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.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Eucharist, Reflection on Matthew 14:19-21

Jesus took the bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to the crowds.

At the last supper with his disciples, "While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, 'Take, eat; this is my body.'" (Matthew 26:26).

We remember these steps each time we participate in the Eucharist.

If you want to know more about how United Methodists view this sacrament, read United Methodists and the Sacraments by Gayle Felton

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Hour is Late, and the Crowds are Hungry, Reflection on Matthew 14:13-18

Matthew was talking to people that would have been familiar with the Scriptures--what we call the Old Testament. So, they would have known that God provides food for people in the wilderness (See Exodus 16:13-35; Numbers 11:7-9, 31-32) and that God can feed a lot of people with only a small food supply (See 2 Kings 4:42-44). [Thanks to Allen & Williamson, Preaching the Gospels without Blaming the Jews.]

Of course, Jesus' disciples would have known those texts. Why did they think that they were incapable of feeding the crowds, that the only solution for hungry folks is to find their own food?

Well, we've read the same texts, and we've read Matthew's Gospel, as well. How much have things changed? Look at this article from the Wall Street Journal.

Richest Americans

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Mary and Martha

Read the biography of Mary and Martha compiled by James. E. Kiefer

The Nation's Flag in God's Sanctuary

From Yahoo News: Becky Akers asks Does the American flag belong in church?. She says:

All in all, American Christians seem as devoted to their government as Ruth was to Naomi. But should they be? Do either the flag or the Pledge have any place in the Lord's house? Is congregational commitment to the republic for which these emblems stand consistent with Biblical Christianity? Is political power?

Seeing God face to face, Reflection on Genesis 32:29-31

When Jacob wrestled Esau's blessing away from Isaac, he then went into exile for a couple of decades. Blessings can carry costs.

We're told in verse 24-25, that a man struggles with Jacob. Yet, in verse 30, Jacob says that he has seen God face to face? Who was he struggling with? Is it possible to wrestle with anyone without that struggle being with God?

How much has Jacob changed because of each of his wrestling matches? He walks away from this match, limping. Will he continue to limp?

How much of this is about the man Israel and how much about the nation Israel? How much is about us?

Daily Prayer, Reflection on Psalm 17

Psalm 17 can provide language for us to use in our evening prayer:
I call upon you, for you will answer me, O God; incline your ear to me, hear my words (6).

As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake I shall be satisfied, beholding your likeness (15).

Sacred Places

Sacred Places

Look at the article from USNews and World Report about sacred places. They note that sacred places are as varied as the human sense of the sacred and as various as the world's many spiritual traditions. They explore the history, significance, and enduring power of places here and abroad that people consider most sacred.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Favorite Hymns of UMC

Dean McIntyre writes: Since 1994 I have made periodic efforts to learn what are the favorite hymns of United Methodists. As technology has progressed and its availability grown, my methods have become more sophisticated and more accurate. Early attempts involved polling a number of identified experts (music directors, pastors, professors, hymn writers) for their opinions, not of their own personal favorites, but of the denominational favorites. From an initial sample of under 100, the number of respondents has grown in the latest polling into the thousands – nearly 20,000 of them – including United Methodists from congregations all over the USA. The results reveal the most accurate and detailed data yet about the favorite hymns of our denomination. Here is a summary of the top ten favorites identified in the 2007 research:

Favorite Hymns

Wrestling at the Edge, Reflection on Genesis 32:22-28

Jacob sent his wives and children on ahead, sent them with everything he owned, but he stayed behind for the night, stayed alone. But, not alone, after all. A man wrestled with him until daybreak.

Jacob had left home because of fear of his brother's retribution. He's not over that fear yet.

Before he enters his homeland again, a man wrestles with him. This image evokes the memory of Jacob and Esau wrestling in the womb. Further, it evokes images of metaphorical wrestling matches--Jacob getting his brother to trade his birthright for a bowl of lentil soup and later tricking his father into giving him the blessing that would have gone to Esau as the elder son. He has also engaged in metaphorical wrestling matches with his father-in-law Laban.

James Kugel reminds us that the name, Jacob, sounds like the Hebrew word for "he struggles." He then points out that although his new name, Israel, can be translated as "God rules," it also could mean "God struggles."

Who is Jacob wrestling with this time? Who has he been wrestling with all along?

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Inseparability according to Wesley, Reflection on Romans 8:31-34

Paul asked "Who will separate us from the love of Christ?" His answer was "Nothing and nobody."

Here's John Wesley's sermon on this passage: Free Grace .

From the United Methodist website.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

17th Annual International Bog Days – July 26, 27, 2008

Check out Burns Bog Events

Some important Peat Bog Facts:
  • Peat bogs store and filter 10% of the world's fresh water.
  • A typical peat extractor will take up to 22cm of peat per year, however it grows at approximately 1mm per year.
  • Carbon dioxide emissions from peatland exploitation are estimated to be 3 billion tonnes per year.
  • A recent United Nations report estimates the preservation and restoration of peat bogs can reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by 10%.

Theories of Justification, Reflection on Romans 8:31-34

Paul wrote to the Romans that God has justified us, that Christ intercedes for us. In pondering the theological meaning of justification, I turned to Theology, A Very Short Introduction, by David F. Ford.

He describes three different theories of justification, each based within the time it was developed (pages 112-115):
  • The military symbolism of victory over sin, death, and the devil--popular during the early centuries and resurgent during the Reformation
  • The "satisfaction theory" worked out during the feudal system
  • "Cross-dominated theory," taken from a law court image--Jesus takes the place of the one who deserves condemnation, at the heart of 16th century Reformation
Ford then describes newer theories of justification; e. g., liberation theology, which does not restrict salvation to life after death, and feminist theology, which contains a large liberation element.

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Apostle James

Read more about this saint in a biography compiled by James E. Kiefer: James bar-Zebedee

On Predestination By John Wesley Sermon 58, Reflection on Romans 8:26-30

Paul said, "For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son....And those whom he predestined, he also called..."

What do Methodists think about predestination?

Here's what John Wesley said: On Predestination .

Source: John Wesley's sermons on the internet posted by The United Methodist Church.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Kingdom of Heaven, Reflecting on Matthew 13:44-52

Jesus left the crowds and went into the house. That's Matthew's way of saying that he's talking to those closest to him. he has, at their request, explained the parable of the weeds to them. His explanation ends with a ominous vision of what will happen when the weeds are plucked out of the kingdom (13:36-43).

He then describes the kingdom of heaven in three parables. The kingdom of heaven is like a valuable treasure that has been hidden. It's like a pearl worth all that one owns. It's like a net thrown into the sea that catches fish of every kind, good and bad.

When he asks the disciples if they have understand this teaching, they respond, "Yes."

I think I do, too. When Jesus is describing the Kingdom of Heaven, he's not restricting his discussion to an afterlife. He's talking about here and he's talking about now. Review the Lord's Prayer.

When God rules your entire life, what would your life be like? If the church went about its affairs in the way that God intended for it to do, what would such a church be like? What would the lives of those touched by the church be like?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Mustard Seed, Reflecting on Matthew 13:31-33

Ezekiel spoke to the exiles in Babylon. "You deserve every punishment; yet, I will forgive you. I myself will take a sprig from the lofty top of a cedar, plant it on a high mountain so that it will produce boughs and bear fruit, and become a noble cedar. Under it every kind of bird will live; in the shade of its branches will nest winged creatures of every kind" Ezekiel 16:59-17:24.

Jesus tells a similar parable.
  • a small beginning, a great and very visible outcome
  • a source of sustenance
  • a promise of protection, a homeplace

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

On the other hand, Reflecting on 1 Kings 3:5-12

During the period after Eastertide and before Advent, the lectionary offers alternate selections from the Old Testament. One is a semi-continuous series--we're nearing the end of Genesis this week. The other is chosen to parallel in some way the Gospel reading for the week.

This week's parallel is Solomon's prayer for wisdom. God came to him through a dream and asked him what he wanted. Solomon said, "You've made me king over these people. Make me worthy to be their king. Give me an understanding mind, the ability to discern between good and evil." God was pleased with the request and granted it.

In the Gospel passage, Jesus says that just as fishermen sort out the fish from their nets, at the end of the age, the angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous.

I'm supposing this ability to sort is the basis for the choice of this passage as the parallel to the Gospel this week.

But, I am troubled by Solomon's story. As his reign continued, he was not always so wise. He married a lot--and to some inappropriate women. He spent so much money that he had to levy heavy taxes and proscribe labor. His bad decisions underlay the breakup of his kingdom after his death. How wise was Solomon?

I'm still trying to connect the Kings passage and the one from Matthew. Try this: the kingdom is of great value, but it has some bad fish. Eventually, God will sort it out.

I'll keep trying.

My rather jaded outlook on Solomon today was affected by my continuing to read James Kugel's How to Read the Bible

Monday, July 21, 2008

How could he not have known? Reflecting on Genesis 29:1-28

Jacob tricked his blind father into giving the wrong son the blessing. Jacob's uncle tricked him into accepting the wrong bride. One big difference: Isaac was blind; Jacob, not. At the wedding, Leah may have been veiled; in the tent, later, it would have been dark. But, still, wouldn't Jacob have recognized her voice? Well, his father hadn't recognized his.

James L. Kugel, in How to Read the Bible, gives us quote from the rabbinic text Genesis Rabba 70:19.

All night he kept calling her "Rachel" and she kept answering him, "Yes." But "in the morning, behold! It was Leah" [Gen 29:25]. He said to her, "Liar and daughter-of-a-liar!" Leah answered: "Can there be a schoolmaster without any pupils? Was it not just this way that your father called out to you 'Esau' and you answered him [by saying 'Yes']? So when you called out [Rachel], I answered you the same way."

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Examples of how Children of God Behave

Jane Brody describes what she call Act 2 of life, a time of meaningful encore, a time of giving one's time and talents:

Thy Will Be Done on Earth, Reflecting on Romans 8:18-25

One of my favorite commentaries is The People's New Testament Commentary, by M. Eugene Boring and Fred B. Craddock. Here's what they say about this passage in Romans:
  • God is concerned with saving not only individuals but with all of creation.
  • Sin also is concerned with the individual and with all creation.
  • The evil we are experiencing is not the last word.
  • Through the Spirit, we have a foretaste of what God's new world will be like.
  • Hope is not just a wish; hope is confidence.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Hope, Reflecting on Romans 8:12-25

Paul, in this letter addressed to Gentile Christians, discusses their disobedience and their redemption (Chapters 1-4) and their new life in Christ (5-8).

"You have been adopted into the family," Paul says. "You will share in the inheritance." Then Paul gives us a BTW: part of that shared inheritance is suffering.

Sharing in the Spirit does not immunize us against the suffering that is part of creation; but, suffering is not the last word.

Paul believed that the end was coming very soon. We now believe this earth and our attachment to it are coming to continue for quite a while. This difference in timetable forces us to consider how we are to interpret Paul's words about hope and patience.

Sources: Reinventing Paul, John G. Gager; Paul and His Letters, Leander E. Keck

Friday, July 18, 2008

Harvest, Reflecting on Matthew 13:36-43

In 13:24-30, Jesus is speaking to the crowd, telling them a parable. In 36-43, Jesus is speaking to his disciples, inside the house, responding to their request to explain the parable.
  • Even those closest to Jesus don't immediately get everything he is saying.
  • Being in the house enables a disciple to get closer to Jesus, that is, ask for explanation.
  • They can't stay in the house. The field is in the world.
Jesus tells them about the furnace of fire.
  • If we are accustomed to making distinctions between the OT God and the NT God, we need to remind ourselves of this passage and try to think where eternal punishment is mentioned in the OT.
  • The kingdom is on the earth.
  • The evildoers will be taken away; the righteous will be left to shine like the sun.
Why is it helpful to us to know that the wicked will be punished?

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Tending the Garden, Reflecting on Matthew 13:24-30

Go to the official UMC website, and click on the tab Our People to see the following inclusionary list:

The People of The United Methodist Church

Help people in their community

Accept you for who you are

Offer a place to belong

Care for and support each other

Show respect for other religions

Support people facing difficulty

Welcome diverse opinions and beliefs

Guide others to find deeper meaning

As I read this list, I feel good about the Methodist Church. I want to be the kind of person that helps, accepts, cares for, supports, welcomes, and guides. Is anything on this list in conflict with the parable describing the kingdom of heaven in Matthew 13:24-30? When Matthew was telling the church not to get so upset about weeds, was he assuring the church of his time that God would pull the weeds. Or, was he aware that we might not be able to distinguish between good plants and bad ones? Or, is each of us a hybrid plant that needs to have the weed-part extracted from us?

Does Satan really exist? Many United Methodists see evil as more subtle

Mary Jacobs, in The United Methodist Portal reports on"> Protestant attitudes toward the existence of Satan.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Lectio Divina, July 16

Through such works you have taught your people
that the righteous must be kind,
and you have filled your children with good hope
because you give repentance for sins.
The Wisdom of Solomon 12:19

Another View of Judgment, Reflecting on Wisdom 12:13, 16-19

A common saying is that "I'd prefer mercy to judgment." We can find scriptural support for our hope for mercy from God. Wisdom of Solomon 12 begins with the admission that we may well deserve judgment (The underlying situation in Wisdom was the Canaanites' treatment of Israel, but the ideas here have a universal application.).

Wisdom 12 turns from judgment to mercy: "Although you are sovereign in strength, you judge with mildness, and with great forbearance you govern us.....You have filled your children with good hope, because you give repentance for sins" (18-19).

Think about this passage as you study the Parable of the Weeds in Matthew's gospel.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Reflecting on Psalm 139

I'm reading Robert Alter's The Book of Psalms, a Translation with Commentary. The translation I usually use is the NRSV; it cites 139:5 as "You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand on me. Alter translates this verse as "From behind and in front You shaped me, and You set your palm upon me."

Here's his commentary on the word he translates as "shaped": "The verb could also mean something like "besiege," "bring into straits," but the sense of shaping or fashioning like a potter seems more likely here .... In this understanding, 'You set Your palm upon me' is not a menacing act but rather the gesture of the potter."

Jacob is running away because he is afraid of his brother's anger. He is running toward his uncle's home where he plans to find a wife. His uncle will trick him; he will trick his uncle. When is it that we begin to see evidence of God's shaping of Jacob?

Finding God, Place and Journey, Reflecting on Genesis 28:16-19

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

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

Monday, July 14, 2008

God finds Jacob

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Lectio Divina, July 13

If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.Romans 8:11

Paul to Y'all, Reflecting on Romans 8:9-11

We English speakers read "You are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit," and think "He's talking about me. He's making promises to me about my life." Well, so he is, but he's talking to the me that is part of us. The Greek pronoun translated as you is in the plural. Paul is talking to the Christian community. "Church, you're not in the flesh. Church, the Spirit of God dwells in you. Curch, God's breath gives you life."

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Just Freedom, Reflecting on Romans 8:1-8

God's law was intended to help humans live the kind of life and to have the kind of community that God wanted them to have. God's law outlined for them how to have the right relationship with God. Yet, being humans, they didn't do so well.

God has a new plan: Christ Jesus. "Those of you who cannot comply with the old law are not required to try. God's Son has dealt with sin. Life in the Spirit of Christ serves as compliance."

Eugene Boring and Fred Craddock, in The People's New Testament Commentary, suggest reading Deuteronomy 30 to remind ourselves of the life-giving original function of the law. They are also helpful in pointing out that the word that the NRSV translates as "flesh" refers to human life as a whole, rather than being limited only to our "lower nature," as translated by the NIV.

Lectio Divina, July 12

For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do:
by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh,
and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh,
so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us,
who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

Romans 8:3-4

Friday, July 11, 2008

God provides for us, Reflecting on Psalm 65

The psalmist is speaking of a great appreciation of God's creation. Many Christians are showing their appreciation by engaging in acts of protection of this gift. For example, see this website: Chrisian Ecology

A secular example is: Tree Hugger

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Lectio Divina, July 10

But as for what was sown on good soil,
this is the one who hears the word and understands it,
who indeed bears fruit and yields,
in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.
Matthew 13:23

A Parable, Reflecting on Matthew 13:1-23

The lectionary suggests omitting verses 10 through 17. Don't. You might even want to read chapter 12, which is also left out of the lectionary.

In verses 1-9, Jesus is addressing the crowd. It's the same day that he has rejected his mother and brothers, replacing them with the disciples. The crowd is so big that Jesus had to get preach from a boat. He tells them a parable, then says to them, "Let anyone with ears listen!"

In the skipped verses, the disciples ask why he is speaking to the crowds in parables. He responds by saying not everybody is supposed to understand everything. Is his response an echo to Isaiah 6:9-10, where right after Isaiah has responded to God's call to preach to the people by saying "Here am I; send me," God tells him to say to the people that they are not able to understand?

I think Matthew wants me to think that Jesus wants this crowd to be good soil but realizes that some are a stony, some at risk to hungry birds, and some not deep enough to hold water. Is Jesus acting out for the disciples what they will continue to find--not everybody gets it?

Note that Jesus has to explain the parable to the disciples later. "Three-fourths of your audience will not get the message, but the fourth that does, will really get it."

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The Efficacy of the Word, Reflecting on Isaiah 55:10-13

Jesus may have been giving his disciples a reality check when he told them the parable of the sower: All the seeds are good, but the ground really can differ.

Isaiah's message focuses on the positive. God sends rain to the earth and the rain returns to heaven. But, before returning, that rain causes seeds to sprout. Isaiah relates God's promise: "As the rain accomplishes my purpose, so does my word."

Isaiah is speaking to exiles fearing their homecoming.

When is it appropriate for us to remember the need for good soil? When is it appropriate for us to remember Isaiah's words of joy and welcome and inevitable love?

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Lectio Divina, July 8

I am severely afflected; give me life, O Lord, according to your word.
Psalm 119:107

Reflecting on Genesis 25:27-34

Isaac preferred Esau, the son who could hunt; Rebekah preferred Jacob, the one who stayed at home. Or, Rebekah had been given advance information by God that Jacob was to be the stronger one, the one who was to be served by his elder brother, and Isaac had not been given this information.

Three ways to interpret this reversal:
  • God can make an expected choice
  • One who has been designated the winner can voluntarily give up his reward
  • Reminder--your brother may want to change the rules

Esau gives up his birthright because he is famished. Why does his brother make this demand?

Monday, July 7, 2008

Lectio Divina, July 7

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.
I have sworn an oath and confirmed it, to observe your righteous ordinances.
Psalm 119:105-106

Reflecting on Genesis 25:19-26

Isaac prayed for his wife when she was barren, she prayed when she was pregnant.

The twins struggled in the womb, on the way out of the womb, and would continue their struggle.

God told Rebekah that the younger son would rule over the elder--a reversal of the expected. Primogeniture served as a way to preserve the family's holdings without war breaking out within the family.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Ancient Tablet Ignites Debate on Messiah and Resurrection

A three-foot-tall tablet with 87 lines of Hebrew that scholars believe dates from the decades just before the birth of Jesus is causing a quiet stir in biblical and archaeological circles, especially because it may speak of a messiah who will rise from the dead after three days.

Lectio Divina, July 6

For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self,
but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind,
making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.
Romans 7:22-23

Emotions Rule over Logic

Paul wasn't writing about American presidential elections, but he did know how many factors affect our decisions.

For example, Robert G. Kaiser writes in the Washington Post that for voters vote emotions triumph over logic:

"Polls, the lifeblood of American politics, can also tell us what people think -- which candidate they favor, how much they approve of a president, whether they believe the war in Iraq was worth fighting. But polls are science, exploiting the mathematical laws of random samples to explain what "everyone" thinks by asking the right 1,200 or so Americans the same questions. Focus groups, by contrast, are art. Their success depends on the skills of the person leading the discussion. A talented focus-grouper tries to expose the emotional juice that can both explain and alter poll results. "

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Reflecting on Genesis 24:34-38, 42-29

The book of Genesis is a book of cycles--this generation will repeat what the previous generation has done. Yet, no generation repeats exactly. Watch for differences.

For example, compare how Genesis presents Sarah and then Rebekah. We are not told anything about Sarah's life before she married Abraham. We don't know how she reacts to the migration plans. We don't know whether Abraham told anything about his agreement to sacrifice Isaac or whether she was even told about it when Abraham and Isaac returned.

On the other hand, we are introduced to Rebekah even before Isaac is. Abraham sends his servant back to Haran to find a suitable wife for his son. When he sees Rebekah at the spring of water, the servant tells her how wealthy Isaac's father is. He tells her how she is the answer to his prayer. When she tells him who her family is, he gives her gifts of jewelry, and asks her to agree to marry Isaac.

The cycle of the next generation will have similarities and differences. Isaac and Rebekah's son, Jacob, will also marry a woman from Haran. The meeting will also be at a well, but Jacob will make the trip himself.

Another difference between the stories of Abraham and Sarah and of Isaac and Rebekah is the way they perceive God's directions to them. Abraham hears God directly. Genesis doesn't tell us whether Isaac does. Abraham's servant prays to God and feels assurance that God is directing things (Genesis 24:12-14, 21-27, 42-49). But, we are not told whether Rebekah herself heard God directly.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Sermon on Matthew 11

Worldle version of Sermon>

Prayer and Hymns on Independence Day

Almighty God, you rule all the peoples of the earth.

Inspire the minds of all women and men to whom you have committed
the responsibility of government and leadership in the nations of the world.

Give to them the vision of truth and justice,
that by their counsel all nations and people may work together.

Give to the people of our county zeal for justice and strength of forbearance,
that we may use our liberty in accordance with your gracious will.

Forgive our shortcomings as a nation; purify our hearts to see and love the truth.

We pray all these things through Jesus Christ. Amen. (Andy Langford).

The United Methodist Book of Worship suggests the following hymns and prayers from UMH:
429 For Our Country
437 This Is My Song
519 Lift Every Voice and Sing
696 America the Beautiful
697 America
698 God of the Ages

Paul explains what freedom means, Reflecting on Galatians 5

"Do not use your freedom for self-indulgence," Paul says. What a paradox freedom is. We're supposed to love our neighbors, and even more than that, be slaves to one another.

The freedom that Paul is talking about is freedom from the wrong kind of freedom. Forget those things that seem like a lot of fun while you are doing them but are destructive--destructive to you and those around you.

Instead of those harmful acts and attitudes, Paul reminds us the gifts we give by receiving: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Flood Buckets Needed

Click here to respond to this need: UMCOR has an urgent plea for flood buckets

Other Current Emergencies

China Earthquake
International Disaster Response
UMCOR Advance #982450
China Emergency Page
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Myanmar Disaster
UMCOR Advance #3019674
Myanmar Emergency Page

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US Spring Storms
Domestic Disaster Response
UMCOR Advance #901670
Spring Storms Emergency Page
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Click here for other ways to give.

What We Are to Do with Our Freedom, Reflecting on Deuteronomy 10:12-13, 17-21 and Psalm 72

As we Americans prepare to celebrate our freedom, let us remember how God intends for us to use freedom:
  • from Deuteronomy: Love the stranger. Worship only God. Remember that God executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing.

  • from Psalms: May our rulers deliver the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper.

Lectio Divina, July 3

So now, O Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you?
Only to fear the Lord your God,
to walk in all his ways,
to love him,
to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul,
and to keep the commandments of the Lord your God
and his decrees that I am commanding you today,
for your own well-being.
Deuteronomy 10:12-13.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Lectio Divina, July 2

Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope;
today I declare that I will restore to you double.
Zechariah 9:12

The Lord is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
The Lord is good to all,
and his compassion is over all that he has made.
Psalm 145:8-9

Recognizing the Ruler and the Rules, Reflecting on Zechariah 9:9-12

How does Scripture portray the ideal ruler? Zechariah speaks of a king that although triumphant and victorious is humble. The New Interpreters' Study Bible notes that "victorious" could be translated as "saved." I'm considering what it means to combine these two conditions: triumphant and saved.

As a sideline to this passage, read earlier in Zechariah for the list of sins that Israel has committed: oppressing widows, orphans, aliens, and the poor (7:9-14).

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Find Rest for Your Souls, Reflecting on Matthew 11:29

Although I studied Greek in seminary, I am not a scholar. But, I do own books--and, from time to time, read them. Here's what I learned today about the word "psuche" that is translated as "souls" in Matthew 11:29:

As a verb, "psuche" means breathe or blow. As a noun, it means breath, that is, the vital force that animates the body and shows itself in breathing. Another word that we translate as breath is "pneuma." Sometimes the two terms are used indiscriminately but sometimes not. In 1 Thessalonians, pneuma is the rational part of man (Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament).

When I read "rest for your souls," I automatically think of after-life. Was Matthew thinking this way? Or was he talking about an immediate comfort? Or both?

Jesus as Wisdom, Reflecting on Matthew 11:25-30

I've been reading Celia Deutsch's essay in A Feminist Companion to Matthew, edited by Amy-Jill Levine, in which she discusses Wisdom Christology. I'm interpreting that phrase to mean that Matthew's readers would recognize the attributes of Wisdom from their access to Job and Proverbs, as well as to Sirach and Wisdom of Solomon.

Deutsch points out parallels to the invitation, "Come to me, you who desire me, and eat your fill of my fruits. ..." Sirach 24:19-22 and to the image of the yoke, "Put your feet into her (Lady Wisdom) fetters, and your neck into our collar (Sirach 6:25).

She asserts that Matthew's description of Jesus as a teacher of apocalytic mesteries and an authoritative interpreter of Torah indicate that his teachings are superior to that of his usual opponents in this Gospel, the ubiquitous scribes and Pharisees (pp. 98-100).

Lectio Divina, July 1

Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
and your dominion endures throughout all generations.
You, Lord, are faithful in all your words, and gracious in all your deeds.
The Lord upholds all who are falling,
and raises up all who are bowed down.

after Psalm 145:13-14