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, December 31, 2009

New Year, a Reflection on Revelation 21:1-6a

Here's an excerpt from the entry on November 1, 2008, All Saints Day:
This passage from Revelation is often read as if it tells us what happens to those people who have died.

But, it also tells us what we can expect while we are still here.

For example, this new heaven and new earth is, according to Revelation, going to be a city. A city, a place full of people, different kinds of people, people who look different and act different and talk different. And they may be closer to us than we would prefer. A city is often dirtier than we would prefer and in it, we may see some things going on that we don't understand or like.

Looking at this passage and my comments on it, as I think about a new year, I wonder why the earth is not already like this, why this is written in the future tense. Is not God already at home among us?

I turn, as I often do, to Allen & Williamson. According to their Preaching the Letters without Dismissing the Law, the verb in "It is done" is in the perfect tense meaning that the remaking of the world is finished but the effect of the world still abides.

John saw a vision and returned to earth. We also are staying on earth, and we also can see the vision of what a city would be like--is to be like--as we live out being God's people.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Time is a gift from God -- and a responsibility, a reflection on Ecclesiastes 3:1-13

Here's a repeat from last year:

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: Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you (Isaiah 60:1).

Lectio Divina: For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven (Ecclesiastes 3:1).

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

While making your resolutions, a Reflection on Matthew 25:31-46

We're looking forward to a new year but the old years are still part of who we are.

The gospel reading chosen for New Year's Day is the prophecy of what the Son of Man will say on the day of judgment.

"When have we seen you?" they asked. His response is that he was present in the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the needy, the prisoner, and the sick.

I'm struck by how many modern day parallels we still see to this list--people who have lost their jobs, people who have entered our country without documentation, people who don't yet have health insurance.

It may be a new year this week, but we aren't quite ready yet for the Son of Man to come in his glory with all the angels with him to sit on the throne of glory and begin that separation of people who did not do to the least what they knew they should have done for Christ.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Epiphany of the Lord, a Reflection on Matthew 2:1-12

Some scholars were studying, as they had been studying, the sky when they observed a rising star. This startling phenomenon indicates to them that a new king has been born in Jerusalem. These wise men, perhaps from Persia, maybe Arabia, are compelled by their discovery to try to find out more. They journey to Jerusalem.

There, they seek out Herod the Great who had been appointed King of the Jews by the Roman Senate several decades earlier. He does not welcome the idea of a competitor to his power.

I have recently discovered Richard Einerson's Prayers of the People, a lectionary-based prayer guide. Here's a portion of the prayer for Epiphany:
... Be in all of those places where people seek like the Magi to journey to find Jesus, child of hope. Be with all who follow the bright stars of their lives...Be with all who live with the threats of reprisal, persecution, or danger because of their beliefs. Be with all leaders and temper their power with justice and love for people. O God, may the tragedies of the past not be reapeated. May there be peace and good will among all peole and may their journeys through life not be interrupted by tyrants. Amen.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

New Year's Resolutions, a Reflection on Colossians 3:12-17

If you are working on a list of New Year's Resolutions, you may well want to consult this passage from the letter to the Colossians.
Demonstrate compassion.
Forgive each other.
Show love.
Be peaceful.
Be thankful.

And if you do all of the above, then you could be qualified to do the next: teach and admonish each other. (I'm guessing more people who don't show compassion, forgiveness, etc. are also more likely to do the admonishing....I'm just saying.)

We read Advent texts for a month preparing us for the coming of Christ. Let us now show the world--and each other--what that coming does for Christ's followers.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Growth of a Child, a Reflection on 1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26; Psalm 148

Earlier, we read Mary's Magnificat and reflected on how it echoed Hannah's prayer in 1 Samuel 2:1-10. Today's passage reminds us of another parallel between the two sons. The child Samuel grew in stature and in favor with the Lord--as did centuries later, Jesus.

Samuel was raised in the home of Eli, but Eli's own sons were scoundrels (2 Samuel 2:12-17). Unfortunately, we still have many current examples of children not living up to the ideals of their parents or culture.

Feast of St. Stephen

The day after Christmas, we remember the martyred St. Stephen, as we remember that the child whose birth we celebrated yesterday will himself give upself up to die, as also did many of his followers.
Living the Christian Year by Bobby Gross.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Your Salvation Comes, a Reflection on Isaiah 62:6-12; Psalm 97

I'm wondering about the sentinels. Why do we need someone to remind the Lord to take care of Jerusalem? Who were they? Who has that role for us today?

That said, I'm also wondering about the Jerusalem part. Why is it so easy for Christians to appropriate parts of the prophecies for ourselves but just as easy to ignore any application of the parts we would rather forget.

Sorry, not very Christmasy.

I'll try again.

The Lord promised a people in distress, "I will save you. You are my people. I will always remember you." Today, Christmas Day, we open our hearts to the coming of Christ into our own lives, lives that may be painful, lives that may be undergoing great suffering and desolation. Yet, God has sent Christ to us.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christ's People, a Reflection on Titus 2:11-14; 3:3-7

The lectionary has three sets of readings for Christmas--I think, for Christmas Eve, Christmas morning, and Christmas evening. In case you would like to read them all, here's the list:

Proper I, Isaiah 9:2-7; Psalm 96; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-14 (15-20)
Proper II, Isaiah 62:6-12; Psalm 97; Titus 3:4-7; Luke 2: (1-7), 8-20
Proper III, Isaiah 52:7-10; Psalm 98; Hebrews 1:1-4 (5-12); John 1:1-14

According to an article published by the Commercial Appeal on December 19, a lot of people come to church on Easter and for services relating to Christmas. What would they think about the Titus readings? For that matter, what do people who come to church a time or two a month think?

God wants us to renounce impiety and worldly passions. Yes, that probably means New Year's Eve, too.

Jesus Christ gave himself for us to redeem us from past sins and to keep us from committing new ones. People who belong to Jesus are eager to do good deeds.

And, according to this letter from Paul to Titus, that all for whom Jesus Christ has given himself really is all (2:11).

Jesus saved us not because we deserved it, but because he is merciful.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Offertory Prayers for January

Offertory Prayers for January are made available by Robbie H. Jones, Center for Christian Stewardship/Center for Worship Resourcing Discipleship Ministries Division, GBOD, The United Methodist Church.

For unto us a child is born, a Reflection on Isaiah 9:2-7

Listen to the Ambrosian Singers' excerpt from Handel's Messiah, For unto us a child is born

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Looking ahead to the Twelve Days of Christmas

Easter was the big holiday in the early church. For hundreds of years, Christians didn't even agree on the date of Jesus' birth. The decision for December 25 may have been a way of appropriating the popular Roman celebration tied to the winter Soltice. Initially and periodically later, some Christians tried to institute the practice of Christmas being a fast day. As we can imagine, other Christians wanted to continue the practice of feast. By the Middle Ages, Christians had designated the birth of the saint Nicholas, January 6, as the date to celebrate Epiphany.

December 25 to January 6 = 12 days.

December 25: Christmas Day
December 26: Feast of St. Stephen
December 27: Feast of St. John
December 28: Commemoration of the Holy Innocents
January 1: Feast of the Holy Name

The source I used for this post is Living the Christian Year by Bobby Gross. Get the book and read it.

Receiving the news, a Reflection on Luke 2:15-20

The response of the shepherds was immediate. They went to Bethlehem at once to see for themselves. And when they had seen, they told what they had seen.

Think about who God trusted 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?

Monday, December 21, 2009

Who gets the news first, a Reflection on Luke 2:1-14

Augustus is emperor; Quirinius is govenor. 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.

The shepherds.

Although shepherds 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.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Sanctification, a Reflection on Hebrews 10:8-10

Although the Advent readings began with reminders of apocalyptic events, we shifted into focus on the birth of Jesus. And that's the focus of the away-from-church part of our lives too. We see manger scenes all round. We hear Christmas carols.

But, even this week with the long passage from Luke 1, we are reminded of the inseparability of Christ's birth, incarnation, and death.

And it is by God's will that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all (10).

And through this sanctification, we too can respond to God's desire to offering our total lives. Showing up at church once or twice a month and putting something in the offering plate that won't affect any fun we're planning to have is not the lesson that the epistle to the Hebrews is teaching.

Christ's death made his life understandable to us. A life of love and sacrifice. Let us too be able to say, as Christ said,
See, I have come to do your will (9).

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Reflection on Hebrews 10:5-7

The earlier readings this Advent from Thessalonians and Philippians were preparations for the return of Christ. The reading from Hebrews this week shifts the emphasis to the incarnation, when Christ came into the world.

The words spoken by Christ in the verses from Hebrews refer to Psalm 40:6-8. What God desires is not empty worship, but true worship filled with following the will of God.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Reflection on Micah 5:2-5a

Micah is speaking to a people in crisis. They were under siege (5:1), a punishment that Micah thought they deserved (3:12).

He tells them that God is going to send a representative to rescue them and continue to care for them.

Yes, the OT God that we so often hear spoken of disparagingly is one who promises to save people who may not deserve being saved.

Furthermore, this savior is not a warrior but a shepherd, as Micah puts it, one of peace (5:4-5).

When we think about being rescued, are we hoping for a shepherd?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

What God wants for Abraham's descendents, a reflection on Luke 1:50-55

In her song again echoing Hannah's, Mary descrbies what God has already done. Notice how her song emphiasizes differences: God has brought down the powerful and lifted up the lowly. God has fed the hungry and sent the rich away empty.

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. How do these words sound to us Christians when we relaize that both Jews and Muslims consider Abraham to be their ancestor as well.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Birthplace, a Reflection on Luke 1:46-49

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."

God chose 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, Rome, for example? For those of us who live in a powerful country, how willing are we to consider that God may continue to choose other venues for gifts?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Unexpected Achievement, a Reflection on Luke 1:43-45

Many of us have been tempted to give up on whatever it is that we once dreamed of. "It's too late for me," we conclude. As a nation, or as a church, we may also think that we are incapable of achieving some blessing that we once wanted very much. Elizabeth's story can remind us that, as Sarah put it in Genesis, "Nothing is impossible for God."

Has your own congregation given up on something?

What seems too hard for you to be able to achieve?

How would you respond if you realized that, contrary to your previous experience, you are now capable of carrying out that goal?

Is it possible that you may already be able to enjoy God's blessings, but have just ignored that fact?

Monday, December 14, 2009

Unexpected blessings, a Reflection on Luke 1:39-42

The angel Gabriel came directly to Zechariah and to Mary. Each of then responded initially in disbelief. Pause here for a moment to be grateful that God's message is not easily deflected by our inability or unreadiness.

Although Mary, when visited by God's messenger, was able to voice her acceptance, Zechariah was not. He returned home to his wife Elizabeth, who did conceive, as Gabriel had foretold (1:4-24). Pause here to be grateful that God can carry out work in us even is we find that work to seem difficult or impossible.

Elizabeth, who had been long barren, was now carryig a child. The first readers of Luke could see her story as one of hope for Israel. They had suffered a long time of barrenness. Yet, they had hope that God would restore then to their designated role.

Elizabeth can continue to be a model for all who read about her in Luke's gospel of how we can respond to God's gifts and challenges. When her young pregnant cousin appears, Elizabeth immediately is affected. Her child, who will be known as John the Baptist, leaps in her womb. And she is filled with the Holy Spirit.

Mary had made the physical journey. Elizabeth has remained at home. They both are blessed. They both recognize the blessings in the other. Pause here to consider what work you are capable of doing right where you are and what work would be worth it for you to move around some.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Rejoice, a Reflection on Philippians 4:4-7

Always rejoice. Never worry. Tell God what you want.

Are Paul's instructions realistic for you? That is, can you imagine yourself rejoicing at all times? Or, showing your gentleness to everyone? Or, perhaps, even having gentleness whether you show it or not?

Have you experienced the peace of God during a tough time in your life?

What portion of your prayers typically are expressions of joy? or even of moderate gratitude?

How does your congregation live out this passage?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

A Call to Thanksgiving, a Reflection on Isaiah 12:2-6

Isaiah directs us to tell God when we are grateful--and to tell everybody else, as well.

In preparing for study of the Advent texts this year, I have been using the Leader's Guide written by Kathy Bence that accompanies Paul Strobles' Advent 2009, Celebrate the Newborn Jesus. (Abingdon Press, available at Cokesbury's. Rev. Bence suggests that we write our own psalm of thanksgiving. How have you experienced deliverance?

Friday, December 11, 2009

Reversal and Restoration, a Reflection on Zephaniah 3:17-20

The prophet Zephaniah was speaking to people who had experienced disruptions and disappointments. He promises them, "You don't have to be afraid anymore. God is right there, where you are, dwelling in your midst."

As Christians read these promises to ancient Jerusalem, we consider them extended to us. The Advent message is that God will love us, console us, and renew us.

We Christians need to appropriate not only the promise that God loves us but also appropriate the reminder that God is concerned about those that need some help. Verse 19 mentions specifically the lame and the outcast. We can start with those two groups specifically and continue by using the terms metaphorically.

God says, according to Zephaniah, "At that time I will bring you home (20)." I keep reading this trying to decide whether this home-bringing is after the lame are saved and the outcasts gathered or whether the promise is specifically to them.

And who are the outcasts for us anyway?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Old Testament God, a Reflection on Zephaniah 3:14-16

When you're tired of hearing being mischaracterize whom they call the Old Testament God, remember what the OT actually does say about God, including these verses from the prophet Zephaniah

"Sing out loud. Rejoice and exult. The Lord has taken away the judgments against you. You don't need to keep being afraid."

They may not have deserved God's mercy and grace any more than we do, but God is merciful. They may have known disaster, as many of us have, too. Yet, they knew that God was still with them, still renewing them to face the future after the disaster has past.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Chaff, a Reflection on Luke 3:15-18

Luke was writing to people who were looking for an imminent Messiah. Many thought that John fit the model of what a Messiah could be like. John responded to their question by explicitly saying that he was not the Messiah, but that the Messiah was coming.

One difference between them is baptism. John says, "I baptize with water but the Messiah will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire." He then adds that the Messiah will have a winnowing fork in his hand so that he can separate the wheat from the chaff. The chaff will be burned.

Fred Craddock in Preaching through the Christian Year C reminds us not to get preoccupied with the image of chaff burning:

"Spirit and fire" can also mean "wind and fire," which were symbol not only for the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-4) but for judgment as well. In fact, the present context seems to give this meaning to the baptism....One should not get preoccupied with the burning of chaff. The primary purpose is to save the grain.

We can read this as good news if we consider that the parts of us that are sinful need to be eliminated so that we can be wheat gathered into God's granary.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Being Religious, a Reflection on Luke 3:12-14

Three groups ask John, "What should we do?"

He reponds: Share. Be fair. Don't use your position to get more than you deserve.

Repentance is more than a momentary feeling. It's something that changes the way you live, the way you treat others.

I'm thinking about what some prominent Christian movements consider the main issues of the day--abortion and homosexuality. Well, I can go all day long without having an abortion or a homosexual affair. John's requirements are more difficult. I can get through most days without doing very much voluntarily to right economic inequities. I don't steal or cheat, but I can eat a big lunch on the same day that someone within a mile of me is eating very little.

Monday, December 7, 2009

John's advice--Share, a Reflection on Luke 3:7-11

John's target in this passage is the pious. He warns them that just showing up for the worship service does not substitute for doing what God wants them to do.

John is warning them of imminent destruction--The ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree that doesn't bear good fruit is going to be cut down.

The crowd asks him how they can avoid being destroyed.

He tells them "Share what you have with who needs it."

Christians today seem to be upset about behavior of others, but I don't hear much criticism of people neglecting to share. Are we raising a different crop of fruit than what John was talking about?

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Be tough-minded, not naive, a Reflection on Philippians 3:9-11

I really do prefer reading narratives and prayers in the Bible more than epistles. I like working out the story line in the narratives. I like being given ways of speaking to and listening to God. But, I get bogged down trying to follow the train of thought in the letters.

Here's an example of my trying to work out the meaning of this passage:

What Paul is praying for the congregation of Philippi--that they will use knowledge and insight to determine what to do so they will ready for the day of Christ. Paul's criteria--they will have produced a harvest of righteousness. I have to pause--does Paul mean that being pure and blameless precedes or causes righteousness or does righteousness come through Jesus Christ's efforts or some combination?

I turn to the commentary. It doesn't answer those questions, but answers the questions I should have asked:

Having prayed for their love for each other to continue and to increase, Paul suggests that they still have something to learn. His hope is that they will continue to improve their knowledge and deepen their insight. Be tough-minded not naive. (Carl R. Holladay, Preaching through the Christian YearC

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Y'all, a Reflection on Philippians 1:3-8

For whatever reason, English speakers dropped the singular second-person pronoun. So, we can't tell when "you" means "thee"; i.e., singular, and when it means "you"; i.,e., plural.

So, I looked up this passage in my Greek New Testament to make sure which you that Paul was writing to. And, of course, the you is plural. In the American South, we would say y'all but probably wouldn't write it.

In any case, read this passage as if it is written to your congregation, not just to you personally. Paul is concerned about how all of you are, and how all of you are treating each other, and how all of you are working to do the work that Jesus Christ intended for all of you to do.

Further, as each of us waits for the promise of Advent to be fulfilled, we need to keep in mind that salvation is not merely a personal matter, a case of my being plucked out of a bad situation, but rather a much bigger matter, a case of the world in which I live being transformed.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Roadbeds, a Reflection on Luke 1:76-79

In this portion of Zechariah's declaration, he speaks to to the child who will be the prophet for the promised savior.

"You will be the prophet. You will prepare the way."

Think about way preparation. I mean how highways are actually built. Consider how existing barriers must be destroyed--buildings, ones that should have been torn down anyway and ones that were in excellent shape, even beautiful, much-loved homes. Hillsides have to be cut through or mounted. Trees and brush are dragged away. All this before any actual road building is done.

John's message about preparing is that sins will be forgiven.

When the big trees and little bushes, delapidated buildings and beautiful homes, are gone, when the high spots are overcome and the rough spots smoothed down, we will have the way that our Savior prepares.

By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in drkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace (78-79).

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Benedictus, a reflection on Luke 1:68-75

Zechariah was a priest serving in the temple in Jerusalem, but Jerusalem is ruled by the Roman government and its army. And the army had been there a long time.

Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth had lived a righteous and blameless life, but not one like they would have chosen for they had no children. They had been waiting for a long time. Then the Lord sent a messenger, Gabriel, to Zechariah to tell him that Elizabeth was going to have child.

Zechariah disputed the possibility of getting something that he had longed for so long. Gabriel responded, "Because you didn't believe these words, you are not going to be able to speak untile the things I have promised you occur."

Today's reading is the opening portion of Zechariah's response when he is allowed once more to speak.

Filled with the Holy Spirit, he prophesied that a savior was to come and that a messenger had been sent to announce that news.

He expressed gratitude to the Lord that the promises made to Israel were going to be realized, promises of rescue from enemies. Zechariah then reminded them what forgiven, rescued people were supposed to do with their freedom: serve God in every way on every day.

Try making Zechariah's Benedictus part of your morning prayer each day:
Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for you have looked favorably on your people and redeemed us.
You have raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of your servant David.
You have spoken through prophets that we would be saved from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us.
You have shown mercy to our ancestors and remembered your holy covenant,
the oath you swore to our ancestor Abraham,
to grant us rescue from our enemies
so that we might serve you without fear
in holiness and righteousness all our days.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Cleansing, a Reflection on Malachi 3:1-4

Malachi asks who can endure the coming of the messenger. The messenger will get the people ready to receive the Lord. He is like a refiner's fire and like fullers' soap.

Paul Stroble, in Advent 2009, Celebrate the Newborn Jesus, explains these terms:

Malachi uses two different images of refinement. The first is the image of fire that purifies gold and silver. Gold and silver are precious for their rarity, beauty, and malleability. Gold is durable and does not oxidize. When gold is heated, it melts and becomes better as the impurities are burned off. .... The second is the image of the preparation of newly woven cloth. A fuller was a person who prepared new cloth, and fullers' soap was a strong alkali that cleansed the cloth.

Stroble then asks, "What times in your life were refining?"

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Preparing for Salvation, a Reflection on Luke 3:3-6

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 30, 2009

Stir up our hearts, O God

In his This Day, A Wesleyan Way of Prayer, Laurence Stookey includes this prayer for Advent that comes from the Galesian Sacramentary, ca 500.:

Stir up our hearts, O God,
to prepare ourselves to receive your Son.
Grant that when he comes and knocks
he will not find us sleeping in sin,
but awake to righteousness,
endlessly rejoicing in his love.
So purify our hearts and minds
that we may be ready to receive
his promise of life eternal. Amen.

Who's in Charge Here? a Reflection on Luke 3:1-2

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

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

God has not forgotten them nor abandoned them.

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

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

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Praying for Christians, a reflection on 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13

If Paul were writing this letter to us, would he be joyful at the report that Timothy brought back (9)?

What lacks in our faith would he be praying to restore (v.10)?

Why would he want to come back here (v.11)?

How do we demonstrate our love for each other? Do we love each other (v.12)?

Are we blameless? What part of holiness do we need to strengthen (v.13)?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

May I remember and may God forget some stuff, a reflection on Psalm 25:1-10

We read in Jeremiah the promise of what is coming--justice and righteousness and safey. In Psalm 25, we find the words to respond to this promise.

I trust you, God, protect me.
Teach me your ways.
Be merciful.

In praying this psalm, we admit that we have not always done what God would have preferred us to do, and we admit that we have more to learn.

Think about your own life. If you had known then what you know now, what would you have done differently?

Who are God's chosen pupils (vv.8-9)?

Friday, November 27, 2009

I will fulfill the promise, a reflection on Jeremiah 33:14-16

Jeremiah is writing to a people in exile. Jeremiah promised them that God would sustain them and provide them with a new life. Remember, Jeremiah knows and they know that they have not always been loyal to God's wishes.

Many congregations and communities today feel as if they are in a kind of exile.

Can you think of a time when you faced lost dreams?

How do Jeremiah's promises speak to you where you are now? What justice and righteousness is needed in your life? in the life of your congregation? of your community?

Where do you see significant signs of the promises? What are you still waiting to see?

Lectio Divina:
In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he sahll execute justice and righteousness in the land (Jeremiah 33:15).

Be mindful of your mercy, O Lord, and of your steadfast love, for they ahve been from of old. Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for your goodness' sake, O Lord! (Psalm 25:6-7)

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Prioritizing, a reflection on Matthew 6:25-33

As I ponder verses 25-30 in Matthew 6, I wonder what I am thankful for and what Jesus wants me to be thankful for, and what am I anxious about.

I really can't imagine not worrying about my life or my diet or, sadly, even my wardrobe.

Was Jesus trying to comfort me or discomfort me? What is the size of my faith?

Thank you, Matthew, for including verses 31-32. Although I do worry about things that are really all that important, I do at least recognize that they aren't all that important.

My prayer today is to keep remembering that God knows what I need, to keep remembering, and to live as if I am remembering, that the kingdom of God and God's righteousness are of first priority to me.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Lord your God has dealt wondrously with you, a reflection on Joel 2:21-27; Psalm 126

According to the Christian calendar, we are preparing for the first Sunday of Advent. Those of us living in the United States have another important occasion this week--Thanksgiving Day is Thursday.

As we read this selection from Joel, let us remember that he is writing to a people that have suffered ruin--invasion and famine. "Lament," Joel has told them, "and repent. Return to the Lord" (Joel 1:1-2:17).

The portion of Joel chosen for our Thanksgiving reading is a reminder to the people--those, then, and us, now, as well) that God has already done great things for us. And, as God will continue to do great things.

He uses as an examples the return of rain to the land and, as a consequence, the abundance of food. We can witness the presence of God in our life by paying attention to the gifts that come from God.

Psalm 126 offers a model prayer of thanksgiving:
....The Lord has done great things for us, and we rejoiced.
Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like the watercourses in the Negeb.
May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy.
Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy, arrying their sheaves.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

While persevering, a reflection on Luke 21:29-36

We've heard this story before. We need to hear it again, and we need to tell this story to others who need to hear it. The world needed a redeemer. The world needs a redeemer.

Luke's gospel tells us Jesus' instructions for what not to do and what to do while we are waiting
1) Give up activities that distract--drunkenness and dissipation, but also plain old worry.

2) Be alert

What challenges you in this scripture?

What hope does it offer?

If you knew how much longer you had to live, what would you do differently?

What would you be sure to continue doing?

Lectio Divina: Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man (Luke 21:26).

Lectio Divina: Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long (Psalm 25:4-5).

Monday, November 23, 2009

Between the Clinging and the Yearning, a reflection on Luke 21:25-28

We're a month away from Christmas. But, according to the church calendar, we are entering Advent. The gospel reading this week is apocalyptic, not sentimental.

Jesus first spoke to people who had the memory of the loss of Jerusalem before and their return to exile, to people, who now were in a kind of exile--they lived in the land but were ruled by an occupying power.

By the time that Luke wrote his gospel, these hearers would have experienced the downfall of the temple. We are reading these words today of uproar in nature--signs in the sun, moon, and stars, roaring seas, shaken heavens, and recognize that Advent in the church is not Christmas in the department store.

Luke is speaking to people living in a tough time. He's says that everything is going to change, that the Son of Man is coming, and that their redemption is drawing near.

In the November 12, 2009, issue of Christian Century , Leonard Beechy quotes Walter Brueggemann, "Jesus' ministry takes place between the clinging and the yearning." He then adds:
That's also where we find ourselves in Advent, in the time between the times when the veil between worlds grows thin and the holy calls to us from the world to come. It is both an evening time and a morning time, when we lern what we must relinquish and to what we must open our hands, what is dying, and what is being born.

Lectio Divina: Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise our heads, because your redemption is drawing near (Luke 21:28).

Lectio Divina: To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
O my God, in you I trust; do not let me be put to shame; do not let my enemies exult over me
(Luke 21:1-2).
For all of us who are weighed down by problems caused by oppressors or by our own foolishness, we can look forward to an overturning of the way things are, look forward to Christ's changing everything.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Advent Resources

UMC Communications offers Advent Resources including sermon starters

The True King, a Reflection on Revelation 1:4b-8

We are reading from this letter that was written to congregations that preceded us--written to them at a time of stress and turmoil, a time when they needed to be reminded that Christ is King.

Verses 5 and 6 list some of the elements of Christian faith:
Christ is the faithful witness.
Christ is the ruler of the kings of the earth.
Christ loves us.
Christ freed us from our sins by his blood.

Not only that but also, Christ mades us to be a kingdom. Kingdom. That might sound pretty empirical and empowering. Let us pause to remember what kind of kingdom is meant. We are to serve God and Father to whom glory and dominion belong.

Caesar may seem to be in charge of our lives, but Caesar doesn't last long. The Lord God, on the other hand, is the Alpha and Omega--the already and the one to come. The Lord God is the one who is and will be the Almighty One in our lives.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Reign of Christ, a reflection on Psalm 93

We Americans don't have a king and don't want one. (I'm really trying not to make a joke about Elvis--forgive me for even thinking that).

We are so anti-monarchal that some people have suggested renaming Christ the King Sunday to Reign of Christ (a title that also is less sexist?)

Yet, even though we don't want an earthly monarch, we do yearn for an earth ruled by Christ. So, we can read Psalm 93 which at the time it was first sung, was a celebration of the enthronement of God, and interpret it with a Christian lens.

We are seeking a world in which Christ reigns over chaos and anarchy, a world of doing what God wants us to do.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Offertory Prayers for December

The Center for Stewardship of the UMC offers many resources for local churches. Offertory Prayers authored by David Bell for December are now available.

A Vision of the One to Come, a Reflection on Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14

Cyrus of Persia had conquered the Babylonians and allowed the Judeans to return home from exile and to rebuild their temple in Jerusalem. Limited automony under Persian rule continued until Alexander led the Greek defeat of Persia. After his death, his empire split into rival empires--and Judea lay between them.

At the time the book of Daniel was written, the beginning of the 2nd century BCE, the Secleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes had turned his attention to control of the Jerusalem temple and the gold that was there.

Hear echoes of their situation in the reading from Daniel 7. In a time that a great beast that devoured and crushed, Daniel has a vision (7:1-8).

In his vision, Daniel sees the Ancient of Days, a overwhelmingly powerful one who is served by thousands and myriads. Daniel then sees what he describes as One like a human being. This one is presented to the Ancient One who gives him dominion, glory, and kingship. Every nation of every language is to serve him. His dominion is eternal.

[Source: Lawrence M. Wills, commentary in the Jewish Study Bible]

Christians have appropriated this vision for the coming of Christ because we see his role as one to break the dominion of those who would do harm. We agree with the Jews that God is sovereign over history and that God intends blessings for us not repression and violence.

Yet, some commentators are concerned with the appropriateness of pairing this specific passage with John 18:33-37. Here is what Allen and Williamson say:
Daniel is apocalyptic with its chronological dualism and convictions that God will remake the cosmos. The worldview of the Fourth Gospel, influenced to a degree by a modified metaphysical dualism, sees existence divided into two spheres that exist at the same time--heaven as sphere of God, life, love, light, and truth, and the world as that of death, hate, darkness, and falsehood. When John says that Jesus' domain is not of this world, it means that Jesus' domain is a sphere revealing God within the corrupt world. John places little emphasis on the end of this age.

[Source: Preaching the Old Testament]

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Description of the Dwelling Place, a Reflection on Psalm 132:13-18

The place that the Lord has chosen to dwell is a place that will receive many blessings.

The first is to feed the poor.

Others include granting salvation to the priests, providing prosperity for David's decendants, and heaping disgrace on his enemies.

Back to the first--feeding the poor.

If we were to assess whether our congregation is providing an appropriate dwelling place for the Lord, should we use as a criteria whether we are feeding the poor?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Dwelling Place of the Lord, a Reflection on Psalm 132:1-12

Psalm 132 begins by asking the Lord to remember David favorably--in this case, for wanting to build an appropriate place for the Lord to dwell and also appropriate for the people to come to worship.

We can read this reminder as referring specifically to David's establishment of Jerusalem as the capital and the worship center for all the tribes. And we can also read it metaphorically--Israel welcomed being chosen by the Lord and responded in a way that we could call hospitable and respectful.

This psalm then asks the Lord to remember the promise of the covenant with the house of David. Note that the Bible has several references to the covenant's being eternal, here it is described in more conditional terms--"If your sons keep my covenant and my decrees ... their sons also, forevermore, shall sit on your throne."

We are reading this psalm this week as we prepare for Christ the King Sunday; therefore, of course, we read it as applying to our lives and our worship. We who are Christians can remember the promises made to David and we can appropriate many of them for ourselves.

We also can appropriate many of the pledges that David made. We do desire to find a place for the Lord in our lives, a place that may be for us a physical church building, but it is also that place within the hearts of all of us in community.

And we certainly can appropriate the verses praying that our clerics be clothed in righteousness and all of us faithful, clergy and lay, be joyful in the presence of the Lord.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

David's Last Words, a Reflection on 2 Samuel 23:1-7

It's ironic in a way (or, is all irony in a way?) that this lection was chosen for Christ the King Sunday. The kings in the Old Testament, including David, had faults and had those faults pointed out to them by the prophets. Kings had their place but they weren't perfect.

That being said, I like this reading -- not for the anticipation of Christ the Son in the Triune God--but for its reminder of the kind of earthly king that God expected, the kind of king that would act in such a way as to do God's will to protect the people.

God promised eternal protection for David and David's descendants (also see 2 Samuel 7 for this promise and David's response.

Note: verses 6-7 are pretty scary and may remind us of last Sunday's readings.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Prayer and other Planning Helps for Christ the King Sunday

The GBOD of the United Methodist Church offers Planning Helps for Christ the King Sunday.

The UM Book of Worship offers this prayer:
Almighty God, who gave your Son Jesus Christ a realm where all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; make us loyal followers of our living Lord, that we may always hear his word, follow his teachings, and live in his Spirit; and hasten the day when every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that he is Lord; to your eternal glory. Amen.

Pilate Questions Jesus, a Reflection on John 18:33-37

Pilate's questions: Are you the King of the Jews? What have you done that has caused you to be arrested?
Pilate's job is to protect his government and he wants to know if this man Jesus is a threat to peace and stability.

Jesus responds that he is not the kind of king that Pilate has been trained to watch out for. He doesn't have an army, for example.

Pilate asks again: Are you a king? Jesus responds "That's what you say," then adds some remarks that I think would have been unintelligible to Pilate:

For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.

And, isn't it hard to understand how truth can prevail without having an army? without being a threat to powerful people? How can we defend ourselves against truth, anyway?

After all, Jesus didn't say that his followers were going to withdraw from the world. He said that it wasn't the world that gave him his authority.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Witness, a Reflection on Hebrews 10:19-25

Now that we have been forgiven, what happens next? The author answers, "Live like it."

Approach God.
Hold on to hope.
Encourage others to do good deeds.
Meet together.

As I read this passage, I am glad once again that the United Methodist Church decided to add "witness" to its vows of membership.

Here's a quote from Tayor Burton-Edwards explaining the change:

Paragraph 217.6 had become the United Methodist membership mantra: “prayers, presence, gifts and service.” In some of our congregations, these words became the only “membership vows” many of our people knew, despite the fact that our Discipline names all the vows of the baptismal covenant as requirements for professing membership (see the entirety of paragraph 217). Our Board noted that the vows of “prayers, presence, gifts and service” were primarily “inwardly” focused and institutional in character. They offered little insight or inspiration for disciples of Jesus Christ to engage in God’s mission of transforming the world. Though in an earlier vow those seeking professing membership promise to be “Christ’s representatives in the world” (UMH 34, paragraph 6), there was no reflection of that baptismal promise in the vows of membership in a local congregation. Adding “and witness” to the list (“prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness”) may help our members, new and old, to recognize their responsibilities not only to “show up,” but to “show forth” God’s saving love in all that we do.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

For All Time, a Reflection on Hebrews 10:11-18

The writer of Hebrews uses scriptural references to explain the significance of Christ and of Christ's sacrifice and of its effect on us.

For example, in 10:12-13, by quoting Psalm 110:1, the assurance of the victory of King David, he is telling us something about David's descendent, our King the Christ.

When comparing the daily sacrifice of priests with the one-time sacrifice of Christ, he writes that after offering "for all time a single sacrifice for sins, 'he sat down at the right hand of God,' and since then has been waiting 'until his enemies would be made a footstool for his feet.'"

Further, in 10:16-17, he quotes from Jeremiah 31:31-34, as he did in 8:8-12. When Jeremiah spoke, he was talking to Israel and Judah.

The message in Hebrews is intended for a broader audience. What God had promised for them then is now true for all of us:

"I have forgiven you."

Friday, November 13, 2009

Don't Gloat Too Soon, a Reflection on 1 Samuel 2:1-10

What people today can sing Hannah's song with gratitude and sincerity? Who hopes to see God act in the way that Hannah describes?

How could the powerful be happy about the promise that their weapons will be destroyed? Or, how could people who now have full stomachs look forward to having to accept jobs that pay barely enough for food?

Do those rich, powerful, well-fed folks somehow think they deserve what they already have?

Hannah thought differently. "Get over yourself," she said.

God cares about the poor, Hannah promises.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Lack of Perception, a Reflection on 1 Samuel 1:14-20

Hannah did not have what society valued in a woman and what she herself wanted desperately. The other wife had many children but lacked the love of their husband. She acted out her resentment and jealousy.

Elkanah did notice that Hannah was upset but didn't know or wouldn't admit knowing why.

We can generalize and modernize this situation. Some people have more things than others do. The haves sometimes lord it over the have-nots. Jealousy affects us badly. People in authority sometimes are clueless.

In Hannah's case, she was determined to make her life better. Her solution was prayer.

When he saw her praying, the religious authority assumed she was drunk. Was he also clueless? Or, was he that unaccustomed to seeing fervent prayer?

Hannah responded to his criticism by explaining who she was and what her situation was.

Eli may not have discerned her sincerity before, but after hearing, he could. He told Hannah that God was going to grant her petition.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Prayer for Protection, a Reflection on Psalm 16

Verse 4 of Psalm 16 reminds us that choosing another god doesn't work out well for people. Verses 5 and 6 are a reminder that the Lord has shown us the way to life, to fullness of joy, and eternal happiness, as well as an expression of appreciation for all that.

We've read Mark and Daniel this week warning of what's coming. While we are waiting for the apocalypse, we need to remember the rest of the psalm, as well.

The psalmist is not afraid. He trusts the Lord to continue to care for the faithful (10-11).

For more, go to to read the Mark Throntveit's commentary on this psalm.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Thanksgiving Plans

The UMC offers Resources for Thanksgiving.

Vision of What Is to Come, a Reflection on Daniel 12:1-3

In this week's gospel reading, Jesus cautions the disciples about what we call the apocalypse.

Daniel also spoke about about life after the end of life, after a time of unmatched trouble. Daniel had been talking to people who had seen some very hard times and who needed encouragement.

He speaks of resurrection and of reward and punishment.

Many people after him have found help during their own hard times of thinking about how their eternal life will be better. And some of us feel good about thinking about the wicked being punished--also that thought may also be worrisome at times.

Let us hold on to the comfort that even in our hardest times, God is caring for us and about us and is waiting for us.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Post-Temple, a Reflection on Mark 13:1-8

Two different ideas have come to me today as I ponder this passage.

First, when the disciples say how great the temple is, Jesus responds by saying that it isn't going to last much longer. Although they were talking about an actual physical building, I want to use it as a metaphor for religion itself. According to recent research (see USA today, for example, None is the religion most often cited.

How bad would it be if instead of almost everybody in America being a Christian that very few are? We know that the early Christians did fine without the temple as also did the Jews themselves. But, how would the world do without organized Christians to care for it?

That question underlies my second idea. Jesus told them "Many will come in my name and lead you astray."

So, I'm asking how many of these denominations and congregations within them and Christians belonging to those congregations, how many of them are living Christ-like lives and how many of us are leading others astray?

As we prepare for next week's celebration of the Reign of Christ, or you may think of it by its traditional name, Christ the King, let us reorient ourselves to be conveyors of Christ to the world.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

God's Daily Life, a Reflection on Psalm 146

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

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

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

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Once and For All, a Reflection on Hebrews 9:24-28

The writer of this epistle is again comparing the sacrifice made by Christ with that of the high priests. They made offerings over and over. He made one offering--himself.

And that one offering is enough to cover for sins of all people.

Christ will return, we are told, but not to deal with sin. That's been dealt with. He will appear to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.

Is that good news, or not?

What does "eagerly waiting" mean"?

If you do read ahead, you'll find some rather scary judgment talk (see 10:26-27)

Friday, November 6, 2009

Happy is the man, a reflection on Psalm 127

The lectionary has chosen this psalm as a response to the lesson from Ruth. I'm supposing the connection is the verses about how sons make a man very happy and proud--and, usually, I agree.

The first part of the psalm stresses that no matter how hard we try, the Lord is the one who accomplishes things. I'm thinking about the plan that Naomi came up with to help Ruth get a husband and Ruth's compliance. They did work hard, but the psalm is reminding me that even with their effort, they had God to thank when things turned out so well for them.

A quibble with the connection of the story of Ruth and Naomi and this particular psalm. The psalm uses the imagery of battle to express gratitude for sons; Ruth and Naomi, not.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Reversal of Fortune, a Reflection on Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17

Ruth is a foreigner, a widow with no money who is living with her mother-in-law, Naomi, who is also a widow without financial resources.

A kinsman, Boaz, marries Ruth. They have a child, Obed. Ruth who had refused to stay behind when Naomi had returned home now has a new home, a new husband, and a child. Naomi who had lost a husband and two sons now because of the loyalty of her daughter-in-law now is a grandmother.

Obed is the grandfather of King David. And David is the ancestor of Jesus.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Hope in God, a Reflection on Psalm 42

An alternate response to the alternate Old Testament reading is Psalm 42. In 1 Kings, the fleeing prophet is hungry and the woman who offers him refuge is hungry. God provides all she needs to take care of herself and her son and the traveler.

In Psalm 42, the psalmist uses food and water metaphorically: "I want God as much as a deer wants water to drink," and "All I've had to eat for days have been my tears."

This psalm begins with someone who is downcast as we can imagine both Elijah and the widow being, as we can remember how we have been at times.

I can imagine someone in a situation like Elijah's having the feelings expressed in verses 9-10:
I say to God, my rock, "Why have you forgotttten me? Why must I walk about mournfully because the emeny oppresses me?" As with a deadly wound in my body, my adversaries tanunt me, while they say to me continually, "Where is your God?"

What do we do when we are in despair? The psalm responds "Have hope in God. The Lord will care for me."

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Generosity, a Reflection on 1 Kings 17:8-16

From whom can we expect help when we are in trouble?

In this story Elijah is fleeing for his life from the threats of the powerful king and queen of his nation. He turns to a widow who is trying to support herself and her son in a time of drought.

He is able to reassure her that God will provide for her needs if she will take care of his.

Did the widow in Mark's gospel know this story? Did the scribes?

The charitable giving index is being revised, but here's the latest report that I could find--from 2004, in Forbes:

American households donate an average 2% of their income to charitable causes each year.

But regional giving rates vary widely across the country. New Englanders, long derided for their stinginess, give an average of only 1.3% of their annual pretax income to charity. However, almost 82% of New England households participate in charitable giving. By contrast, only 65% of the residents of the Southeast and Gulf Coast states give to charity each year. But they give an average 2.2% of their income when they do.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Piety without Love, a Reflection on Mark 12:38-44

Jesus' harshest criticism is not against heretics but against hypocrites.

He's describing religious people who parade their piety around but certainly show no love for neighbor--poor neighbors, anyway.

He calls us to look at what the rich contribute and compares it to one poor widow who's giving all she has.

Is anyone else thinking about the health care debate going on now?

Saturday, October 31, 2009

A Swallowing that Permits Life, Relection on Isaiah 25:6-9

Since many people don't own a Bible that includes the Apochrypha, the lectionary offers an alternative Old Testament reading for All Saints Day from Isaiah.

Here's a repeat of an entry from October 11, 2008:

They have heard Isaiah's prayer of gratitude for their deliverance. He now tells them that the Lord will make for all peoples a banquet.

Two things are important about this banquet. First, it really is a banquet. The menu includes rich food and fine wines. Second, it's not just for them; it's a feast for all peoples.

This banquet takes the place of the negative force that death has held over them, swallows it up forever. Walter Brueggemann reminds us of NT allusions to this promise in 1 Corinthians 15:54 and Revelation 21:4 (Isaiah 1-39, WestminsterJohnKnoxPress).

Under the Care of God, a Reflection on Wisdom 3:1-9

No, we can't know precisely what happens after death. But, since we know what happens before it, we trust in God to continue to be God. And, as we remember the people who have died this year, we also remember that God will still be taking care of them.

But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God,
and no torment will ever touch them.
In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died,
and their departure was thought to be a disaster,
and their going from us to be their destruction;
but they are at peace....

Those who trust in him will understand truth,
and the faithful will abide with him in love,
because grace and mercy are upon his holy ones,
and he watches over his elect.

(The Wisdom of Solomon 3:1-3, 9)

Friday, October 30, 2009

UMC Policy on Health Care

Greetings from InfoServ, the United Methodist information service!
Your message reached our offices at United Methodist Communications in Nashville, Tennessee, USA.

Hello Una,
Thank you for writing. The United Methodist statements that are related to your question are linked below.

2008 Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church: Social Principles:
¶ 162 V) Right to Health Care

2008 Book of Resolutions: Health Care for All in the United States


Health and Wholeness

# # #

UMC Statements related to health care reform

Greetings from InfoServ, the United Methodist information service!
Your message reached our offices at United Methodist Communications in Nashville, Tennessee, USA.

Hello Una,
Thank you for writing. The United Methodist statements that are related to your question are linked below.

2008 Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church

Social Principles:
¶ 162 V) Right to Health Care{80F15261-97BF-4210-9C1E-A3E631300EE2}¬oc=1

2008 Book of Resolutions:
Health Care for All in the United States{BD651AB7-82FB-4BD4-A3C3-188442DDE6C0}¬oc=1

Health and Wholeness{1DE01997-29C8-4ACA-9BF3-493435655595}¬oc=1

# # #

Quoting Denise Leverton

I'm re-reading Denise Leverton's book of poems on religious themes, The Stream & the Sapphire. Here's an excerpt from "To Live in the Mercy of God":

....Awe, not comfort. Stone, elbows of
stony wood beneath lenient
moss bed.

And awe suddenly
passing beyond itself. Becomes
a form of comfort....

Reflection on Hebrews 9:11-14

An offering was made by a high priest as a means for the sinner to be redeemed. Christ is for us sinners both the high priest and the offering that is sacrificed.

We Christians can read this as reassuring.

We should be grateful but not triumphalistic.

Further, we should be careful not to misinterpret the phrase, "dead works."

According to Allen & Williamson's Preaching the Letters without Dismissing the Law
The "dead works" should not be confused with the mitzvoth of torah. "Dead works" are not "deeds of loving kindness"; they are sins that pollute the conscience.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

A Prayer for Remembering the Saints

The worship page of the UMC offers A Prayer for Remembering the Saints written by the Reverend Nathan Decker.

Rerun of earlier posting, a reflection on Psalm 146

Thursday, September 3, 2009
Who do you trust? a Reflection on Psalm 146
Every once in a while I hear someone say to somebody who has just gotten something great, "That shows that God really loves you." And, sometimes, I read Psalm 146 and wonder.

This psalm begins by acclaiming praise for God and disdaining trust in powerful men. They won't last. God will.

According to this psalm, God cares about the oppressed, the hungry, prisoners, the blind, immigrants, orphans, and widows.

Jesus lived out this psalm. How is the church doing?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Extension of covenant, a Reflection on Ruth 1:1-18

The famine in Judah had driven Elimelech and his family to Moab. To Moab? Moab, the enemy of the Israelites as they entered into the Promised Land. Moab's king, Balak, was the one who hired Balaam to curse them (although that didn't work out the way Balak wanted; see Numbers 22-24.) After settlement, Moab was still their enemy. Under King Eglon, Moab controlled the Israelites for eighteen years (see Judges 3 for how this ended.)

Elimelech took his family to Moab. The place that has been your enemy has become your refuge. His sons married wives from Moab. Enemies become rescuers. Enemies become relatives.

Elimelech and his two sons die. His wife realizes that she has to go back to Judah. Her Moab family are daughters, and it is sons who have the responsibility to care for widows. She advises her widowed daughters-in-law to return to their families where they will have a chance of getting remarried.

One takes her advice. The other, Ruth, does not.

Ruth, the Moabite, refuses to abandon her mother-in-law even if that means she will have to go to a country that has been her country's enemy, even if it means giving up her family.

Phyllis Trible points out that only Abraham had made this radical a move.

Allen & Williamson in their Preaching the Old Testament, stress the importance of covenant. Javing made covenant with her husband, Ruth has now extended covenant to her mother-in-law and to what is her mother-in-law's. They ask:

What would it take for today's congregation to make a Ruth-like commitment to the Naomis of the world?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Preparing for All Saints Day

The worship page of the UMC offers Resources for All Saints Day including preaching help, hymn suggestions, and prayers

Daily Exercise, a Reflection on Deuteronomy 6:1-9

The events described in the book of Deuteronomy take place during the wilderness years between slavery in Egypt and entry into the land promised to them. But, the book itself was written long after this--and rewritten as crises in their life had to be faced.

We still face crises--national and personal. We still need to hear Moses' sermons and admonitions.

"Listen," he says to them--and to all who come after them, including us.

"Do what the Lord has commanded you to do. Teach your children to live this way. God's instruction for you is intended to help you have the kind of life that is best."

They get the gift first--here, land--and they respond by remembering who is the source of their gift.

Telling about the gift and the giver every day will help the people who hear us to know and to remember, and it certainly will help us to do the same.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The First Commandment, a Reflection on Mark 12:28-34

When a scribe asked Jesus which commandment is the most important of all. Jesus responded by quoting Deuteronomy 6:4-5 and Leviticus 19:18. He has been quoting Scripture to his opponents over and over. And although some have not been very happy with him about this, in Mark's version, this scribe is convinced.

Are we?

Do we love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength? Do we come even close to loving our neighbor as ourselves?

What is the most important thing for Christians to do or to argue about not doing?

Here's what important to the UMC Judicial Council right now according to Judicial Council:

The United Methodist Church’s highest court will consider whether regional church groups have any latitude on payment to general church funds when it meets Oct. 28-31 in Durham, N.C.

The Judicial Council also will discuss what language is acceptable for statements on sexuality and whether clergy can fill local church positions reserved for laity. Those are among the issues raised from decisions made by United Methodist bishops during the 2009 annual conference season, which compose the 21 docket items before the denomination’s nine-member court

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Christ as Intercessor, a Reflection on Hebrews 7:23-28

Because God is compassionate and forgiving, the faithful have sought ways to have their sins forgiven. The letter to the Hebrews explains Christ's role as one like that of the high priest that the first hearers would have been familiar with.

But, our high priest is unique. He lives forever and saves forever. Unlike earlier high priests, he doesn't have to offer sacrifices daily; he offered himself once, and once was enough.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Let us pray, a reflection on Psalm 34:1-8, 19-22

Psalm 34 is ascribed to David when he had escaped from a difficult situation. We are reading it this week as the response to the passage from Job who has also been delivered from a difficult situation.

The psalm begins with testimony, "I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul makes its boast in the Lord"

and turns to lesson, "Let the humble hear and be glad. Magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together."

Prayer is not restricted to only private conversation. Prayer at times can and should be communal.

Hear the invitation to join in prayer with someone who has known difficulty and has known rescue:

"I sought the Lord, and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears. ...O taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are those who take refuge in him."

Friday, October 23, 2009

OTOH, a Reflection on Job 42:10-17

The test is over. Job is returned to his life as it had been.

When Job emerges from his tragedy, he able to pray for his friends--I presume this means the ones who had been badgering him and trying to correct him throughout the book.

He died old--at 140, twice the length of what was expected in Psalm 90:10.

Many commentators think that this section was added by a different source from most of the book of Job. These verses seem to be a reaffirmation of the Deuteronomic theory of blessings as rewards for right behavior in contrast to verses 1-6 in this chapter.

Modern commentators try to reconcile both understandings by saying that whichever we hold, that God is present in our bad times and our good. We may make bad choices or bad things may happen despite our good ones, but God is still with us. And, our recognition of God's presence can help us through our difficult times.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Reflection on Job 42:1-6

The Lord has been speaking to Job (Ch 38-41) reminding him, "I am powerful, I have created the order by which all elements, animals, and people live. I am the giver of all, the One who knows all. Can any human do what I do."

Job replies, "I know you can do everything, that nothing is impossible for you. Hear me now."

What Job wishes for the Lord to hear is "I thought I knew you, but I lacked knowledge. Now that I see you clearly, I recant and repent."

Allen & Williamson in Preaching the Old Testament remind us that Job 42:6 is difficult to interpret:
Some scholars think that Job recognizes that both the Deuteronomic viewpoint on blessing and curse (represented in the book of Job by the friends) and Job's persistent demands to understand this notion in another framework of meaning comes up short. Having been addressed directly by the awesome God, Job recognizes that chaos is innately a part of creation and neither chaos nor prosperity can be neatly explained. While chaos is powerful, God's speeches in chapters 38 through 41 assure Job that it will not destroy the patterns of life through which God supports the world.

After this comment by Job, the Lord will say to Eliphaz "I'm angry with you and your friends who have not spoken the truth about me as did Job."

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Restore us, a Reflection on Psalm 126

Isaiah was preaching to exiles about coming home. Mark told about a man who when cured of his blindness chose to follow Jesus on the way.

Psalm 126 also speaks of both what has been and what is to come.

They had lost their possesions. They had sorrowed. They had weeped. And, now, things will change.

The first stanza, verses 1-3, are set in the past. The Lord has already done these things that we rejoiced about. The second stanza, verses 4-6, however, are a prayer for the restoration of fortunes, a plea that these good things will happen.

That is, although we have had opportunity to say thank you, we now need once more to say please.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Reflection on Isaiah 31:7-9

"There'll come a day," Isaiah has just said, "that you'll be able to plant vineyards and harvest your fields."

He continues with this promise by proclaiming that it's time to give thanks to the Lord and to ask to be saved.

The Lord's promise is to bring home those who have been scattered. Included in the promise is those who have had a hard time making it to their new home without help--specifically, the blind, the lame, the pregnant.

Like the blind man in Mark's gospel, these who are called will come.

Monday, October 19, 2009

What a blind man can see, a Reflection on Mark 10:46-52

He's blind--that is, he can't see with his eyes. But, he does recognize that Jesus is the Son of David and that he is the one who can restore his sight. Further, he can see that although a lot of people think his condition is hopeless, he can be healed by the man he asks for pity.

Jesus told him "Go; your faith has saved you."

Go. He's been blind, but now he can see what's ahead. Where is he going to go, now?

Think about where this faithful man went. He followed Jesus on the road. The road that leads to Jerusalem--arrest, crucifixion, and resurrection.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Dual Status, a Reflection on Hebrews 5:1-10

The first recipients of this letter would have been familiar with the office of high priest--that person chosen to be an intermediary between the people and God. To represent them adequately, the high priest would have to understand their condition--and to help them modify that condition where necessary.

The office of high priest was one of honor; yet, the high priest, as a human being, was subject to human frailities.

Yet, boldness was required. The high priest was approaching God to ask for mercy and grace for the sinful and suffering.

Not just anybody could be a high priest. Rather, only God could decide who would be appropriate for the role.

The author of this letter is pointing out that Jesus is the high priest for Christians. He, as human, can sympathize with our human condition. And, and Son of God, having been made perfect, he is the source of eternal salvation.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Bless the Lord, O my soul, a reflection on Psalm 104:1-9, 24, 35c

Psalm 104 is an affirmation of God's greatness. As we read it, we can hear echoes of the creation story in Genesis.

God is clothed in glory. God is the source and implementor of all. God has established the earth and done it in such a way that it shall never totter. God uses creation--the winds, the waters, the mountains and valleys.

In this week's passage from Job 38, God asks Job questions. We can imagine Job responding with portions of this psalm.

O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all, the earth is full of your creatures (24).

Bless the Lord, O my soul.
Praise the Lord

Friday, October 16, 2009

Things get done, a Reflection on Job 38:34-41

The Lord has appeared to Job out of the whirlwind. Commentators tell me that this word can mean thunderstorm. I've seen more thunderstorms than whirlwinds, so I'm translating it that way. I'm imagining looking out the window (or, since I'm from Texas, standing out on the porch) watching the lightning, the trees swaying, loose objects bouncing down the street. In the days after the storm, I can observe how dust has become a flower bed.

The Lord says to Job, "Who can do this? Can you?" then asks, "Who do you think can you provide a way that wild animals can be fed, that birds can find food?"

God has provided a world in which flowers grow and lions lunch--and sometimes I get glimpses of all of this, and when I'm not looking, this world keeps revolving. Sometimes I get a glimpse of God but when I'm not looking, God is still there, still at work.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

God Replies, a Reflection on Job 38:1-7

Reposting of earlier entry:

In the Job text, the Lord does speak, and, to emphasize the importance of the words, is speaking for the first time in the book.

"Man up. Answer these questions. Where were you when I was creating? Who gave me any help or advice about anything?"

Tangent 1: Please note that later the Lord will say "I'm angry with those three guys who kept mounting pious arguments to Job when he was suffering. Job is the one who has spoken right of me," (42:7-10). Thus, I'm asserting that God is okay with our needing to express laments.

Tangent 2: Allen & Williamson in their excellent Preaching the Old Testament quote Charles R. Balisdell's suggestion to exercise what he calls "tone of voice exegesis,"

that is, noticing that the way one inflects the text--the tone of voice--makes a significant difference in the meaning that one assigns to the text. The reader can intone the divine speeches with feelings as different as anger, arrogance, impatience, disdain, humor, or compassion.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Offertory Prayers for November

Offertory Prayers for November have been posted by Robbie H. Jones, Center for Christian Stewardship/Center for Worship Resourcing, Discipleship Ministries Division
GBOD | The United Methodist Church.

God's Protection, a Reflection on Psalm 91:9-16

I was planning to write a commentary on how this psalm needed to be accompanied by a warning label: Yes, God will take care of you, but don't do anything stupid, anyway. After all, Matthew has Satan quoting from it when testing Jesus in the wilderness.

The, from a link on, I came across Psalm 91 set by Dales Schoening to the tune of Finlandia.

Yes, the Psalm can be misused, but we do rely on God to rescue us.

When they call to me, I will answer them;
I will be with them in trouble,
I will rescue them and honor them.
With long life I will satisfy them,
and show them my salvation (15-16).

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Vicarious Suffering, a Reflection on Isaiah 53:4-12

Isaiah was describing the suffering of Israel, a vicarious suffering, done for us. This suffering servant did not resist the perversion of justice imposed upon him.

The descendants of those taken in exile could look back at their nation, how their ancestors had not done what they should have, yet suffered a punishment that seemed much greater than their sin. They could wonder if anything ever would be right for them again.

Isaiah spoke to these people in despair, "Out of his anguish, he shall see light....I will restore him.... because he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors."

We hear echoes of Isaiah's words about ancient Israel when we read again Jesus' words to his not-quite-getting-it disciples James and John.

We may still ponder the assertions that being alloted a portion with the great is related to being numbered with transgressors, bearing sins of others, and making intercession for them.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Request of James and John, a Reflection on Mark 10:35-45

James and John went to Jesus and asked them to do something for them.

I'm pausing here to think about what usually prompts me to pray. Let's go back to James and John.

They asked Jesus for glory, to sit next to him. Jesus informed them they had no idea what they were asking. "Do you really want to be next to me? Are you prepared to do what I am going to have to do? Besides, it's not my choice anyway."

The other disciples were upset when they heard that James and John had sought preferential status. Jesus called them together and informed them of what it took to be great. "Greatness is not lording over everybody; for us, greatness takes a different approach. To be great, you have to be the servant. Take me for example. What I came for is not to have everybody take care of me, but, instead, to serve, even to give up my life."

Then, and even now, we have church leaders who display similar attitudes to James and John. They want to be in charge, and they want everybody to know who is in charge. They display little appetite for slavery to the needs of others.

I'm trying to imagine an advertising campaign for a church that would use some of the language that Jesus used with his disciples--that drinking the cup that he was going to drink or being baptized what he was going to be baptized. He had already told them three times about his upcoming death.

Had the disciples not been listening? Have we been?

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Approaching Grace, a Reflection on Hebrews 4:12-16

The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews reminds them (and us) that the word of God is living and active.

It's not just a book that I can close and put on a shelf and then stack some other books on it as I can through with them. No, the word of God is living and active.

And more than that, it judges my heart. I'm going to have to render an account.

And more than that, I can't hide.

Let me take the word of God seriously.

But not fearfully. We have a sympathetic, effective Jesus to help us.

Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness,
so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

When I Feel Abandoned, a Reflection on Psalm 22:1-15

One of the discussions I remember from some theology class was the classic problem of how God could be all good and all powerful and at the same time we humans were suffering. Trying to solve this, we came up with quesions like "Did we deserve every bad thing that happened?" or "Was the bad thing we were experiencing going to turn out to be a good thing after all?"

However we frame our answers to our inquiry into the nature of God, we who are faithful hold on the knowledge (hope? faith?) that yes, God is all-powerful and all-good.

But, sometimes, we feel abandoned. We can pray "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

Even Jesus felt abandoned--remember Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34.

Yet, even in that sense of forsakenness, we can turn only to God. O my God, "I cry by day ... and by night...."

The lectionary has chosen this portion of Psalm 22 as a response to the reading from Job, and I can imagine Job saying these verses; e.g., "All who see me mock at me; they make mouths at me, they shake their heads."

And, certainly, Job would recognize the response of the onlookers in the psalm as matching the kind of response he had been getting from his friends in just saying that all he needed to do was turn things over to God who would then rescue "the one in whom he delights."

Friday, October 9, 2009

Mapping Muslims

Mapping the Global Muslim Population thanks to the Pew Forum answers questions of How many Muslims live in each country? and What percentage of each country's population is Muslim?

Reflection on Job 23:1-9, 16-17

Job's friend has accused him of great wickedness--of overextending credit to people beyond what they can pay back and then stripping them of their remaining assets" (22:1-11). The friend then counsels Job to try to get closer to God and to do what God wants, "If you pray, God will listen" (22:21-30).

Job responds "If, only. I've been praying. I've been asking God why that I have been punished this way. but I can't seem to find him. He's not anywhere that I've looked."

In the verses omitted in this week's lectionary passage, Job further responds to his friend's attack by asserting, "I've done what God wants. I've never sinned." (10-12).

Job is ready to give up, "I'd just like to vanish."

Side note: My daughter-in-law is participating in a Kerygma study on Job at her church. Although I am very Methodist and Kerygma is Presbyterian, I was favorably impressed with the Job and the Life of Faith.

The Methodist Series, Disciple Bible Study, offers Under the Tree of Life which focuses on the books of wisdom in the Old Testament and the Johannine literature in the New.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Prayer for Joy, a Reflection on Psalm 90:12-17

"Satisfy us at daybreak with Your steadfast love that we may sing for joy all our days" (Ps 90:14).

I'm reading "daybreak" both literally and metaphorically.

Literally, because for me, early morning is when I usually have my daily devotional--partly because then I have the rest of the day to reflect on what I've read or prayed.

Metaphorically, because it's not only at literal sunup that the light can come on for us. Other events can illuminate things for us--wise words from wise people as well as sudden realizations that hit us.

I love the last prayer of this psalm "O prosper the work of our hands!" because it serves as a reminder to me that I am part of God's work on earth.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Life Instructions, a reflection on Amos 5:14-15

After proclamations of judgment against Israel's neighbors and Israel, Amos pleads for conversion. "Do what you are supposed to do so you can live the life that has been intended for you. Live the way the Lord has told you that you should and you will recognize God's presence."

Centuries later, a man asked Jesus, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" He was disappointed in the answer. I'm wondering had he read this passage from Amos? I'm wondering--if you could see the way I live my life, would you think I had read it? How about you?

Lectio Divina: Seek good and not evil, that you may live; and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you, just as you have said. Hate evil and love good, and estasblish justice in the gate; it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph (Amos 5:14-15).

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Reflection on Amos 5:6-7, 10-13

Amos threatens--do what you are supposed to do or the Lord will devour you with an unquenchable fire.

He describes the acts of injustice that will bring the nation to an end: trampling the rights of the poor and overtaxing the poor.

A possible modern-day illustration in the U.S. could be derived from the debate over how to ensure that the poor can be insured; e.g.,
Health Care Reform.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Test that we would rather explain away, a Reflection on Mark 10:17-31

Methodists, Catholics, and Lutherans seek unity.

These three long-divided denominations have agreed "on justification by faith, or how individuals are forgiven and brought into a right relationship with God, began with a colorful opening procession in which robed leaders of the three historic Christian traditions walked side by side."

I'm going to have to say that this doctrine is important and has been divisive. But, I wonder what joint statement they could issue on their understanding of selling all.

Yes, I know that Mark's community thought the end of the world was near and that they wouldn't have to live long without assets. But, still. What is the source of our happiness? How closely are we willing to live to Jesus' test of who would get eternal life?

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Sacrifice and Sympathy, a Reflection on Hebrews 2:5-12

Again quoting from Frances Taylor Gench's commentary on Hebrews and James:

The Son who lives in glory was lived down here with us, like us. He showed us how humans could live, how a human being could be completely obedient to God. He showed us how to face death without fear. And because we know that he suffered, we know that he can understand what suffering is like for us.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Then and Now, a Reflection on Hebrews 1:1-4

Here are some excerpts from the commentary of Hebrews and James written by Frances Taylor Gench:

"Hebrews addresses believers who have grown weary in the Christian way and who are in danger of abandoning their Christian vocation."

"....fading enthusiasm, waning commitment, dwindling church attendance, and arrested development in the Christian faith."

"God has spoken; indeed, God has never been silent. God has spoken through prophets throughout our history, and now has spoken to us by a Son"

Gench focuses on the high Christology in Hebrews: The Son was at the beginning. Through him, the world was created and continues to be sustained:

Moreover, contemplation of Hebrews' panorama will guard against a restricted vision and limited appreciation of the story of Jesus Christ....Christians who do not attend church regularly, making an appearance only at Christmas and Easter, may envision Christ only in diapers or nailed to a cross! Hebrews, however, encourages a broader perspective. It fills out the big picture, thereby laying the groundwork for a more mature understanding of the one who stands at the beginning and end of God's purposes for the world, and who makes available to us God's own life.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Declaration and Supplication, a Reflection on Psalm 26

The first eight verses of Psalm 26 are ones that Job could have prayed honestly, "I have walked without blame, I haven't consorted with scoundrels, I come to your altar with thanksgiving."

That is, I've done what I was supposed to do.

This psalm follows the reminders with a plea for help, a plea that is based on the psalmist's innocence: Don't give me the punishment that sinners deserve, those who murder, scheme, or defraud. I don't deserve that punishment because I am blameless.

Most of us would have a pretty tough time praying those verses expressing innocence as honestly as Job could have. But, we can be just as sincere asking for protection and mercy.

The psalmist was pretty certain that God was going to make things right. The last verse is "My foot stands on level ground; in the great congregation I will bless the Lord."

Back to us: if we do get protected, if we do benefit from God's mercy, do we remember to give thanks?

Thursday, October 1, 2009

When Something Bad Happens to a Good Person, a Reflection on Job 1:1; 2:1-10

After reading Deuteronomy, we may think we know the formula to success--do what God told us and things will work out right; don't do it and we will surely suffer. Then, we read the Book of Job.

Job has done everything he was supposed to do. For a while, it looked as if the formula was working for him. He had a big family and a lot of wealth.

Then things fell apart.

The Adversary (we read Satan although the text does not say so) contends to the Lord that Job was a good man only because he had lots of blessings (Job 1:6-12). Then when Job still did not sin even after losing his possessions (1:13-22), the Adversary argued that Job would change his attitude if he himself was injured.

The Lord agreed to this test. The Adversary afflicted Job with a painful skin ailment. Job's wife urged him to blaspheme God.

He wouldn't.

Instead, he said, "Should we accept only good from God and not accept evil?"

After receiving devastating news and living through its aftermath, Lawrence Kushner wrote When Bad Things Happen to Good People that explores the theological underpinning of this question and how it worked out in his family's life.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

God cares about human beings, a Reflection on Psalm 8

In this week's Gospel lesson, Jesus quotes Scripture to the Pharisees who have come to test him. "We're not supposed to undo what God has done," he tells them. Although we have come to view divorce differently from Jesus' time, we still look to God's intentions and achievements as we work on ours.

Repeat from an earlier post:
"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.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Sunday School Lessons for October 2009

The Mississippi Advocate has posted Sunday School Lessons for October.

4 Looking for Jesus Mark 1:35-45
11 Recognizing Jesus Mark 5:1-3, 18-20
18 Begging to Get In Mark 7:24-30
25 Opting Out Mark 7:17-31

Could bad news be good news?

Looking for good news? After studying health trends for the decades around the Great Depression, researchers from the University of Michigan conclude that recessions may be good for your health.

Bone of my Bone, a Reflection on Genesis 2:18-24

In the chapter 1 version of creation, every day God looks at that day's work and pronounces it good. Light was good, separation of land and water was good, vegetation was good, separation of night and day was good, creatures of sea and sky were good, and, as a culmination, land animals, especially humans.
So God created humankind inhis image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them (Genesis 1:27).

In the chapter 2 version of creation (2:4b-25), the order of what gets created when is different from chapter 1's version. For example, God puts a man on earth then plants a garden.

Another difference is the one that is the focus of this week's Old Testament lection that has been chosen to respond to the Gospel lesson--that is, that the woman is not created at the same time as man, as in Genesis 1, but rather is created to serve a need, a need of the man.

Unlike Chapter 1, God sees that something is not good: "It's not good for a man to be alone. He needs a partner," God says.

And, as soon as Adam saw the woman that God had carved out for him, he was grateful, "Finally, someone for me."

Living alone is tough. There's something in us humans that needs and benefits from a relationship.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Questions that Test, a Reflection on Mark 10:2-16

Is there any reason to believe that the Pharisees had any sincere concern about women who were being divorced by their husbands, women who would have been left destitute?

They were asking a hard question hoping to catch Jesus in an embarassing answer. Would he stick to Scripture?

In that particular confrontation, he did, and even quoted some additional verses.

And, we're left with a disconcerting lesson. Matthew modified it some. Paul, in writing to the Corinthians did, too.

We continue to struggle with the need to obey God's will in troubling situations.

And we continue to see instances of modern-day Pharisees trying to embarass other Christians.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

When to Pray, a Reflection on James 5:13-20

James reminds us that Christians know both the bad and good of life. "When you are suffering," he says, "then pray." We are not alone. We are not with help. And he tells us, "When you are cheerful, sing songs of praise." Again, we are not alone, and we need to remember with gratitude the help we've received that led to our cheerfulness.

Also, James reminds us that being a Christian is more than that me-and-Jesus thing. He says to confess our sins to each other. To each other?

And not just pray for my healing, my gratitude, my sins, but also I'm to pray for yours.

James uses the Scripture to bolster his teaching: Remember Elijah.

Tangent: Shelly Cochran in the Guide to the Revised Common Lectionary makes this comment about one of the passages skipped by the lectionary, a diatribe against rich people:
"The words here are strong, but they also reflect an important truth, that the Christian faith is not really at home in places of wealth."

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Snare is Broken, a Reflection on Psalm 124

I'm trying to imagine the original setting for this psalm. Everybody is grateful. Everybody is traveling to a great festival. Which is harder for me to imagine happening in my time--that they are on a pilgrimage, or that they are on it together?

This psalm gives us words to express gratitude and reminds us to whom we owe our rescue.

If God had not been on our side, we would have been swallowed up by enemies--human ones and ones of nature.

We have escaped like a bird
from the snare of the fowlers;
the snare is broken,
and we have escaped.

Although this psalm is written for a community, individuals can also find solace and suggestion in it. When you have escaped from whatever snare had trapped you, you can pray these words. When you are still entrapped, you can use them as a reminder that help does come.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Precautions during Flu Season

The UMC offers a Update for what to do and not to do in worship to prevent the spread of the H1N1 Virus.

Reassurance or Warning, a Reflection on Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22

Mordecai, a government employee, and his cousin Esther belonged to a minority group. The powerful Haman was determined to rid his nation of people of their sort.

Assimilation seemed to be the safest option. But, it was not the option that Mordecai and Esther chose.

They risked and won.

Sometimes that's the way it turns out.

This story can be reassuring to people who feel oppressed by the laws of the country in which they are living. It's not so reassuring for people who are in power.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Acceptable to the Lord, a Reflection on Psalm 19

Who's allowed to speak and heal in the name of Christ? Jesus was more inclusive than his disciples had thought to be.

Their need to be restrictive (in control?) was not the first time. The elders in Moses time had warned him that a non-elder was prophesying. Moses said they were limited if they thought God's power was so limited.

We still have difficulty in discerning who is speaking for the Lord.

Or, we still have difficulty in accepting that someone who isn't part of our own congregation can be connected with the Lord.

As a help, we could remember the words of Psalm 19--the judgments of the Lord are true, righteous, desirable. We should pay heed to them.

If we do pay attention to God's words and wisdom, then we can evaluate human words and wisdom. We can even pray the psalmist's prayer to be cleared of any movement away from those words and wisdom in our own ways.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Reflection on Numbers 11:4-7, 10-16, 24-29

Somewhere between where they had been and where they were headed, they complained. Slavery might have seemed bad at the time, but now they were thinking how good the food had been. The Lord was displeased with their attitude.

Then Moses began to complain. "Why have you landed me with all this responsibility? I'm really tired of their griping. Where am I supposed to find the kind of food that they say they want now? This job is too big for me."

The Lord told Moses to accept some help. So, he did.

Moses chose some helpers. God provided the spirit.

In this week's gospel lesson, the disciple John had expressed concern about the legitimacy of an exorcist who had been claiming that his efforts were in the name of Jesus. Jesus told him that there was enough work to go around.