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