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

Monday, June 30, 2008

Acceptance and Rejection, Reflecting on Matthew 11:16-19

"You've ignored all the cues. You don't respond to our joy or our sorrow." It's hard too imagine how someone could be less interested or less impressed than to be oblivious to happiness or mourning.

"What does it take to convince you?" Jesus is asking. "You criticized John for being too religious and Jesus for not being religious enough."

Current church members could compile a similar list. Evangelism is and always has been difficult.

Matthew does not intend for us to believe the accusations that John had a demon or that Jesus was a drunkard. Does he want us to believe the third accusation--that Jesus was a friend of tax collectors and sinners? (with thanks to Ronald J. Allen & Clark M. Williamson in their Preaching the Gospels without Blaming the Jews.)

Matthew uses two metaphors for Jesus in this passage: Son of Man and wisdom.

Son of Man: Jesus had responded to a potential follower by saying, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head," (Matthew 8:20). Jesus will use this term again to describe the one who will come in glory and judge the nations (Matthew 25:31-46). According to the notes in the New Interpreters' Study Bible, Son of Man can refer to a human being (Ezekiel 2) or to a heavenly figure who rules (Daniel 7:13-14).

Wisdom: Hard to find, expensive to obtain, God knows where it is, Job 28:12-28. Wisdom calls out to us wherever we go. Wisdom was the first creation of God. Proverbs 8.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Lectio Divina, June 29

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 6:23

Already but Not Yet, Reflecting on Romans 6:19-23

I'm paraphrasing:

Sin used to control you. You were its slave and an obedient one. Now, let righteousness be your master. Look at this way, what benefits did you get from sin? What benefits can you receive from God?

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Like a rock? Image of Jesus shows up in Dallas on a slab of granite

I read the Dallas News' Religion site every Saturday. Today I saw this image.

Lectio Divina, June 28

But I trusted in your steadfast love;
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.

Psalms 13:5

Now That Sin No Longer Is in Control of You, What Now? Reflecting on Romans 6:12-18

Paul says that we don't have to be slaves to sin any more. "Put yourself into righteous acts, he demands." I thought about this attitude of his as I read this article by Electra Draper in the June 13, 2008, The Denver Post

"We Believe Colorado" is a diverse group of faith leaders seeking to broaden the values debate for 2008, according to organizers. The group is challenging the political agenda set by social conservatives and the religious right in the 2000 and 2004 elections.

Thursday's event combined worship and training for effective advocacy on moral issues such as civil rights, the environment and economic justice.

"I came happy. I came excited. I came to embrace and endorse 'We Believe Colorado' as an opportunity for economic and social justice to prevail," said the Rev. Andrew Simpson, presiding elder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Simpson and others said faith communities outside the extreme right have been in the majority but have not been counted by politicians and media as values voters.

"We Believe Colorado" is part of a national movement for racially, ethnically and religiously diverse alliances that will represent their common moral values in the political arena, according to organizers, such as Washington, D.C.-based Faith in Public Life and the Colorado Council of Churches.

Issues this year include lifting people out of poverty, equitable public education, affordable health care, a just immigration policy offering paths to legal status and families' reunifications, progressive taxes and government budgets that embody the common good.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Lectio Divina, June 27

Whoever welcomes you welcomes me,
and whoever welcomes me
welcomes the one who sent me.
Matthew 10:40

Rewards, Reflecting on Matthew 10:40-42

I'm looking at the headings in Chapter 10 in The New Interpreter's Bible: first, is "The Mission of the Twelve," then three ominous ones, "Coming Persecutions," "Whom to Fear," and "Not Peace, but a Sword."

Matthew is speaking to the church of his time and to ours. Discipleship can be tough.

Then I look at the heading of the last section, today's reading: Rewards. Discipleship can have rewards. Matthew tells them (and us): Some will welcome you. You have given up a lot in order to take the message to them. Some will respond, and in responding, will be rewarded.

Social investors defy the global credit crunch, Reflecting on Matthew 10:42

Many ways are possible for us to emulate the first disciples. Ekklesia showed me this form of cups of cold water.

Oikocredit is a co-operative financial institution, which offers loans or investment capital to microfinance institutions, co-operatives and small and medium sized enterprises in developing countries, aimed at development financing.

The organisation has been active in India for over 20 years. In 2004, a local subsidiary was created: Maanaveeya Holdings & Investments (P) Ltd, allowing Oikocredit to provide rupee loans. As a result, the borrowers are no longer exposed to foreign exchange risks. In the past four years, Maanaveeya has built up a portfolio that now holds 32 microfinance partners with a capital outstanding of 1.60 billion rupees (€ 26 million). Today, Maanaveeya is exploring the possibility to also reach out to businesses such as fair trade organizations.

Oikocredit goes beyond microfinance and provides services that also reach organizations aimed at the working poor. In addition to cooperatives of farmers, Oikocredit supports fair trade organizations and producers engaged in fair trade.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Worship and Music Resources for U.S.A. Independence Day

Here are recommendations on the United Methodist Worship site for Independence Day

ePistle June 26, 2008 from Bishop Ward

Whoever Welcomes. . .

Whoever welcomes you welcomes me--- - Matthew 10:40

The appointed text for this Sunday, June 29, contains the resounding word welcome. God welcomes us through Christ, and we are called to welcome others. Even a cup of cold water given in the name of Christ is a means of grace.

The issue of immigration policy is a flashpoint in public discourse. May we who hear the resounding welcome in the words of Jesus find it in our spirits to offer the grace Jesus offered to all. Jesus remembered the words of Leviticus 33:34 to welcome the stranger in our midst.

I hope that you will join me on Friday, June 27, at noon on the steps of the State Capitol as we give witness to the resolution passed by the Mississippi Annual Conference to pray and act as advocates for those whose lives are threatened by unjust immigration policies and practices. We encourage our state legislature to review policies punishing immigrants and their families as well as their employers. We encourage all to realize the impact of harsh policies on families who are our neighbors. We yearn and pray and witness for a more humane and just way of engaging the issues around immigration in our society.

With gratitude for your partnership in ministry,

Bishop Hope Morgan Ward
Mississippi Annual Conference

Words for People Who Have Lost Everything, Reflection on Jeremiah 28:5-9

One prophet, Hananiah, says, "Everything is going to be all right. God will fix it" (28:1-4). The other, Jeremiah, says, "May it be so, but remember what other prophets have said, how they have spoken of war, famine, and pestilence" (28:5-8).

Jeremiah, at the time of this confrontation, is wearing a yoke to demonstrate God's command to him that the people of Judah were supposed to capitulate to Babylon. "Anyone that tells you that the temple will be restored are liars," he had preached (27:1-22).

When is it appropriate to preach optimistically? When is it not?

Which prophet's words seem more in line with the suggested Psalm 89?

Do you agree with the decision of the lectionary preparers to connect this passage with Matthew 10:40-42?

Lectio Divina, June 26

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

to all generations.
Psalm 89:1

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

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

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

God has provided a substitute sacrifice.

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

Lectio Divina, June 25

So Abraham called that place "The Lord will provide"; as it is said to this day, "On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided" (Genesis 22:14).

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Psalm 13, a Lament Psalm

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

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

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

Suggested reading: James E. Bowley, Introduction to Hebrew Bible.

Lectio Divina, June 24

Abraham said, "God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son." So the two of them walked on together (Genesis 22:8)

Monday, June 23, 2008

New Report from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life Finds Religion in U.S. is Non-Dogmatic, Diverse and Politically Relevant

A major survey by the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion &
Public Life finds that most Americans have a non-dogmatic approach to
faith. A majority of those who are affiliated with a religion, for
instance, do not believe their religion is the only way to salvation.
And almost the same number believes that there is more than one true
way to interpret the teachings of their religion. This openness to a
range of religious viewpoints is in line with the great diversity of
religious affiliation, belief and practice that exists in the United
States, as documented in a survey of more than 35,000 Americans that
comprehensively examines the country’s religious landscape.
Here's an article that emphasizes the political findings in the report:

Testing Abraham, Reflecting on Genesis 22:1-5

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

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

Lectio Divina, June 23

How long, O Lord?
Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Speaking for God is Not Always Easy, Reflecting on Jeremiah 20

Terrence Fretheim says this passage is about a crisis of vocation:

If you have Walter Brueggemann's Inscribing the Text, read his sermon "The Secret of Survival."

Lectio Divina, June 22

Those who find their life will lose it;
and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.
Matthew 10:39

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Hundreds Volunteer On National Day Of Action More Than 200 Show Up At Local YMCA

The Clarion Ledger reports that on Saturday, more than 200 volunteers answered the call of the United Way for its National Day of Action, reaching out to communities that need help.

A team of volunteers also did some landscaping at the Mission First Clinic in Jackson. In Madison, a group helped build a house for a low-income family. In Rankin County, volunteers built a playground at the Center for Violence Protection.

As I read about how these volunteers have chosen to spend the day, I am thinking about two of this week' s lections:

"The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God," Romans 6:10.

"Whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worth of me," Matthew 10:33.

Baptism as Co-Crucifixion, Reflecting on Romans 6

Krister Stendhal asserts that the word we translate as "baptized" carried the connotation of "drowned." If Paul is relying on this understanding, he is certainly making a strong contrast between life before baptism and life afterwards.

"What's happened to us," he says, "is like what happened to Christ Jesus. He died. He was raised. He has a new life. We have died, as he did. We will have a resurrection like his.

"With baptism our old life of sin has died. We are free from sin."

Lectio Divina, June 21

We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin (Romans 6:6).

Friday, June 20, 2008

The Responsibility Project

Have you seen the TV commercial about somebody doing something good and somebody seeing it and then doing something nice for someone else and so on.

The insurance company that is advertising itself in this commercial is Liberty Mutual. I don't know anything else about them so I am not recommending them.

But, I am recommending that you take a look at their new website, The Responsibility Project.

Discipleship, Reflecting on Matthew 10:34-39

Try to imagine you have never heard of Christianity. Somebody gives you Matthew 10:34-39 to read. Here's what Jesus has to say to you:
  • Don't think I've come to bring peace. I've come to bring a sword.
  • I've come to split up your family.
  • Whoever isn't willing to die for me is not worthy of me.
Are you sold yet?

This message would not have been metaphorical to many of its first listeners. By the time that Matthew's Gospel was available, some Christians had already been crucified by the Romans.

Lectio Divina, June 20

Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life will find it (Matthew 39).

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Risk/Benefit Analysis, Reflecting on Matthew 10:27-33

Jesus continues to prepare his disciples for what they may perceive as the downside of discipleship. "You will be maligned. Do not fear those who want to harm you."

Jesus does not promise that faithfulness is easy, or always pleasant, or even very safe. He does promise "God knows you and values you," and "I will tell God about your faithfulness to me."

I look at the warnings in these verses and wonder how dangerous is Christianity to us today? Do we feel at risk if we choose to participate in the kind of life that Jesus modeled for us? Does the warning in verse 33 affect my decisions?

Lectio Divina, June 19

Answer me, O Lord,
for your steadfast love is good;
according to your abundant mercy,
turn to me.
Psalm 69:16

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The World Council of Churches asks us to pray for Zimbabwe.

Beloved friends in Christ,

At the initiative of brothers and sisters in Zimbabwe, we in the World Council of Churches invite you to join us in observing Sunday 22 June 2008 as the beginning of a season of prayer for the people and government of Zimbabwe.

On Friday 27 June 2008, the citizens of Zimbabwe will return to polling booths to cast ballots in a runoff election for the presidency. It is impossible to overstate the importance of this election, its fairness, its outcome and its aftermath. Events in the coming weeks will challenge the people of Zimbabwe and the world to find means of overcoming violence in the exercise of democracy, and the results will influence the future of the nation and the region.

On Sunday 22 June we request churches to observe a day of prayer for Zimbabwe; on that Sunday, and in the days that follow, we ask you to join millions of Christians throughout the world as we lift up Zimbabwe and its people to the Lord, ask God’s blessing and pray that peace may prevail. We offer the following prayer as a petition to God for the people of Zimbabwe.

Eternal God:
In your sight nations rise and fall, and pass through times of trial.
We pray with and for Zimbabwe in this hour of national decision,
and we ask your divine blessing on all the people of the land.
May Zimbabwe’s leaders seek justice by means that are just;
May the voters take action to promote the common good;
may international observers and mediators be guided by your wisdom.
Lead us not into temptation, Lord, and deliver your people from evil:
Empower us all to overcome anger, jealousy, division and violence;
help us to respect one another despite our differences;
and teach us the things that truly make for peace.
This we pray in the name of Jesus Christ our Saviour. Amen.

Through this and other prayerful actions, we will continue to support the people of Zimbabwe through the days and weeks ahead. In the love and unity of the triune God, we thank you for joining in this season of prayer.


Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia
General Secretary, World Council of Churches

Lectio Divina, June 18

So have no fear of them;
for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered,
and nothing secret that will not become known.
(Matthew 10:26)

Reflecting on Matthew 10:24-26

After the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) rich with the teachings of Jesus, we are told about many healings that Jesus did (Matthew 8-9). Interspersed among his great deeds was this reminder, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head" (Matthew 8:20).

Matthew 10 begins with Jesus summoning his disciples and commissioning them to do the kinds of healings he has done. "Not everyone will welcome you," he tells them (10:13-14). It is not only the Son of Man who will be in danger; his disciples also will be at risk (10:16-18).

We have something like a summary in verses 24-26. "You who are disciples have the authority of the one who commissioned you. With that authority comes accountability. If they don't like me, they aren't going to like you, either." Then Jesus tells them not to be afraid.

Christians living in the time that Matthew's Gospel was written could hear these words as being supportive of them in the conditions that they knew.

In what ways are they helpful for 21st century disicples?

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Lectio Divina, June 17

Turn to me
and be gracious to me;
give your strength to your servant'
save the child of your serving girl.

Psalm 86:16

Hagar and Ishmael in the Wilderness, Reflecting on Genesis 21:14-21

Abraham himself got up early and packed a lunch for Hagar and their son Ishmael. We are told that he sent them off, but we are not told what he said to them or what they said to him. We have no recorded conversation between Abraham and Ishmael.

In the wilderness, after the water has run out, Hagar gives up hope. Once more, a messenger from God speaks to her. Before, God had told her to return to Sarah. Not this time. Hagar and Ishmael are no longer dependent on the good will of Sarah. God will take care of them and provide a future for them.

Then God opens her eyes and she sees a well of water.

We don't know if Abraham ever sees Ishmael again. We do know that the two brothers go to his funeral (Genesis 25:7-9).

Bringing this text into our present means considering all the children who have been abandoned by the comfortable. What messenger is God sending to show their protectors where the well is? Consider other ways of being alone--loss of a job, illness, living with addictions. How does God appear in these situations? What is our part in rescue to be?

Monday, June 16, 2008

After We Have Been Blessed, Reflecting on Genesis 21:8-13

On a feast day, a day of celebrating that, after decades of barrenness, she has a son, Sarah looks around and sees Hagar's son. She demands of her husband, "Get rid of him. Get rid of his mother." Sarah is hard to like or defend at this point but not so hard to understand. Her son is her protection against the fears of her old age. Why shouldn't she worry about his inheritance?

What are we willing to do because of our own fears for our security? Who looks like a threat to our future? Who might expect a share of what seems barely enough for us?

Abraham isn't happy about Sarah's demand, but God assures him that Ishmael will be all right. What do we think would have been a better response by God to Abraham?

Would Ishmael have been better off left in Sarah's home? Would Sarah have grown more generous to Hagar as time went on?

Think about modern day examples of Ishmaels, unwanted children, children who have lost the protection of those controlling the resources. What part does God expect us to play in caring for these children?

Lectio Divina, June 16

Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer;
listen to my cry of supplication.
In the day of trouble I call on you,
for you will answer me.
(Psalm 86:6-7)

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Reading Psalm 100 and asking Who? and Where?

I once asked a group of church-goers what scripture they had memorized. Several named Psalm 100. I was not surprised because when I was a child I had been encouraged to learn this psalm either at Sunday School or Vacation Bible School.

I don't know what I made of that phrase "all the earth" when I was trying to memorize Psalm 100. I'm not even sure if I learned it in the NRSV or KJ. I'm not sure what I mean by it when I say it today. Who is being called to make this joyful noise? Am I recognizing Christians in other countries? Am I including Jews? What about Muslims? What about everybody else, those who don't descend from Abraham?

What do I think about "his gates"? Am I restricting the meaning of this phrase to church buildings (and synagogues and mosques)? Can God's gates include somewhere outside the church building? That is, am I restricting worship to a kind of formal space?

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Lectio Divina, June 14

The people all answered as one: "Everything that the Lord has spoken we will do." Exodus 19:8a

The People All Answered, Reflections on Exodus 19

I saw something new in this passage when I read Rabbi Julie K. Gordon's essay in The Women's Torah Commentary. She asks , "As the Ten Commandments are revealed to the Jewish people on Mount Sinai, did God address women as well as men?" She continues by pointing out that many of the instructions given through Moses are aimed specifically at men. But, all are of them?

This point then leads me to think of the mixed crowd (motley, in some translations, that accompanied them on the trek through the wilderness (Genesis 12:38). Are they included?

A further thought: Moses may have had one audience in mind, but God may thinking of a much larger one.

Torah as a gift, not a club, Reflecting on Exodus 19

"You have seen what I have done for you, how I have protected you, and have sheltered you," God told Moses to remind the people. God then says, "If you obey my voice and keep my covenant, this relationship can continue."

We can read this statement as a continuation in the theme of protection and shelter. Or, we can read it as a threat, "Do what I say (implicitly, everything I say) or else, you are out. Some Christians read this passage as confirmation that they have replaced God's former close friends. Here's what Ronald J. Allen and Clark M. Williams have to say about that "if" in their Preaching the Old Testament: The point of the 'if' is not that Israel might lose the covenant. the question is if Israel will carry out its vocation in the covenant; that is, to follow the way of life that God intends for them and, through that life, to witness to others so that they, too, will know God and God's intentions.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Bishop Ward's ePistle June 12, 2008

Second Spring, Second Flood

This email today from Bishop Coyner in Indiana is a reminder of the mission before us as we go forth from the 2008 Annual Conference. He invites a "Second Flood" of generosity in Indiana.

After Hurricane Katrina, we experienced a "second spring" in the natural world and in our life as a church. Indiana has been a strong partner for us in recovery on the Gulf Coast. You are invited to respond to these friends, now in great need, with offerings in your churches.

We have been deluged with floods here in Indiana-- I ask for everyone to pray for those impacted by these floods, and I am also writing to ask for a "Second Flood" of compassion and giving. . .

During those difficult times, we all learned to cling to Psalm 124 where we are assured:

"If the Lord had not been with us, then the flood would have overwhelmed us."

Let us help them with a "Second Flood" of compassion, and let us help them to know that the flood will not overwhelm them because the Lord and the Lord's people are standing with them.

Thank you for your prayers for others and your generosity.


Bishop Hope Morgan Ward
Mississippi Annual Conference

Lectio Divina, June 13

Cure the sick,
raise the dead,
cleanse the lepers,
cast out demons.
You received without payment;
give without payment
(Matthew 10:8)

A First Step Not a Final One, Reflecting on Matthew 10:5-8

"Stay out of Samaria. Stick with your own kind." Jesus is speaking to people who would have had been used to disparaging Samaritans for a long time, a very long time. Look back at 2 Kings 17:24-41 for the background to this antipathy. After Assyria had destroyed the Northern Kingdom of Israel, they took the Israelites into exile and resettled their land with people from all over. The king of Assyria sent an exiled priest back to Israel--now called Samaria--to teach these new residents how they should worship the Lord. It didn't work out too well.

If we read ahead in Matthew's gospel, we see that Jesus did not intend the proclamations and care to be restricted. Remember the words of Jesus that we call the Great Commission: Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.....

We must be careful in reading the initial instructions of Jesus to the disciples, recorded for us in chapter 10, as being the entire manual for discipleship. And we should be mindful that when we begin a new project, we might be better off if we tried accomplishing it in steps. Was Jesus talking about having a pilot project? Was Jesus judging the ability of his disciples to do any healing so that he wanted them to begin where they felt safest (or most comfortable)?

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Lectio Divina, June 12

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd (Mt 9:36).

Harvests and Healing, Reflections on Matthew 9

Throughout the Gospel of Matthew, watch out for the interactions of Jesus and three kinds of people: religious insiders, his disciples, the crowds.
Jesus has been teaching, preaching, and healing. During this journey, we are told, Jesus had compassion for the crowds because they were harassed and helpless. He said to his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few." I am struck first by my notion of harvest as being something that will benefit the laborer (or, the laborer's employer). But, Jesus is using this term, harvest, as an opportunity to help the helpless.

When I looked for references to "harvest" in the prophets, I found one in Jeremiah 8 that also mentions healing, "The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved." A couple of verses later he queries, "Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there?"

Although I don't think that Jeremiah was using the terms balm and physicians literally, I think the connection between them and harvest is pretty much the same as in Matthew's gospel. Harvest is an opportunity. We don't have enough workers (in Matthew) or time (in Jeremiah) to complete the work.

Read these words of Jesus literally, then ask how much effort your congregation is making toward healing? toward curing disease and sickness? I write this contemplating that the Annual Conference Offering in Mississippi is directed toward the United Methodist Global AIDS Fund. Good. But, we're asking only $1 per member. Still good?

Read them metaphorically. What harvest, opportunity, is your congregation working on? What sicknesses are you making an effort to heal? Do you have enough laborers to bring in the harvest? Or, do you plant only enough that your laborers can manage?

Jesus gives them authority over unclean spirits. What is the modern-day equivalent of "unclean spirits"?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Peace, Hope, Love, Thinking about Romans 5 while reading the newspaper

I read Paul's words about suffering and hope. I read about God's love for sinners. And then I read a couple of stories in the newspaper that seemed to be examples of this message.

The headline is "Vermont: Poetry Classes for Vandals." Twenty-eight young people broke into Robert Frost's house, got drunk, and damaged the place. The prosecuter has asked Jay Parini, a Frost biographer, who believes in the redemptive power of poetry, to lead them in a study of Frost's life and work. The New York Times, June 3, 2008, page A21.

The headline is "Where Illegal Guns Can Do No More Harm." In New York City, thousands of firearms are taken by law enforcement officers each year. Instead of crushing and burying them, they are crushing and re-using them. They have found a way to turn spears into plowshares. Guns are sent to scrap processing plants to be chopped up into tiny pieces and sent to foundries from New Jersey to China. The former firearms will be ultimately be used to build water pipes, chain link fences, or appliances. The New York Times, June 3, 2008, page A22.

Lectio Divina, June 11

Hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us (Rom 5:5).

God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us (Rom 5:8).

What shall I return to the Lord for all his bounty to me? Ps 116:12

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Lectio Divina, June 10

Now Sarah said, "God has brought laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me." And she said, "Who would ever have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age" (Gen 21:1-7.

Lord, you have inclined your ear to me,
I will call on you as long as I live (after Ps 116:2).

Who's laughing now? Reflection on Genesis 21:1-7

Between the first part of this week's Genesis reading, 18:1-5, and this part, 21:1-7, Abraham has once again given up Sarah and once again had her returned by God's actions (20:1-18).

The Lord has promised a child to Abraham by Sarah, and the Lord fulfills this promise. Abraham names his son Isaac, which means "he laughs." Sarah says, "God has brought laughter to me. Everyone who hears about this will laugh with me."

We laugh when we are happy. We laugh when we hear something we think is impossible. Both senses of laughter fit this story. Sarah is asserting that people will hear about this child and say, "She's done what we would have thought was impossible."

Questions for us as we reflect on this passage: Do we expect surprises from God? How do we react after we are aware of God's surprising gifts-to ourselves or to others?

Monday, June 9, 2008

Lectio Divina, June 9

The Lord said to Abraham, "Why did Sarah laugh, and say, 'Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?' Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?" Gen. 18:13-14a.

Reflecting on Genesis 18, Sarah laughed

Until this point in the Abraham and Sarah saga, we have only two recorded speeches by him to her. On their way to Egypt, Abraham had said, "You are so beautiful that the Egyptians will kill me in order to obtain you. Let's spare them the effort. Say you are my sister; that should protect me." Sarah did as her husband told her. The Pharaoh took her, but the Lord rescued her and returned her to Abraham (Gen 12:10-20).

The next conversation between them in when the childless Sarai tries to solve her problem by having Abram impregnate her servant Hagar. We aren't told what he said--only that he listened to his wife. When Hagar conceived, Sarai concluded that she was contemptuous of her and complained to Abram. He responded by telling her, "She's your slave; do what you want with her," (Gen 16:1-6).

In the meantime, God has spoken to Abram several times. For example, "Go. You're going to have a lot of descendants. I'm going to give land to your offspring," (Gen 12:1-7; 13:14-17; and 15:1-6). When Abram was ninety-nine God told him once again that he was to be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. He changed his name to Abraham and his wife's to Sarah, and promised that a child was to be born to Sarah (Gen 17:1-22).

The Bible is silent on how much of this promise was communicated to Sarah. When she does overhear the messenger telling her husband that she is to become pregnant, Sarah laughs. Well, why not? She's right that it's unusual for a 100-year old man and a 90-year old woman to conceive a child.

How do we react when God lays out opportunities for us? Do we let our past failures determine our future efforts?

Reading toward Sunday, June 15, 2008

Monday, June 9, Genesis 18:1-15
Tuesday, Genesis 21:1-7; Ps 116:1-2
Wednesday, Romans 5:1-8; Ps 116:12-19
Matthew 9:35-10:1
Friday, Matthew 10:2-8

Saturday, Exodus 19:2-8a
Sunday, Psalm 100

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Lectio Divina, June 8

Do I eat the flesh of bulls,
or drink the blood of goats?
Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving,
and pay your vows to the Most High (Ps. 50:13-14).

Then the disciples of John came to him, saying,
"Why do we and the Pharisees fast often,
but your disciples do not fast?" (Mt. 9:14)

Let the Reader be Healed, Reading Matthew 9

I was startled by several comments from Amy-Jill Levine's article, Discharging Responsibility: Matthean Jesus, Biblical Law, and Hemorrhaging Woman," included in A Feminist Companion to Matthew. edited by Levine. She points out that although Christian interpreters are obsessed with Levitical purity legislation, they don't understand it very well. She sends us to Leviticus 15:19-33, the discussion about menstrual impurity and ritual uncleanness and reminds us that this passage contains nothing that would prevent a menstruating woman"from participating in normal human social relations. There is no prohibition against her touching anyone," 77.

Levine suggests some what she calls healthy readings. She compares Jesus to this suffering woman. "The woman suffers, she bleeds, she acts in humility by coming up behind Jesus, she retains her faith but she does not speak," 87..

Like the centurion in chapter 8, the leader of the synagogue places himself under the authority of Jesus. They both express faith in Jesus. She contrasts the leader of the synagogue with Herod. Both are Jews; both are leaders. But Herod does not seek the life of a child; he is so intent on destroying one child that he orders that many children be put to death.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Lectio Divina, June 7

Go and learn what this means,
"I desire mercy, not sacrifice."
For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners. (Mt. 9:13).

Recommendation for Matthew Readers

Will Duell on the Methobloggers has a great commentary on Matthew 9

Friday, June 6, 2008

Bob Dylan Sings about Abraham

Listen to Bob Dylan's Highway 61 Revisted on the Speaking of Faith website

Real Religion or Empty Worship, Reflections on Hosea 5:15-6:6

What sins are the people being accused of (Read the earlier part of chapter 5)? Is there any hope for them now (5:15-6:3)? How lasting is our love of God? Is it any longer than that of Israel and Judah (6:4)? What is it that God wants from them? from us (6:6)? What are modern-day parallels to steadfast love, sacrifice, knowledge of God, and burnt offerings?

Lectio Divina, June 6, 2008

Let us know,
let us press on to know the Lord;
his appearing is as sure as the dawn;
he will come to us like the showers,
like the spring rains that water the earth
, (Hosea 6:3).

Thursday, June 5, 2008

What Can We Learn from Abraham?

Paul tells the Romans that Abraham trusted the promise of God: "He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barreness of Sarah's womb," (Rom 4:19).

My response is, "Yes, but..." When God told Abraham about the impending birth of Isaac, Abraham's first response was laughter. He tried to get God to accept Ishmael as the heir and forget about any others. God, said no to him, "We'll do it my way" (Genesis 17:15-22).

Trust does not mean that we aren't allowed to argue. Trust doesn't mean that the outcome seems likely--or even possible. Trust does mean letting God's way become our way.

Lectio Divina, June 5, 2008

No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, (Romans 4:20).

The counsel of the Lord stands forever,
the thoughts of his heart to all generations, (Psalm 33:11).

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Lectio Divina June 4, 2008

For this reason it depends on faith,
in order that the promise may rest on grace
and be guaranteed to all his descendants,
not only to the adherents of the law
but also to those who share the faith of Abraham
for he is the father of all of us
(Rom 4:16).

Questions that arise from reading Romans 4

What does Paul mean by righteousness? Is he talking about our behavior? Or, is he talking about God's?

Paul asserts that God's promise of blessings (4:13) is guaranteed to all of Abraham's descendants (4:16). He's making the point that non-circumcised, Torah-illiterate, Gentiles are to be included along with Jews. How inclusive do we think that God's promises to Abraham are (Gen 12:3)? That is, are we willing to include the other descendants of Abraham, Muslims, in this promise?

Read Isaiah 51:1-8.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Lectio Divina June 3, 2008

Abram journeyed on by stages....(Gen 12:9a).

Let all the earth fear the Lord;
let all the inhabitants of the world
stand in awe of the Lord (Ps 33:8).

Abraham's Call, Reflection on Gen 12:1-9

Here's some comments about this passage that I found in Narrative in the Hebrew Bible, by David M. Gunn and Danna Nolan Fewell:

Abram's father had brought the family half-way already (from Ur to Haran).

The text doesn't tell us what Abram said to Sarai, or if he said anything to her, about the command to move or the blessing.

When Abram gets to Canaan, God says "This is your land." Abram then moves on to Egypt.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Lectio Divina June 2, 2008

I will make of you a great nation,
and I will bless you,
and make your name great,
so that you will be a blessing (Gen 12:2).

God loves righteousness and justice;
the earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord (Ps 33:5).

The Mercy of God, Reflection on Gen 12:1-4

After Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the garden, God expelled them from the garden. But, God didn't send them out in the scratchy fig leaves; he came them fur coats to wear.

After Cain murdered his brother Abel, God sentenced him to a life as a fugitive and wanderer. But, God also put a mark of Cain so that no one would kill him.

When God saw that wickedness was abounding on the earth, God sent a flood to destroy everything--well, not quite everything. God protected Noah and his family and pairs of all kinds of animals. Moreover, after the flood God made covenant with Noah.

When humans built the Tower of Babel in an attempt to be like God, God responded by scattering them-- separation by place and by language.

Here's the recurring pattern in Genesis so far. Sin followed by punishment followed by grace. Today's passage may be seen as a response to the Tower of Babel. People were separated. Now, God calls Abraham to be a blessing to all the families of the earth.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Reflection on Psalm 46

In her sermon on Psalm 46 this morning, the preacher cited verses 4 and 5: "There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns."

She told us that the church is the new city of God. I thought that many people feel safer living in the suburbs.

Lectio Divina, June 1, 2008

In you, O Lord,
I seek refuge;
do not let me
ever be put to shame;
in your righteousness
deliver me (Ps 31:1).