (b) the Fourth Gospel's understanding of what his messiahship means. The conflict here is between two sides of a late first-century argument, not a conflict that tells us anything about Jesus' (or the Baptist's) relations with Jews about the year 30 (Preaching the Gospel, Allen & Williamson).

Nor does it tell us anything about Christian-Jewish relations in the early 21st century; although, it can illustrate intra-religion differences and disputes.

Lectio Divina: Psalm 126

Monday, December 8, 2008

A Voice Crying in the Wilderness

If you don't already own Watch for the Light, get a copy immediately.

One of the essays included is by Alfred Delp (1907-1945) a German priest martyred under Hitler. Here's what he says about John the Baptist as a messenger of Advent:

Woe to an age when the voices of those who cry in the wilderness have fallen silent, outshouted by the noise of the day or outlawed or swallowed up in the intoxication of progress, or growing smothered and fainter for fear and cowardice. The devastation will soon be so terrifying and universal that the word "wildernesss" will again strike our hearts and minds. I think we know that.

But still there are no crying voices to raise their plaint and accusation. Not for an hour can life dispense with these John-the-Baptist characters, these original individuals, stuck by the lightning of mission and vocation. Their heart goes before them, and that is why their eye is so clear-sighted, their judgment so incorruptible. They do not cry for the sake of crying or for the sake of the voice. Or because they begrudge earth's pleasant hours, exiled as they themselves are form the small warm companionships of the foreground. Theirs is the great comfort known only to those who have paced out the inmost and furthermost boundaries of existence.

They cry for blessing and salvation. They summon us to our last chance, while already they feel the ground quaking and the rafters creaking and see the finest of mountains tottering inwardly and see the very stars in heaven hanging in peril. They summon us to the opportunity of warding off, by the greater power of a converted heart, the shifting desert that will pounce upon us and bury us.

Father Delp wrote these words over sixty years ago. How do they apply to us?

Who Are You? Reflection on John 1:6-8, 19-23

The prologue (1:1-18) provides a framework for the entire gospel. Like an overture to an opera, it strikes the major themes of the narrative to come; e.g., the beginning, the word, the light. Most commentators divide the narrative into The Book of Signs (Jesus' revelation to the world) and The Book of Glory (Jesus revelation through his death and resurrection).

Between the prologue and the narrative is a section of introductory testimony (1:19-51).

An official delegation has been sent into the wilderness to question John. (Remember to keep straight the gospel writer and the wilderness-dweller, not called the Baptist in this particular gospel). John uses the words of Isaiah to claim that he is a witness to the Messiah.

Gail O'Day and Susan Hylen, in their commentary John emphasize the importance of this concept to our understanding of this gospel:
To be a witness is to see something and to speak about what one has seen.... To be an effective witness in a trial, one must have seen something about which one then can give testimony. John has seen the truth about Jesus and tells about what he has seen.

Few of us have ever or will ever be put on trial because of our association with Christ. Yet, we have opportunities to be witnesses. What are we doing with these opportunities?

(If you're familiar with Boring & Craddock's New Testament Commentary, you will recognize their ideas in this posting.)

Lectio Divina: John 1:22-23

Prayer of Thanksgiving and Intercession

God of the ages, we praise you,
for in the dawn of time you created the world,
sending light by your Word to dispel darkness.
In Jesus Christ you vegan a new creation,
sending him to be the Light of the world.
to drive away fear and despair,
and to rule in peace and justice, holiness and love.

Especially we thank you
for the order and beauty of your creation...
for coming in Jesus Christ to share our human life...
for the place you give us in your continuing creation...
for the promise of peace among nations, and justice for all peoples...
for the Church as the sign of your coming kingdom...

Mighty God, prepare the world for your rule,
for we long for the day when there shall be no more crying or tears,
and death will be destroyed.
Help us to share the ministry of Christ and be agents of his compassion.

Especially we pray
for the nations of the earth and peace in the world...
for victims and survivors of violence...
for those who are sick and suffering...
for our families and friends...
for the Church and those who serve in Christ's name...

All this we pray in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

(UMBOW 255, from Presbyterian Daily Prayer, USA.)

Call for Sermons

GBOD of the UMC has issued this call for sermons:

The 2008 Presidential election was a living object lesson on several topics -- including that of racial reconciliation. What did you preach about on the Sunday after the Presidential Election? As preparation for Human Relations Day in January, Safiyah Fosua would like to post excerpts of your helpful sermons. If you have a sermon or meditation that you would like to have considered for this web page, send your sermon as an attached file to before December 19, 2008.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Contrasts, Reflection on 2 Peter 3:13-15

We're still waiting. We live in a world that is still suffering from the same old misdeeds and lack of trust. We see a lot of examples of unrighteousness, of injustice. We're still waiting.

And while we are waiting, we are told to strive to be found at peace.

Think about this command. First, strive. We aren't supposed to be sitting here idle just complaining that things aren't what we want or expect them to be. We're participants. We're told to strive. Second, be found. As "strive" sounds active, "be found" sounds passive. I'm remembering now the lost pearl, the 100th sheep, the wedding guests found out on the street.

Advent--waiting for what we have already had. Strive and be found--working for and being given.

I'm struck by the "But" at the beginning of verse 13. Then I realize that verses 8 and 10 also begin with "but." A lot of contrasts in this section. I'm not going anywhere with this observation, but (see, I do it, too) I think it's important.

Lectio Divina: 2 Peter 3:13-15

Saturday, December 6, 2008

God's Time, Reflection on 2 Peter 3:8-12

"Prepare the way of the Lord," Isaiah told them. "The one who is more powerful than I is coming," John announced.

Peter is writing to new Christians who are arguing about the return of the Lord. False prophets have sprung up among them. They are scoffing at the believers.

This letter addresses those concerns.

The writer tells them, "Don't think that God's time is measured in the same way that our time is (See Psalm 90:4). Besides, you're better off for the delay. It's giving you time to straighten out your ways. But the day of the Lord will come. What kind of people will the Lord find here on that day?"

Repentance was and is a good idea for Christians.

Lectio Divina: 2 Peter 3:9; Psalm 85:9

Friday, December 5, 2008

Good News: God is Coming, Reflection on Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13

This week's reading from Isaiah called on its readers to look forward, "Get ready. Prepare for God's coming. God will care for you." We can look forward, Isaiah tells us, because we have been forgiven.

Looking forward is what we do in the season of Advent. And like our ancient forbearers, we can do because (as long as?) we accept the assurance that we, too, have been forgiven.

The war (interpret this state literally or metaphorically) is ended. Psalm 85, like Isaiah 40, deals with what comes next, what peace is like.
God's glory will dwell in our land.
We will care for each other.
We will treat each other with respect.
As God has treated us, we will treat each other.

This psalm promises agricultural abundance, something that was and still is important. As in the case of the term "war," interpret this promise literally or metaphorically.

Lectio Divina: Psalm 85:13

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Objection and Reassurance, Reflection on Isaiah 40:6-11

God tells the prophet to speak, but the prophet doesn't know what to say. People are weak compared to the strength of God.

Note that it is not just the prophet who is supposed to be telling about the advent of God's presence. Zion and Jerusalem, that is all the faithful, are called to proclaim, and to do so loudly and visibly.

God is coming, mighty as an army, but not to destroy. God is coming to be our shepherd, to feed us, to carry us, to lead us.

Lectio Divina: Isaiah 40:10-11

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

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

God has instructed the prophet Isaiah to speak tenderly to the people, to tell them that they have suffered long enough.

You may be living in the wilderness. Prepare for God to come to you there. You may be living in a desert. Prepare for God to come to you there. There are low places in your lives. Fill them in. There are obstacles. Knock them down. When something gets in your way or trips you up, move it out of your way.

God is coming into your life.

And this is good news.

Lectio Divina: Isaiah 40:3

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

More Powerful than I, Reflection on Mark 1:5-8

The term "repentance" does carry the connotation of regret, but it means more than that. The Greek word metanoia that we translate as "repentance" means literally, "a change of mind." Not a simple "I'm sorry" or "I wish things could have been different," but rather a "I'm traveling a different way now."

Morna Hooker, in her commentary on Mark, lists the OT references implied in Mark's description of John: The rough garment of camel's hair is probably to be taken as an indication that he was a prophet (Zechariah 13:4). The reference to the leather belt echoes the description of Elijah (2 Kings 1:8). He calls the nation to repent as did Malachi (4:5). The locusts and honey are typical food for travelers in the wilderness and locusts were permitted in the Torah (Leviticus 11:21).

John is preparing his world for a new age with a new leader, one who is not only more powerful than the prophets who foretold his coming, but one who also is more powerful than the governors and Caesars of his time.

During this Advent season, let us remember John's promise. And let us remember that the Holy Spirit continues to work in the world and in our lives, to sustain us and to prompt us.

Lectio Divina: Mark 1:5-8; Psalm 85:8

Monday, December 1, 2008

Sunday School Lessons for December

Look on page 6 of the Mississippi United Methodist Advocate for Sunday School Lessons on the first three chapters of Luke.

December 7, Luke 1:46-55
December 14, Luke 1:39-45
December 21, Luke 2:8-20
December 28, Luke 3:7-18

Prayers for Advent

Merciful God,
you sent your messengers the prophets
to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation.
Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins,
that we may celebrate aright the commemoration of the nativity,
and may await with joy
the coming in glory of Jesus Christ our Redeemer;
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
One God, for ever and ever. Amen.
UMH 201, (from the Book of Common Prayer; alt. by Laurence Hull Stookey)

Holy and awesome God, we stand in your presence
filled with regret for our many sins and failings.
Though there is greatness in us, and a deep longing for goodness,
we have often denied our better selves
and refused to hear your voice
calling us to rise to the full height of our humanity.
For there is weakness in us, as well as strength.
At times we choose to walk in darkness, our vision obscured.
We do not care to look within,
and we are unwilling to look beyond at those who need our help.
O God, we are too weak to walk unaided.
Be with us as a strong and wise friend,
and teach us to walk by the light of your truth.

(Offer your own prayers of confession)

The Lord God is merciful and gracious,
endlessly patient, loving, and true,
showing mercy to thousands,
forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin, and granting pardon. Amen.
(UMBOW 479, from Jewish Prayer for Forgiveness, USA, 20th Cent.)

The Beginning of the Good News, Reflection on Mark 1:1-4

Isaiah had told them centuries before that God would be sending a messenger, one who would call from the wilderness for them to prepare for God's presence. Now John the baptizer is echoing this call. (Note that the quote in verses 2-3 are a conflation of sources: Exodus 23:20 and Malachi 3:1 as well as Isaiah 40:3, Preaching the Gospels by Allen & Williamson).

Mark's audience was living under domination by Rome. According to Allen & Williamson,
Isaiah was especially popular among the apocalyptists because they used the Babylonian oppressors and the exile to interpret Rom (latter-day idolatrous and unjust Babylon) and their situation of exile as they awaited the apocalypse. Isaiah 40:30 reinforces the theme from Malachi: John prepared the community for the eschatological invasion of the present, broken world by Jesus.

What does Mark mean by "beginning"? Is John the beginning of the good news? Or, is Mark's gospel the beginning of the story that continues to this day? (NT Commentary by Boring & Craddock)

For us, what is wilderness? What is our Babylon? Is it time for us to return from exile? How does the call for repentance relate to our lives?

Lectio Divina: Mark 1:2-4

World AIDS Day

December 1 is the date set aside for United Methodist World AIDS Day observances. Be encouraged to pray for those infected with HIV/AIDS throughout the Advent season and throughout the year. The UMC has suggestions for prayers

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Getting Ready for Getting Ready

Beth Richardson, on the MethodX website, gives the Top Ten Reasons to Celebrate Advent

While We Are Waiting, Reflection on 1 Corinthians 1:3-9

The Corinthians are waiting, and had been waiting for a longer time than they had expected, for the apocalypse (that word means revealing). Paul reminds them that they have already received gifts--speech and knowledge. And he promises them that God will continue to strengthen them as they continue to wait.

Paul is not talking about some individual lifting-up and lifting-out. What we are waiting for and what we are experiencing as we wait, is being part of a fellowship. Paul is writing to a congregation. Through them, Paul is telling us that God is calling us into what we call the church. The pronoun "you" in verses 4, 6, 7, and 9 is plural.

Lectio Divina: 1 Corinthians 1:7-9

Saturday, November 29, 2008

During a Time of Worry, Reflection on Isaiah 64:4-9

In this part of the book of Isaiah, the prophet is writing to a people for whom the exile is over. Over, but its effects are not. Their lives are not the way they remembered them to be before their defeat and destruction.

Our enemy has been defeated. Yet, something is not yet as it should be. Think about the relevance to our own lives and times.

How daring is it for us to pray for God to enter our lives when we think what those lives have been like, what God might find. Look at verse 7. Which is it--no one is praying to God to come or is it that God is not listening?

Isaiah reminds the ancient people and through them reminds us: God has created us and continues to claim us. And although we don't deserve it, God is capable of forgiving us.

Lectio Divina: Isaiah 64:8-9

Friday, November 28, 2008

Church leaders from around the world have expressed their shock and outrage at the atrocities in Mumbai.

A compilation by Ekklesia

Prayer after reading Isaiah 64

O that you would tear open the heavens and come down.

Make your name known to your adversaries.

You have given us many good gifts that we did not deserve. We have sinned. We forgot your gifts. We forgot your presence.

Yet, O Lord, as you were before us, you have always been with us. Amen.

Tear open the heavens and come down, Reflection on Isaiah 64:1-3

Praying these words of Isaiah and meaning the prayer is calling on God to enter this world and to change this world. Change this world dramatically--"so that the mountains would quake at your presence." And inevitably--"As when fire kindles brushwood and causes water to boil."

What do we expect God to do in our world? I looked up "quake" in the Oremus bible browser, The earth quaked when God helped Deborah and Barak defeat the enemy (Judges 5:1-5), when Jonathan defeated the Philistines (1 Samuel 14:150, and when David was victorious (2 Samuel 22:8-16 and Psalm 18:7).

Can we imagine some other dramatic shake-up than a war battle? Can we pray that a God who accompanied Deborah, Barak, Jonathan, and David will be able to confound our enemies of apathy, greed, selfishness, and fear? Remember that Isaiah was remembering that God has done awesome deeds that had not been expected.

Lectio Divina
: Isaiah 64:1; Psalm 80:3

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Reflection on 2 Corinthians 9:6-15 and Luke 17:11-19

Reading from Luke:
A group of people, none acceptable for polite company, approached Jesus. They left some space but did call out to him. He healed all of them. One expressed gratitude, the one who was a foreigner.

Read this passage from three different viewpoints. First, consider what it is like to be in dire need and to have that need taken care of. What do you do next? Is returning to a normal life a plausible thing to do? Can you imagine yourself doing that?

Second, consider the response of the Samaritan. Consider his response in terms of this Thanksgiving Day? How grateful have you been?

Third, read Jesus' response. Are these rhetorical questions? Or, was he expecting an answer?

Reading from Corinthians:
On a day designated as Thanksgiving by the American Congress, we are reading a text commanding us to give and to give abundantly. Be careful not to fall in the trap of the prosperity gospel. Paul really wants us to be generous. He is reassuring us that God will provide enough resources for us to use them the way that God intended for us to use them.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Looking toward a Day of Thanksgiving, Reflection on Deuteronomy 8:7-18

Be thankful, Deuteronomy reminds us, for the land that God has given to us. Plentiful, clean water; fertile land; abundant mineral resources. Be thankful. Don't forget that these gifts are from God. Treat them as gifts. Don't start thinking that somehow all that you have is due to your own effort.

Treat the land right. The September issue of Weavings asks
What kind of world will our children and grandchildren inherit? Will it be the bleak world envisioned by some, where we will live "not only in the ruins of nature, but in the ruins of the civilization that ruined it"?

Read more about the land given to us by God.

Lectio Divina: Deuteronomy 8:7-11

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Reflection on Mark 13:32-37

Looking back at the beginning of chapter 13, we see that Jesus is talking privately to four of his disciples--Peter, James, John, and Andrew. They are sitting on the Mount of Olives looking at the temple. By the time that Mark wrote this gospel, the temple had been destroyed. His first audience would have recognized the allusions to the destruction of the first temple and their exile.

Jesus' words are meant for them, and they continue to be intended for us.

"Keep awake," Jesus bids us. He's not talking about Santa Claus.

God had created a good world. We human beings had failed at our responsibilities. The old ways have to go. A new way is coming. God desires for us to live in a world transformed. Keep awake.

Lectio Divina: Mark 13:33-37

Monday, November 24, 2008

Reading toward the first Sunday of Advent, Reflection on Mark 13:24-31

We are reflecting on two sets of texts this week.

Thursday is Thanksgiving Day, a day of gratitude, recognition of blessings received, and for many of us, sharing an abundant meal.

Sunday is the first Sunday of Advent, that period of time during which we celebrate the first coming of Christ and anticipate the second coming. Two important themes are repentance and expectation.

On the UMC worship site, Taylor Burton-Edwards has good suggestions for Planning for Advent B.

I am particularly struck by his (her?) warning not "to domesticate the radical claims of these texts about the "destructive salvation" of this world by the inbreaking of God's kingdom."

To help you reflect on the meaning of the term, "Son of Man," you may find it helpful to read Daniel 7:1-14.

Lectio Divina: Psalm 80:1-3

Sunday, November 23, 2008

On the doorstep, Reflection on Psalm 100

Today is the last Sunday in the Christian year. Next week will be the first Sunday in Advent. Christians have named this day, Christ the King Sunday (or in an attempt to be less sexist, Reign of Christ Sunday).

Psalm 100 is chosen as a response to the Ezekiel reading, both using the imagery of shepherd and sheep.

Psalm 100 begins by commanding us to worship the Lord, appropriate to a day when we celebrate the reign of Christ.

"Enter his gates," that is, step away from the world that has been profaned, and step into a place of worship, a place in which we can experience the presence of the Lord.

Christians can on this Sunday obey these commands. We can step away from the ills of last year and begin our new year recognizing that the steadfast love and faithfulness of our Lord.

Lectio Divina: Psalm 100

Saturday, November 22, 2008

God raised Christ from the dead, Reflection on Ephesians 1:15-23

Paul wrote to the Ephesians, and through them to us, "You have been called. God has immeasurable power, and has put this power to work in Christ by raising him from the dead... The church is the body of Christ."

Simon Barrow, of Ekklesia, has written about the continuing contemporary importance to Christians of the concept and fact of resurrection:

So let’s get straight to the heart of the matter. What does it mean to speak, as Christians should do, of the “bodily resurrection of Jesus”, the wounded and crucified healer, as the very basis of our life?

Rather, to confess that “God raised Jesus” is to believe that everything of substance in the life of Jesus, the human person who is indissolubly God’s person, is dynamically taken up in, through and beyond death into the life of God – a quality of living and a form of life that affirms, but also transcends, anything we can currently mean by the term ‘life’. This is not any old life but “new life”, says the New Testament, in a variety of ways. It is, if you will, God’s unconditioned love recreating possibilities for emergent life that we thought had been lost, sinfully destroyed, denied, wasted, gambled away or blocked off. Not some vague post-mortem assimilation into the Godhead, but a new order of being.

To believe that “Christ has been raised” is to live in a new way, sustained by God rather than our own efforts alone, as if the order of death had no final determination. Among other things, it is to refuse killing as an instrument of policy, as an untruth not just a moral outrage. This is why resurrection, the non-violent, non-vengeful and utterly gracious (‘given’, not made or claimed) form of eschatological living, is the ultimate threat to Caesar and his empire – which finally can only rule by death and its thrall, because it knows of no other possibility that would allow it go on being what it is.

Read more: Resurrection is no Easter conjuring trick

Lectio Divina: Ephesians 1:20-23

Friday, November 21, 2008

C.S. Lewis

November 22 is the birthday of C.S.Lewis

Good shepherding, Reflection on Ezekiel 34:20-24

When we read in Ezekiel or Matthew about the coming judgment, do we read Final Judgment? That is, do we think these pronouncements are only about going to heaven or hell?

Consider that the judgment of the powerful and the consequent setting-aright is God's word to us of what our life on this earth would be like if we would just do what God has always wanted us to do.

Ezekiel says, "Your leaders have cared about themselves not their people. I am going to give you a new leader, a leader who will protect you, a leader that will carry out my will."

Even though they were not able to live out the promises and gifts, God continued to care for these people. God sent other shepherds, another Shepherd, and continues to be our Shepherd.

There may be one Shepherd, but Matthew's words indicate that all of us have been appointed assistant shepherds, and all of us are accountable for all the sheep.

Lectio Divina: Ezekiel 34:20-22

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Protection of the Weak, Reflection on Ezekiel 34:14-16

"I will seek the lost," God promises. "I will strengthen the weak."

Consider who will benefit from the attention of the Lord God, the true shepherd.

Ezekiel reminds us that the shepherd has another duty, protecting the weak from predators. "The fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice."

"When did we see you hungry?" they asked Jesus.

The world may think that the well-fed and strong are those that have received God's blessings. Ezekiel and Matthew might ask whether they have usurped the blessings that were intended for all of God's flock.

Lectio Divina: Ezekiel 34:16

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The True Shepherd, Reflection on Ezekiel 34:11-13

A shepherd is committed to the care and safety of the flock. Ezekiel writes to a people in exile, a people who have lost their homes, who are wandering, who need protection, who need to be rescued.

Look back at the earlier verses in this chapter. Israel's human shepherds had been feeding themselves rather than the sheep. They had not looked after the needs of the weak or injured. They had not searched for the strays.

They deserved to be scattered. But, scattering the shepherds means scattering the sheep. God declares, "I will rescue the sheep."

Lectio Divina: Ezekiel 34:11-12

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Planning for Christ the King Sunday

The UMC offers worship planning helps for Christ the King/Reign of Christ Sunday (November 23, 2008)

Deeds Trump Creeds, Reflection on Matthew 25:41-46

As we determine the place of immigrants in our country, we might choose to obey the scriptural requirement to welcome the stranger (according to Allen & Williamson, the mitzvah "do not oppress the stranger" is repeated in some form 36 times in the Old Testament).

Are we reassured or frightened when we consider what Jesus was trying to get us to understand? Can we really see Christ in the marginalized? What if eternal life depended on it?

Lectio Divina: Matthew 25:44-46

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Selfless Gene

"Truly I tell you, just as you did it for one of the least of these, you did it for me." Why do we help others? Because Jesus told us to?

Olivia Judson writes in the October 2008 Atlantic Monthly about The Selfless Gene. The article begins:
It’s easy to see how evolution can account for the dark streaks in human nature—the violence, treachery, and cruelty. But how does it produce kindness, generosity, and heroism?

Remember when you did these things for me, Reflecting on Matthew 25:31-40

Look back at the last few chapters of Matthew's Gospel. Jesus has told several parables: the two sons, the wicked tenant, the wedding banquet, the ten bridesmaids, and the talents. Be prepared. Be faithful. Actions are important.

Now Jesus is describing a new kingdom, the one to be ruled by the Son of God. Some will be blessed. The king will say to them, "Enter my kingdom. You belong there because you have shown love for me when I needed it. You have provided me with food, drink, and clothing; you took care of me when I was a stranger; you have reached out to me when I was sick and when I was in prison."

His listeners cannot remember doing any of these things.

Remember the delay in the parables. Neither the wedding guests, the foolish bridesmaids, nor the fearful servant made very good use of their time.

Lectio Divina: Matthew 25:31-40

Sunday, November 16, 2008

A Prayer for a Wise Heart, Reflection on Psalm 90:1-12

The parable in this week's lesson dealt with the fearfulness of humans and the consequences. This psalm is a prayer that confesses human frailty, our iniquities and our secret sins. "We deserve your wrath," the psalmist admits.

But, enclosing this admission is a greater recognition: God cares for us, and has cared for us, and will care for us. God was here before we knew we needed God. We realize that our lives here will come to an end, and we need God's help.

Lectio Divina: Psalm 90:7-8,12

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Day of the Lord

Paul was writing to people who had expected the Lord to return and had begun to worry about the delay in their expectations.

Using Boring and Craddock as a guide, here are some OT references that help us see what Jews were expecting on the Day of the Lord:

Often, it is bad news; e.g.,

Isa 13:6 Wail, for the day of the Lord is near; it will come like destruction from the Almighty! 9See, the day of the Lord comes, cruel, with wrath and fierce anger, to make the earth a desolation, and to destroy its sinners from it.

Jer 46:10 That day is the day of the Lord God of hosts, a day of retribution, to gain vindication from his foes. The sword shall devour and be sated, and drink its fill of their blood. For the Lord God of hosts holds a sacrifice in the land of the north by the river Euphrates.

Ezek 13:5You have not gone up into the breaches, or repaired a wall for the house of Israel, so that it might stand in battle on the day of the Lord.

Ezek 30:3 For a day is near, the day of the Lord is near; it will be a day of clouds, a time of doom for the nations.

Joel 1:15 Alas for the day! For the day of the Lord is near, and as destruction from the Almighty it comes.

Amos 5:18 Alas for you who desire the day of the Lord! Why do you want the day of the Lord? It is darkness, not light; 20Is not the day of the Lord darkness, not light, and gloom with no brightness in it?

Zeph 1:7 Be silent before the Lord God! For the day of the Lord is at hand; the Lord has prepared a sacrifice, he has consecrated his guests. 14 The great day of the Lord is near, near and hastening fast; the sound of the day of the Lord is bitter, the warrior cries aloud there.

Mal 4:5 Lo, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes.

In Joel, it may have an element of good news:
Joel 2:1 Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming, it is near— 11 The Lord utters his voice at the head of his army; how vast is his host! Numberless are those who obey his command. Truly the day of the Lord is great; terrible indeed—who can endure it? 13 rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing.

Encouragement Offered, Reflection on 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

We're approaching Advent, that season in which we contemplate and anticipate the coming of Christ. I'm skipping for now that preachy paragraph about how we have fallen into the trap of the commercialization of Christmas, that we think more about presents than presence, etc.

This week's lectionary is a big help in getting us ready for getting ready. Matthew presents God as a judge of our actions and our inactions. The lesson from 1 Thessalonians also warns of the coming judgment that the Lord brings.

Yet, Paul also is consoling his listeners. "You do not need to be afraid of judgment. You have been faithful." He then reminds them to continue this way of being: "Keep on doing what you have been doing. "Your faith, your love, your hope are all protections for you."

God intends to save us, not destroy us. Paul states that this salvation comes through Christ. The question arises of whether Paul is teaching that our deeds are a factor or whether Christ can and will save the rest of us who don't have the deeds to deserve any saving.

Paul warns. Paul encourages. And Paul encourages us to encourage each other and to build up each other.

Lectio Divina: 1 Thessalonians 5:5-10

Friday, November 14, 2008

Deborah, Prophet and Judge, Reflection on Judges 4:1-7

In Exodus, God did something good for them. They were pleased for a while, then misbehaved or complained. When things turned bad, they cried out. God heard them. God over and over saved them again.

In the book of Joshua, they enter the Promised Land, defeat many enemies, and begin to settle in. There they are in a land on which they had not labored, in towns they had not built, eating fruit of vineyards and oliveyards that had not planted (See Joshua 24).

God has once more done something good for them. They once more were pleased for a while. And once more they misbehaved. Once more things turned bad. Once more they cried out and were heard.

The prophet and judge, Deborah, tells them how God is planning to save them once more.

The Old Testament has not saved for us the speeches or even the names of very many women. In Exodus, a fragment of Miriam's song appears. And, as in the case of Deborah, someone else, in Miriam's case, her brother Moses, does the actual work. Reading ahead, Huldah will also speak God's word--in her case, a not very reassuring one (2 Kings 22:14-20).

Lectio Divina: Psalm 123:1-4

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Spending the Talent on Yourself Won't Help Either, Reflection on Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18

Although Matthew did not use the phrase, Day of the Lord, in this week's passage, we may read this tale of judgment as being about the Final Judgment. Some readers have a problem identifying the master in the parable as being representative of God; others have no problem with it at all.

The lectionary pairing of this portion of Zephaniah with the gospel reading implies that they assume that the judgment of the timid servant is a final one.

Zechariah tells us that on the Day of the Lord, many will be punished. Their misdeeds include violence, fraud, and complacency. God will search them out with a lamp. We are accustomed to the term, light, as being complimentary when applied to God. We are reminded that light will seem good or seem bad depending on whether we want God to see what we are doing, or whether we would rather hide.

They thought their gold and silver would protect them. It will be no more help to them than the hidden talent was for the servant in Matthew's parable.

Lectio Divina: Zephaniah 1:7, 12-13

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Matthew Principle, Reflection on Matthew 25:24-30

This part of Matthew's gospel is very harsh: those who have a lot will get even more; those who don't have much, will lose even the little that they have. That may be the way that bankers decide who should get the loan that will enable a business to expand, but how do we interpret it to be the way God decides which of us receives gifts?

It may be comforting to read ahead to verses 31-46 at this point.

But, today, we are reading verses 24-30:

Prudence is punished.

Isn't prudence a virtue?

Prudence is punished.

Or, is it cowardice that is being punished? Or, is it a lack of trust in the Master?

Lectio Divina: Psalm 90:1-6

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Trustworthy, Reflection on Matthew 25:19-23

The master comes back and rewards the slaves who had put his money to risk. "You've done so well that I'm going to trust you with even more," he tells them.

What Matthew does not tell us is what the result would have been if the two risk-takers had lost all their master's money. Are they being rewarded for being successful or for being willing to try?

How do we define successful, anyway?

On the other hand, some commentators read this parable as encouragement for the Christians who were surprised that Jesus had not already come back. "What should we do while we are waiting for his return?" they asked. This parable indicates that using the resources entrusted to them by their Lord is the appropriate action for Christians.

Lectio Divina: Matthew 25:23

Monday, November 10, 2008

Veterans' Day is November 11

Suggestions for Observing Veterans' Day

We Believe

The United Methodist Church worship page offers several Affirmations of Faith with thanks to Steve Garnaas-Holmes.

Fearful Prudence, Reflection on Matthew 25:14-18

I think that I always interpreted the word "talent" in this parable as meaning "talent." I mean although I understood that Matthew was talking about money, I just assumed that he had an allegorical intent. So, I was surprised to read in Boring & Craddock that the use of the term "talent" came into the English language in the Middle Ages. Matthew was talking about money. I find that I can't let go of the allegorical meaning anyway.

Yet, I am able to read the term as including money. And it's a lot of money. A talent would have taken a laborer fifteen years to earn.

Can we sympathize with that third slave? His master had entrusted him with an amount of wealth that he would never have been able to accumulate on his own. Shouldn't he be careful?

How willing are we to restrict our actions and speech because we fear the cost of saying and doing something that will offend our financial supporters?

Ann Weems, in her Kneeling in Jerusalem, begins the poem "Stewardship,"
The pew preached to the pulpit, all the while clutching its checkbook
If the boat is rocked, it is the poor who will be drowned

(thanks to Resources for Preaching and Worship, Year A, edited by Ward and Wild, for the Weems reference.

Lectio Divina
: Matthew 25:18

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Hasten, O God, Relection on Psalm 70

In a week in which we have been pondering the parable of the bridesmaids, we turn to Psalm 70. Matthew has asked us to face the consequences of our actions, "Keep awake."

Psalm 70 also has an element of urgency. "Hasten, O God, to save me."

Matthew compares the result of being prepared and not being prepared. Amos warned that the coming to the Lord might be really painful. The Psalmist expectantly awaits God, expecting rescue.

I'm not sure why the lectionary suggested pairing these passages. Is Amos speaking to me when he asks, "Why do you want the Day of the Lord?" Is he talking to the Psalmist who sings to God, "Your are my help and my rescuer. O Lord, hurry."?

Do I want the Lord to come, or would a delay be better for me?

Lectio Divina: Psalm 70:4-5

Saturday, November 8, 2008

We Will Be with the Lord Forever, Reflection on 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

Paul is reassuring those who had been expecting the imminent return of Jesus and had become disappointed as Christians died before that return. "Of course, you are grieving," Paul writes to them. "You miss them, and you fear what is waiting for them and for you."

Paul then affirms that what God has done for Jesus, God will do for them. "Jesus will return to earth as sovereign. All Christian believers will lead him back in a triumphal parade. All of us, all of them, will be with the Lord forever."

Boring and Craddock, in their The People's New Testament Commentary, point out that the language Paul is using derives from the apocalyptic language of his time.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Seeking Wisdom, Reflection on Wisdom of Solomon 6:12-20

In the Jewish wisdom tradition, Wisdom is one of God's closest agents, who was active in creation and who continues in the world to help the community live according to divine design. Wisdom of Solomon adds to this notion the idea that Wisdom will guide the soul to the goal of life, which is to live after death in the immediate presence of god. This is what it means to be immortal.

(from Preaching the Old Testament, Ronald J. Allen & Clark M. Williamson)

The foolish bridesmaids in Matthew's parable should have studied this passage. We should all be living it out.

Lectio Divina: Wisdom of Solomon 6:12-17

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Bishop Ward's ePistle November 2008

Many wept. . .many shouted for joy. . .
- Ezra 3:12

On this historic day, there are dramatic expressions of hope, disappointment, energy, fatigue. In all these expressions of the human spirit, there is the mark of God.

We are incomplete in ourselves. We need one another. Our differences have been highlighted in the long campaign as those offering themselves for public service have engaged with one another and with us.

Today is the day to pause and to gather ourselves.

First, to gather self. To be gracious whether our perspective prevailed or was defeated. To be hopeful whether our candidate garnered the majority of votes. To be prayerful for those who have been elected to lead in our nation and our communities.

Second, to gather ourselves. To remember the power of community. To be generous and gracious in engaging across dividing lines of opinion. To be courageous in the building of new coalitions for the good of all.

Let us give thanks for those who have dared to offer themselves for public service. Let us pray for healing for those who are disappointed and strength for those who are elected.

Let us unite with one another across our differences to hold President-Elect Obama in our prayers as he moves forward to lead us. There is nothing to be gained from holding our hearts and energies in reserve. There is everything to be gained in offering ourselves courageously in community with one another.

May God's gracious presence and continuing power be with us, today and always.

With gratitude for sharing this life,


Looking toward the Day of the Lord, Reflection on Amos 5:18-24

When you contemplate the Day of the Lord, are you looking forward with hope or dread? Do you expect God's blessing, or do you expect to get what you deserve? Amos says, "Too bad for you who think God is coming with lavish gifts. The day that God comes will be dire. Imagine running from a lion and bumping into a bear."

Then Amos speaks of what has upset the Lord, "I'm tired of what you call religion. You are practicing fancy but empty worship. What you should be doing is living a life of justice and righteousness."

Also frightening is the possibility that we might get what we deserve.

Think about those foolish bridesmaids.

Lectio Divina: Amos 5:18-24

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Keep Awake, Reflection on Matthew 25:1-13

Jesus describes what the Kingdom will be like. Some will be prepared for its advent. Some will not.

If you are wise, you will prepare. Delay in the coming should not make you think the event just isn't ever going to happen.

As you read the news each day, do you doubt that God's way will overtake the world's way of being? Or, do you remain vigilant and keep prepared?

Lectio Divina: Matthew 25:13

Psalm 72, Prayer for Guidance and Support for the Nation's Leader

Psalm 72 offers a model for prayer for a new leader for a nation:

Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to a king’s son.

May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice.

May the mountains yield prosperity for the people, and the hills, in righteousness.

May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor.

May he live while the sun endures, and as long as the moon, throughout all generations.

May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass, like showers that water the earth.

In his days may righteousness flourish and peace abound, until the moon is no more.

May he have dominion from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.

May his foes bow down before him, and his enemies lick the dust.

May the kings of Tarshish and of the isles render him tribute, may the kings of Sheba and Seba bring gifts.

May all kings fall down before him, all nations give him service.

For he delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper.

He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy.

From oppression and violence he redeems their life; and precious is their blood in his sight.

Long may he live! May gold of Sheba be given to him. May prayer be made for him continually, and blessings invoked for him all day long.

May there be abundance of grain in the land; may it wave on the tops of the mountains; may its fruit be like Lebanon; and may people blossom in the cities like the grass of the field.

May his name endure forever, his fame continue as long as the sun. May all nations be blessed in him; may they pronounce him happy.

Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, who alone does wondrous things.

Blessed be his glorious name forever; may his glory fill the whole earth. Amen and Amen.

The prayers of David son of Jesse are ended.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Commitment means Committing, Relection on Joshua 24:19-25; Psalm 78:1-7

Following God's will is not always easy. We are often tempted to do things that seem more immediately rewarding. The people meeting with Joshua that day had a history of voicing allegiance then backsliding.

Scholars think now that this portion of the book of Joshua was written after exile to help Israel to understand why they had lost their nation.

We are troubled by verse 19. Can it be that God will not forgive us? One reading is that Joshua's words are to remind us that sin does have consequences. We should consider these consequences before we act.

But, as we read more and more of the Bible, we are reassured that God continues to reach out to us, and, yes, forgive us more times than we deserve.

Joshua asks them to make a commitment. A commitment is more than a single promise at a single point in time. A commitment is a change in the rest of our lives.

Lectio Divina: Joshua 24:23-24

Monday, November 3, 2008

Choose This Day, Reflection on Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-18

In last week's reading from Joshua, they were poised to enter Canaan, their past and future land. We've skipped to the end of the book. They have taken possession of the land and allocated it among the tribes.

They are divided into tribes, family groups, but they are one people who worship one God.

In this week's reading, Joshua has assembled all the tribes. He reminds them of how God has led them here.

"Make up your mind today," Joshua tells them. "Decide whether you are going to follow God or choose other gods."

Each person, each family, each leader has to make a choice. Yet, the choice involves the entire community. They have shared a history, their present situation depends on each other's decision, and their future will be affected by not only what each one does but also on what is important to their neighbors. John Donne was right.

Lectio Divina: Joshua 24:14-15

Sunday, November 2, 2008

God's Kingdom--When and Where? Reflection on 1 Thessalonians 2:9-13

Paul wrote to this early congregation, "You are being called into God's own kingdom and glory." Paul then praised them for embodying God's word.

The Thessalonians had heard Paul preach and had been able to discern that the source of Paul's word was God. They more than felt good about this; they also did good. As Paul put it, "God's word is at work in you believers."

Paul is speaking of the Kingdom of God as something that is already here, not something that we will have to wait for until after we die.

He said, "You are witnesses." To test how we are doing, look at the headlines I have posted on the blog from Reuters. Do you see much Kingdom of God there? If not, look at the work the church is doing (include your own self here). Could Paul see God's work in us believers?

Lectio Divina: Psalm 107:9-13

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Learning from Saints

On the Upper Room section, MethodX, Daniel Benedict writes about Saints.

Acts of Worship for All Saints Day from the United Methodist Hymnal

An Excerpt from the Canticle of Remembrance, UMH 652
The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God and no torment will ever touch them.
In the eyes of the foolish they seem to have died, and their departure was thought to be an affliction,
and their going from us to be their destrution; but they are at peace.
For though in our sight they were punished, their hope is full of immortality.

A Hymn by Charles Wesley, UMH 656
If death my friend and me divide, thou dost not, Lord, my sorrow chide, or frown my tears to see; restrained from passionate excess, thou bidst me mourn in calm distress for them that rest in thee.
I feel a strong immortal hope, which bears my mournful spirit up beneath its mountain load redeemed from death, and grief, and pain, I soon shall find my friend again within the arms of God.
Pass a few fleeting moments more and death the blessing shall restore which death has snatched away; for me thou wilt the summons send, and give me back my parted friend in that eternal day.

Lectio Divina: 1 John 3:2

Friday, October 31, 2008

All Saints Day, Bishop Hope Ward's Epistle

All Saints, All Children of God

See what love God has given us, that we should be called children of God' and that is what we are.
- Ephesians 3:1

Today, on All Saints, November 1, it is good to remember who we are. We are God's children, given new birth through the Holy Spirit and given new life in community with all others who share faith in Christ.
In the Hector Peterson Museum in Soweto, South Africa, there is a life-size photograph of a youth carrying the lifeless body of Hector Peterson. Hector Peterson was the first child killed in the violent response to the peaceful demonstration of school children in Soweto. Hector's sister is running along side the bearer of her brother's body.
Beside the photograph is the response of the family of the youth who risked his life to carry Hector away. "Our brother is not a hero. This is what we do."
Saints are not heroes. To be a hero is to be a champion, standing taller and stronger than those around. To be a saint is to be one of God's children, doing what God's children do, standing no taller or stronger than others but moving faithfully together, doing what God's children do.
On this day of All Saints, I am grateful for the life we share. What a great gift - to be a child of God! We proclaim not ourselves, nor one another, but the strong work of God in us for good. To God be the glory on this day as we celebrate the family of all God's saints.
With gratitude for sharing with you in Christ's ministry,

Acts of Worship for All Saints Day

According to the United Methodist Book of Worship,
All Saints (November 1 or the first Sunday in November) is a day of remembrance for the saints, with the New Testament meaning of all Christian people of every time and place. We celebrate the communion of saints as we remember the dead, both of the Church universal and of our local congregations.

Revelation, written to Christians in dire circumstances, still speaks to us when we are in our own troubles. "How long will it be before you fix these problems on earth?" The Lamb reveals what the earth will look like after the apocalypse.

Lectio Divina: Psalm 34:4

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Deserts and Fields, Reflection on Psalm 107:1-7, 33-37

Psalm 107 is a call to praise God who leads us, instructs us, redeems us, and gives to us generous gifts. Those people in this week's reading from Joshua knew this God. The words of this psalm would have fit their situation as they prepared to cross the Jordan and enter into Canaan, the land that would be known as Israel.

And the words continue to fit the situation of God's people through the ages. We can remind ourselves and witness to others that God's steadfast love does endure, that we have felt God's presence lead us through and out of troubles.

As I read verses 33-37, I am struck that although they can be read quite literally, they don't have to be. That is, God is the creator of our earth, the source of the rain necessary for life to continue. But, God is the source of what Jesus called living water. God works through us turning our parched lives into fruitful ones.

Lectio Divina: Psalm 107:33-37

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A River Crossing, Reflection on Joshua 3:7-17

They are poised to cross over the Jordan into the land promised by them. Compare this crossing with the one that took them from captivity in Egypt into their long testing in the wilderness (Exodus 14).

As Pharaoh's army had drawn near, the people had been afraid. The Lord instructed Moses what to do. The Lord sent a strong wind to make a path through the sea so the Israelites could cross over on dry ground.

Now, forty years later, Moses has died, and Joshua is their appointed leader. He also receives instructions from the Lord. Once again the waters are divided, and the people can cross.

What is different is that on this crossing, the priests and the ark of the covenant are part of the story. Also different is that this time is that they are not just one group; they are twelve tribes.

The priests go first with the ark. As their feet enter the river, the waters begin to separate.

Imagine being one of the priests and stepping into the rushing water. When the people saw the water piling up, they then stepped into the path. Imagine being able to trust that the danger would wait for you to make your way across.

In Mississippi this year, we have been remembering what it was like 40 years ago. We remember how important our leaders were during those crises. Today we continue to face hardships, demands, animosities. Today, we need to continue to consider how the Lord is sending help and helpers to us.

They had the ark to hold. What are we holding to remind us of God's commands and help?

Lectio Divina: Psalm 107:1-2, 6

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

God on Trial

Masterpiece Contemporary, on PBS, will be showing God on Trial this month. It's showing November 9 in Mississippi. Check your schedules.

Here's a description:
Who is to blame for the worst of all crimes? Facing extermination at Auschwitz, prisoners weigh the case against God in God on Trial. Anthony Sher (Primo), Rupert Graves (The Forsyte Saga), Dominic Cooper (Sense and Sensibility, Mamma Mia!) and Stellan Skårsgard (The Pirates of the Caribbean, Mamma Mia!) headline the cast of believers and non believers coming to terms with faith and suffering.

Leaders Who Stray, Reflection on Micah 3:5-18

"Whom can you trust?" Micah asks. "Are they telling you the truth, or are they saying what they think you want to hear? Well, not you, necessarily. They're saying what they think that the ones in charge want to hear."

He's talking about the religious leaders of his time, as was Jesus in Matthew's gospel.

Similar complaints continue to be made about prophets and priests of every generation. We see compromises to what congregations want to hear. We see failures in their behavior.

It's impossible for me not to apply this criticism of ancient prophets to our current situation with its current prophets. Candidates for political office, their supporters, and the voters trying to choose among them need to remember Micah's words.
Lectio Divina: Psalm 45:3

Monday, October 27, 2008

Do as They Say, Not as They Do, Reflection on Matthew 23:1-12

Matthew was writing to followers of Christ sometime after the destruction of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem (Scholars suggest sometime between 80-100 CE). Without the temple as a visible symbol, and more than symbol, of Jewish identity, some leaders were concerned that the Jews would be secularized, assimilated into Roman identity.

In this passage, Jesus has two audiences: the crowds and his disciples. The crowds are potential converts; the disciples are those who have been following him. He is warning them against the Pharisees,who are the religious leaders, insiders.

We too often read this passage and others as conflicts between Christians and Jews. Jesus is not saying that Jews are wrong because they are Jews. He is saying that these particular Jews are wrong because they are not good Jews. Jesus is not rejecting the Torah, but is insisting that these insiders should not only preach the law, they should practice it, as well. (Look back at Psalm 119 for a view of the law as a joy and delight).

"Get over yourself," Jesus tells the leaders. Start carrying your share of the burdens."

Lectio Divina
: Matthew 23:11-12

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Looking toward All Saints Day

On the United Methodist Church webpage, Safiyah Fosua writes:

All Saints Day provides an opportunity for all of us to remember that all who are in Christ, both living and deceased, are part of the family of God. We have much to learn from the stories of the saints of old. May I encourage you to also remember the "everyday saints" who have crossed your path as well as those who have lived in your neighborhoods or served with you in churches?

For more go to Helps for All Saints Day, November 1, 2008

Joshua is Filled with the Spirit of Wisdom, Reflection on Deuteronomy 34:9-12

The books Exodus through Numbers center largely on the journey from Egypt through the wilderness to the edge of the Promised Land. Deuteronomy is presented in the form of speeches in the mouth of Moses. He reviews their history, encourages them to uphold the teachings they have received.

Moses died. He was mourned for thirty days. His burial place is not known. His mourners could not make it a shrine or a place of pilgrimage. They had to move on.

Although his burial place has been forgotten, his leadership is not. The book of Deuteronomy ends with a eulogy, but these words of praise are not contemporaneous with his burial. Rather, they are written much after that time. These words reflect an assessment of Moses' place in the history of God's relationship with humans: No prophet after him was known to the Lord face to face. He was unequaled for all the signs and wonders he performed, all his mighty deeds, and terrifying displays of power.

They need a leader, and Joshua is chosen. We have two versions of his commissioning. In Numbers 27:18, God tells Moses to choose Joshua. In Deuteronomy 32:23, the Lord speaks directly to Joshua. Two versions, but not necessary contradictory ones.

How did the people themselves discern that Joshua was to be the appropriate successor to Moses? How is God's will ever discerned?

Lectio Divina: Psalm 90:13, 17

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Death of Moses, Reflection on Deuteronomy 34:1-8

In last week's lectionary, Moses and the Lord were discussing travel arrangements. The people had once again misbehaved; Moses had once more interceded. God had once more made assurances to Moses.

This week's reading from Deuteronomy is a leap past the 40-year long journey through the wilderness. The Lord has told Moses that neither he nor Aaron will be able to enter the land promised to their people (Deuteronomy 32:48-52).

Moses was allowed to see the prize but not hold it. Moses had devoted his life to people who often did not appreciate him. After his death, they wept for him for thirty days, the mourning period for a parent.

Lectio Divina: Psalm 90:1-2

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Two Ways, Reflection on Psalm 1

Imagine living in an arid land. Little rain. Little vegetation. Imagine what a tree would signify.

This first psalm, the opening of this wisdom book, has at its center the image of trees. Fruitful--their leaves do not wither, in all they do they prosper.

A tree in an arid land can prosper only if it is planted near a water source.

The teaching of the Lord provides what is necessary for us to grow, to prosper, to bear fruit. Ignoring that teaching is what the wicked do, the ones who become like chaff, driven by the wind.

Look back at Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18.

Lectio Divina: Psalm 1:3

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Church Membership, Church Leadership, Reflection on 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8

When we are tempted to restrict our understanding of being a Christian to the assertion that we have a personal savior, we need to re-read Paul's letter to the Thessalonians. Being a Christian is being a Christian in community.

And, knowing this, we need to face that these Christian communities are often not very Christian.

Paul stresses the need to please God, not mortals. Then he describes how he declared the Gospel to them: no flattery, no motive of greed, not seeking praise; rather, gentleness and self-giving.

Boring and Craddock, in their The People's New Testament Commentary, sum it up well:
For Paul, joining the church was not adding on another worthy cause to our list of obligations, but incorporation into the family of God....Paul is not only the father as head of the household, but mother and nurse, baby, brother and orphan...Paul's understanding of church leadership is mutuality rather than hierarchy.

Look over this list that Paul suggests to the Thessalonians. How many of these characteristics does the Nominating Committee of a church today consider when choosing officers? when considering pastors?

Lectio Divina: 1 Thessalonians 2:4, 8

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Got a Minute?

Thanks to Hacking Christianity for alerting me to this video: The Bible in a Minute

Messiah Questions, Reflection on Matthew 22:41-46

Now Jesus questions the Pharisees. He asks them directly to describe the meaning and the source of the Messiah. They know the answer because they know the psalms. They respond, "The Messiah is the son of David."

Note: the Greek word translated here as Messiah is christos, which meant "the Anointed One," and is the source of the English word, Christ.

Some examples from the Psalms that the Pharisees could be using: from Psalm 2. The anointed of the Lord is the King of Zion and the son of the Lord; from Psalm 89, David is my anointed one. I will make him the firstborn; from Psalm 132: One of David's sons will be set on the throne. The Lord will reside in ion forever. David is the anointed one.

Jesus then quotes Psalm 110 and asks them, "How can David both be Lord and be son to the Lord?"

They couldn't answer his question. They wouldn't dare to ask him anymore.

We, by our lives, are continuing to answer Jesus question, "Who do you think is the Anointed One of God?"

Lectio Divina: Psalm 1:1-2

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Great Commandment, Reflection on Matthew 22:34-40

The Pharisees and Herodians disagreed on a lot of things, but they did agree with one thing--they both saw Jesus as a disruption. They tried to trap him by asking the question about paying taxes, but he didn't fall into the trap.

In a passage omitted by the lectionary, the Saducees, another group opposing Jesus, also failed in their tactic of asking a trick question.

When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Saducees, they decided to make yet another attempt. They addressed him as "Teacher," (were they being sarcastic? surely, they didn't think Jesus could teach them anything?) They asked him "Which commandment of the law is most important?"

Were they trying to get him to say that some of the law was less important than the others? Do we believe that? What distinctions do we make? What the difference between naming what's most important and summarizing the law? When prophets summarized the law (see Micah 6:8; Isaiah 33:15-16; 56:1; Amos 5:14-15), were they saying that the rest of the instruction is unimportant?

Jesus responds to them by quoting scripture (Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18). Is he saying the rest of the instruction is unimportant? Or, is he saying all the instructions that the Scripture gives us is intended to help us do these things: Love God and love neighbor?

Lectio Divina: Matthew 22:37-40

Monday, October 20, 2008

Love your neighbor, Reflection on Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18

We are so used to hearing that ancient Jews were swamped with detailed laws that we believe it. The book of Leviticus, as a collection of laws, can certainly support our presupposition.

Yet, the people who were able to recognize and acknowledge that they were beneficiaries of God's care and concern did not see the laws as an onerous burden. Rather, they received them as a gracious gift from God intended to make their lives better.

verse 2: The OT gives us many stories about many people, but it does not ask us to model ourselves after these often-flawed folks. Rather, we are commanded to imitate God. The Gospel writers later were to reinforce this command. See Matthew 5:48 and Luke 6:36.

The lectionary passage this weeks omits verses 3 through 14. Read them for yourselves anyway. Take care of the elderly. Provide sustenance for the poor. Don't steal. Don't lie. Don't cheat. This passage even requires equal-access rules for the blind and deaf. To be holy is to care for other people's lives and needs.

Verses 15 through 18 continue this philosophy. Be fair. Be kind.

In other words, those who love God love their neighbors as themselves.

(with help from Allen & Williamson).

Lectio Divina: Leviticus 19:15-18

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Mighty King, Psalm 99

When God told Moses to lead the people on the next stage of their journey, Moses pleaded for the assurance of God's continued presence.

God's people continue to need God and to know that they need God. Psalm 99 calls for praise of the Lord our God.

The psalm reminds us of the journey through the wilderness--references to Moses and Aaron, the speaking from a pillar of cloud, and how God forgave them and that God had exacted retribution.

This psalm addresses God, as a mighty king and tells what kind of king God is: one who loves justice, establishes equity, and works righteous judgment.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

A Call to Prayer, Reflection on Psalm 96:1-13

Look again at Isaiah 45:1-7. The Lord is using the foreign king Cyrus to serve the Lord's purpose. Through Cyrus, the Lord brings salvation not only to Israel but to the whole world. And the whole world will recognize this.

Psalm 96 also has a universal note. In verse 3, we are directed to tell of the Lord's glory among the nations, the Lord's wonderful deeds among all peoples. In verse 7, all families are directed to acclaim the glory and strength of the Lord.

Are we able to recognize the work of God in our own lives? Do we see God's will working through the hands of other people?

Are we able to recognize the work of God in other people's lives? Do we see God's will to be the hands that carry out God's will?

Lectio Divina: Psalm 96:4-9

Friday, October 17, 2008

Remembering Your Faith, Hope, and Love, Reflection on 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

Scholars believe that this letter is the oldest one that we have that was written by Paul. As such, it is the oldest piece of Christian literature that we have. For example, evidence indicates that it is dated at about 50 CE, twenty years before the Gospel of Mark would have been written.

His audience lived a long way away from Jerusalem--not only in miles. They were Greek and they were Gentile. Paul begins his letter, as was the practice of the time, with a greeting. But, he changes the greeting from what they would have been accustomed to.

The Graeco-Roman practice of the time was to begin letters with the Greek word, chairein, which meant "Greetings." Paul instead used the Greek word, charis, which sounds similar but mean "peace." This term would thus echo the term customarily used as greeting by the Jews, shalom, which meant "peace."

Thus, in his greeting, Paul has combined the traditonal Graeco-Roman form of greeting with the religious one. He's speaking to people who have accepted the faith and have been incorporated into God's family.

In verse 3, Paul expresses thanks to God for the way that the Thessalonians are living their lives. They have faith--not just an attitude, but the God-given power to do Christian work. They have love--not just an emotion, but the means by which they carry out this work. They have hope--not just optimism, but a confident expectation that God will triumph.

Hear the echo, in verses 9-10, as Paul describes the Christian experience. Because of your faith, you turned to God. Because of your love, you served God. Because of your hope, you are waiting for his Son, our rescuer.

(Note: my source for this explanation comes from The People's New Testament Commentary, by Boring and Craddock. I hope you have access to a copy yourself.)

Lectio Divina: 1 Thessalonians 1:2-3.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

God's Instrument, Reflection on Isaiah 45:1-7

They would have been used to the idea that King David was anointed by God to save these people from their enemies (See Psalms 2 and 110 for example). And David knew that he was God's servant designated to protect God's people.

Isaiah tells us that this Cyrus, king of a foreign people, is anointed by God to fulfill God's purpose. And, unlike David, Cyrus doesn't know God at the time of appointment.

This Persian leader will defeat Babylon thus releasing Israel from its exile.

God has saved these people once more. Saved them for their sake and for the sake of Cyrus and for the sake of all people who learn about God through Cyrus' victory.

Our blessings may come to us from what seems unlikely sources. People may do good things for us even if we don't consider them appropriately religious, v. 4. Our blessings are not to be hoarded, vs.3 and 6.

Lectio Divina: Isaiah 45:4-5

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

What Claims Does the Emperor Have on Us? Reflection on Matthew 22:15-22

Keeping the Roman Empire afloat was costly. Think about the buildings, the armies, all the layers of administrators, and even the costly banquets by the rulers. Occupied territories were taxed heavily to cover the costs of their occupation.

Coins were the form of currency. They carried the image of the emperor along with an assurance of his divinity.

Those who were plotting against Jesus tried to entrap him by asking if he thought it was legal to pay tribute to the emperor--that is, to use such a coin to support such an occupier.

Is his answer clear? Is he ending the discussion or is he starting one? After all, in Matthew's gospel, the Kingdom of God is not walled off in some other lifetime, it is a promise of what is happening here among us.

(with thanks to Preaching the Gospels without Blaming the Jews, Allen & Williamson)

Lectio Divina: Psalm 96:4