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.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Anointment, Betrayal, Communion, Reflection on Mark 14:1-25

Jesus is living under threat. As he is sitting at supper, a woman approaches him with a jar filled with an expensive ointment. She breaks the jar and anoints his head with the ointment. When Israel had kings, they had been anointed by prophets (See 1 Samuel 16; 1 Kings 19:16). The word we translate as "Messiah" means anointed.

The other dinner guests do not do this scriptural exegesis. They don't think, "She must be a prophet. Ergo, he must be a king." Rather, they focus on what seems to them to be the foolish waste. And the contents of the jar were expensive--almost a year's pay.

Jesus reminds them of what they surely already knew--they are going to have many opportunities to use resources in what seems to be the right way--taking care of the poor. After all, the poor are not going away. Circumstances will continue to foster poverty.

Jesus points out to them that what this woman has done in this place on this day is is to prepare his body for burial. Yes, kings were anointed, but also are those persons who are to be buried.

The irony in Mark's version is that Jesus then says that wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what this woman has done will be told in remembrance of her. Yet, Mark doesn't tell us her name.

Later, in a Passover meal with his closest disciples, Jesus tells them that one of them is going to betray him.

Then he takes bread, blesses it, breaks it, and gives it to them, saying "This is my body." He takes a cup, gives thanks, and gives it to them, saying, "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many." We continue to remember this supper as disciples continue to gather.

The incident of the anointment of Jesus by a woman is told in all four gospels--and, with variations among them. In Mark's version, she is not named, nor are the objectors. Try not to worry about harmonizing the details. Rather, use them to help understand what particular message that particular gospel writer is trying to get across to us.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Between Parades

Ann Weems as written about the difficulty in maintaining that Palm Sunday attitude in her poem Between Parades that is included in her Kneeling in Jerusalem:

We're good at planning!
Give us a task force
and a project
and we're off and running!
No trouble at all!
Going to the village and finding the colt,
even negotiating with the owners
is right down our alley.
And how we love a parade!
In a frenzy of celebration
we gladly focus on Jesus
and generously throw our coats
and palms in his path.
And we can shout praise
loudly enough
to make the Pharisees complain.
It's all so good!
It's between parades that
we don't do so well.
From Sunday to Sunday
we forget our hosannas.
Between parades
the stones will have to shout
because we don't.

Looking backward to see forward, Reflection on Mark 11:1-11

Imagine living in a land that once had been yours but now is under the control of a powerful overseer; imagine that your own political and religious leaders answer to this other force. This was life for the Jews in the time of Jesus.

They looked backwards to help them see forwards.

When Mark told of Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem, he quoted from the prophets who had spoken to the people as they envisioned return from exile. And he quoted from Psalms.

Zechariah 9:9, Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

Mark's readers have known what came next: He will defeat the enemy and the prisoners will be set free (Read Zechariah 9:10-17).

We still are reading the Gospel of Mark. And we still are being held captive. For some Christians, the captors are actual human overseers. For others, they are powerful forces. As individuals, we may be worried about loss of health or loss of a specific loved one. Or, as a community, we have shared concerns--like the devastating floods in North Dakota this past weekend.

And today, we can think of the economic strictures around the globe. How much have we lost? How much do we fear? What will tomorrow bring?

Let us also look backward to help us see forward. Here are some excerpts from Psalm 118:

I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation.
The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone....
This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Save us, we beseech you, O Lord! O Lord, we beseech you, give us success!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.
We bless you from the house of the Lord.
The Lord is God and he has given us light.
Bind the festal procession with branches, up to the horns of the altar.
You are my God, and I will give thanks to you; you are my God, I will extol you.
O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever.

Also see, Two Litanies based on Psalm 118 on the UMC Worship website.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

High Priest, Son of God, Reflection on Hebrews 5:5-10

I asked myself why the lectionary chose this particular passage for this particular Sunday. My supposition: the gospel lesson, John 12:20-33, is the main focus. So, I looked for connections and found several: glorify, high priest, Son, and death.

Glorify--the Greek word is doxazo, from which we got our word, doxology; also, means praise and honor. We can read the term in John's gospel to include crucifixion, death, and ascension, all of which would have been known to the hearers of this letter.

high priest--an intercessor, an intermediary between sinful humans and a forgiving God.

Son--Although Christians think of this term, of course, as denoting parentage, after all, we do say Father and Son, the psalm being quoted here, 2:7, refers to appointment. As Boring and Craddock put it in their NT Commentary, "Being 'God's Son' has roots in royal ideology....God grants to the king a place above all other monarchs and princes."

death--Jesus voluntarily submitted to the necessity for his death.

Being God's Son, in any way we consider this term, did not exempt him from suffering.

Having been made perfect [here, this term means "completed" rather than having achieved moral supremacy; see Hebrews 6:1; 7:11).

In stressing Christ's suffering, the writer of Hebrews may be trying to argue against the heresy that Christ was not fully human. He is not saying that followers of Christ should duplicate that suffering. Nor, should we ever cause suffering of our fellow human beings.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Restore Me, Reflection on Psalm 51:8-12

We can pray Psalm 51 when we recognize that we need forgiveness, that we want forgiveness:
Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.

Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.

And we can pray Psalm 51 when we want what forgiven people have--restoration
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.

Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.

Note: Look at Ezekiel 36:24-28.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Have Mercy on Me, a Sinner, Reflection on Psalm 51:1-7

Psalm 51 is one of only seven penitential psalms. I'm wondering why only seven. How often do we need words to express our recognition that we need to be forgiven?

Here's the first seven verses:
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.

Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.

Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment.

Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me.

You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

Although most of the psalms are communal prayers, this psalm is expressed as an individual cry, Have mercy on me, blot out my transgressions, wash me, and purify me.

And I can ask this of God because mercy is what God is like, because mercy befits God's faithfulness, because God is abundantly compassionate.

Sometimes, we need reminders that we are sinning. And, sometimes, we are so burdened by our sins that we need reminders that God is compassionate.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Written on your heart, Reflection on Jeremiah 31:33-34

"They broke the covenant I made with their ancestors. I'm going to make a new covenant."

Try to look past our supercessionist interpretation of the phrase "new covenant" all the way back to how Jeremiah's listeners would have understood it. "This covenant will be written on your hearts."

John H. Hayes In Preaching through the Christian Year B:
The newness is a special gift, the capacity to be faithful and obedient. In the Old Testament, the heart is the seat of the will (see Jeremiah 29:13; 32:39; Ezekiel 1:19; 36:26); consequently, the special gift here is a will with the capacity to be faithful. God thus promises to change the people from the inside out, to give them a center. This covenant will overcome the conflict between knowing or wanting one thing and doing another...

The Lord is promising not new content but new contact--or, renewed contact.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Sunday School Lessons for April 2009

Go to page 5 of the Mississippi Advocate to read Michelle Foster's Sunday School Lessons for April.

The Covenant Renewed, Reflection on Jeremiah 31:31-32

We're reading this message from Jeremiah as Christians in Lent. Lent, a time of reflection and repentance. A time that begins with Ash Wednesday and its reminder of our death, a time that ends with Easter and its reminder of eternal life.

Jeremiah is writing to people who were really in need of repentance. People whose lives were in ashes.

"You have been unfaithful to me," the Lord told them, "and I'm taking you back."

God made covenant with them. God had given them a home and they moved to Egypt. God brought them back home. They neglected God. They disobeyed God. They misused their gifts. They neglected neighbors in need. They were overrun by powerful enemies and taken into exile in Babylon. God renews the covenant and brings them back.

Lectio Divina: Psalm 51:1-4

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Lifted Up, Reflection on John 12:27-33

The crowd doesn't understand what he's talking about, can't grasp the logic of it. even when they hear a voice from heaven, they give differing explanations.

Jesus responds to them rather indirectly. The ruler of the world is going to be ousted. Yet, Jesus adds that he himself is to be lifted up from the earth. They don't see the logic in this, either.

Note that the phrase, lifted up, has a double meaning. Jesus will physically be lifted up onto the cross. And he will be exalted.

Also note that when he is lifted up, Jesus will draw all people to himself. All.

Reading ahead: In verses 35-36, He responds rather cryptically again by talking about light and darkness. In their commentary, John, Gail R. O'Day and Susan E. Hylen remind us of the other times in this gospel that this imagery has been used to characterize Jesus and his ministry and the response of others to it: 1:4-9; 3:9-21; 8:12; 9:4-5; 11:9-10.

In this gospel, Jesus will no longer speak to the crowds but only to his disciples.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Where is Jesus? Reflection on John 12:20-26

Where we are in the story: Lazarus died and then was raised. In response, many believed. Frightened by this belief, some reported Jesus to religious authorities. After all, their religious practices were being allowed by a government that did not tolerate actions that were considered disrespectful or disruptive. These Jesus-people could stir up the crowds thus precipitating retaliation by the Romans.

In the week before Passover, Jesus enter triumphantly into Jerusalem.

We wish to see Jesus:
Among those coming to worship were some Greeks, a term that usually meant Gentiles. Yet, since they have come to Passover, we may assume that they are, although Greek, also Jews--like Paul, for example. They approach Andrew and Philip, two of the disciples with Greek names.

As we modern Christians struggle with who should be allowed to be part of us, we can remember that our group has been a diverse one from very early days.

The meaning of his death: Jesus responds to them by a series of teaching about his soon-to-happen death. Yet, as he often is, he is cryptic. He talks about wheat. He uses a paradox about love and hate and loss and gain. Then, he speaks more clearly: "Whoever serves me must follow me. Where I am, there will my servant be also."

Read Jesus' pronouncement again, "Where I am, there will my servant be also." Does that mean that if Jesus' servant is not somewhere then Jesus is not? Or, does it mean if we are not carrying out our mission to do the work that Jesus showed us that nobody what we call ourselves, we are not really his servants?

I remember when Bishop Carder would visit Mississippi churches during his service in Mississippi. Before he went to the church building, he would wander about its neighborhood. He would ask passers-by about the church, if they knew anything about it, what impact it was having. Some of the respondents would not even know that such and such a Methodist church was their neighbor. Others would have seen the building, but knew nothing else other than there was that physical structure on the block. And some knew a lot about the impact of the congregation's ministry.

Try it in your neighborhood.

"Where I am, there will my servant be also."

Lectio divina: John 12:24-26

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Respond to the Gifts of Faith, Reflection on Ephesians 2:8-10

After reminding the Ephesians of what God had already done for them, the writer then tells them what they are to do in response--good works. You weren't saved by your works; you were saved to work.

Does the promise in verse 8 change when you realize that the "you" is, in Greek, plural? As are the other 2nd-person pronouns in this passage. How hard is it, for us moderns, to read this letter from Paul as being addressed to the church rather than to an individual, that is, the me who is reading it now?

God's gift is salvation. We didn't earn it by anything we did.

Lectio Divina: Ephesians 2:8-9

Saturday, March 21, 2009

God's Grace, Reflection on Ephesians 2:1-7

Verses 1-3, What you used to be like: sinful, living according to the world's rules, giving in to your fleshly desires

Verses 4-6, What God has done: God, our of mercy and love, saved us by grace.

Verse 7, Why: so God can continue to show us the immeasurable riches of God's grace in Christ Jesus.

And, remember that God refuses to give up on any of us. See Donald Haynes essay in UM Portal about God's Stubborn Love.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Saved from Distress, Reflection on Psalm 107:17-22

Psalm 107 gives thanks for deliverance from many troubles: refugees (4-9); prisoners (10-16); people suffering from illness (17-22); sailors and travelers on ships (23-32).

This week's lectionary focuses on the third group, those who are ill. Even those who had brought about their own sickness cried out to the Lord for help. And even them, did the Lord deliver.

We can interpret this passage quite literally and find many present-day illustrations of sick people who didn't deserve being sick and those who, in our judgment, did.

For example, The Associated Press - March 16: WASHINGTON (AP) - A handful of children once severely allergic to peanuts now can munch them without worry. Scientists retrained their bodies to tolerate peanuts by feeding them tiny amounts of the very food that endangered them.

And, we can metaphorize.

For example, loss of economic status, as in this story on Monday by Mark Felsenthal WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The US Federal Reserve this week is likely to restate a vow to do whatever is needed to battle the nation's severe recession but no new steps are expected as it keeps its focus on plans already in the works.

And, ‎also Monday, ISTANBUL (AFP) - The World Water Forum, a seven-day arena aimed at addressing the planet's deepening crisis of fresh water, was launched here Monday to appeals for a campaign to save the precious stuff of life.

Sometimes, it is appropriate to look for fault and assess blame, but, it is always appropriate to seek the help of the Lord--directly and also through the work of scientists, economists, and politicians.

And, it is appropriate to give thanks.

Lectio Divina: Psalm 107:21-22

Thursday, March 19, 2009

O Give Thanks to the Lord, Reflection on Psalm 107:1-3

In his Models for Interpreting Scripture, William Goldingay writes that some portions of the Bible are intended to reassure us by describing events that have happened, that other portions are intended to instruct or confront by reminding us of what God has said, and that still other portions help us to reflect and to respond by revealing the words that our ancestors have used in addressing God.

The Book of Psalms is an example of this last category--much of the material in the Psalms are prayers addressed to God.

Psalms often are prayers based on experience, a reflection of what the psalmist has been through, and what God has done--

or, in some psalms, what the psalmist wants or expects God to do next (also, of course, based on a reflection of experience--either a personal experience of the psalmist or from the shared story of a group of people).

The opening verses of Psalm 107 illustrate this type of Scripture. They call for giving thanks to the Lord for rescue. Some scholars attribute this passage to a particular point in Israel's history, the return from the exile in Babylon. The lectionary has paired it with a different point in Israel's history, the time in the wilderness. And, we can adapt them readily to our own history, of a time when we have been rescued from trouble.

Note that this particular psalm is written from the viewpoint of the nation rather than from that of an individual.

Lectio Divina: Psalm 107:1-3

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Offertory Prayers, April 2009

GBOD Stewardship has Offertory Prayers for April.

Look up and live, Reflection on Numbers 21:4-9

Here are some people who have been rescued from a life of exclusion and degradation. They were slaves building someone else's pyramid, and now they're on their way to the Promised Land.

And they are complaining all the way. Not enough water. Not enough food. And they really miss Egypt.

Let us modern-day people pause for a minute here and review our own complaints on any typical day. How strange is it to desire whatever has become Egypt to us? to accept rule by that Egypt? During Lent, let us look back on what life was like and what life could be like.

Back to the wilderness wanderers: They complain to Moses about God. God punishes them. They repent. Moses intercedes for them with God. God relents and provides relief.

Carol Bechtel Reynolds writes "Life After Grace," in the July 1997 Interpretation:

God forgives the penitent, however, and offers salvation to those who will take advantage of it. At this point one is justified in going to the New testament passage that is paired with this text in the lectionary. Now we are prepared to hear Jon 3:14-15 with greater clarity than it it had been read alone. There Jesus says: "And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life." It is only against the backdrop of God's justice and mercy that the "folly" of Jesus' words makes sense. When we hear them we realize that, like those poor snake-bitten rebels in the wilderness, we have only to look up and live.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Inclusion or exclusion, Reflection on John 3:18-24

The next time you hear somebody making a distinction between the OT God and the NT God, you might remind them of this quote from John's gospel: those who believe are not condemned, but those who do not believed are condemned already.

We could deconstruct this passage by analyzing what "believe" means, what "condemned" means, particularly if the condemnation has already happened.

Further pondering on John's message could center on the nature of the judgment. Look at verse 19. Is he talking about a personal, individually-experienced punishment, or, is he talking about what happens to the whole community?

Come to think of it, is it even possible for an individual alone to be saved (whatever we might mean by saved)? Read verse 17 once more: God sent the Son in order that the world might be saved.

And read ahead in this Gospel: "I have have other sheep that do not belong to this fold," (10:16), and "In my Father's house there are many dwelling places," (14:2).

We are called by John to understand that God loves us, we who believe in Jesus. Can we further believe that God loves all?

Lectio Divina: John 3:21

Monday, March 16, 2009

Eternal Life, Reflection on John 3:14-17

Jesus has been talking to Nicodemus, but now is speaking to a plural you.

Jesus says to his hearers, "The Son of Man must be lifted up so that whoever believes in him may have eternal life."

We take "lifted up" to mean the crucifixion or the resurrection or the ascension, or all of these. He is in Jerusalem at the beginning of his ministry yet his words will be understandable after his death, resurrection, and ascension.

Or, will they be? Nicodemus had seen signs as had the other Pharisees but he was unwilling to come publicly to Jesus. The audience for John's Gospel had seen even more signs; were they able to believe?

Jesus said that those who believe in him may have eternal life; also see, John 3:36; 4:14; 5:24; 6:27: and 17:14 (with thanks to The New Interpreter's Study Bible).

What is being promised? Not just heaven later after we're dead. The word we translate as eternal carries the meaning of a different quality of life, a new life free of the worldly, temporal concerns of the old life.

[Jesus alludes to Moses' lifting up a serpent in the wilderness, Numbers 21:4-9, a passage that I will discuss Wednesday.]

Surely, all football fans have seen that sign in the stands saying John 3:16. Please don't stop with that verse. God's intention is that this eternal life is for us all.

Lectio Divina: John 3:17

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Not necessarily what was expected, Reflection on 1 Corinthians 1;18-25

Paul asks the Corinthians, and through them, us: Whose standards (or what standards) are important to you? Do you measure yourself by what society thinks is important?

Paul reminds them and us: Chasing after what the world thinks is important is different from seeking what God thinks is important.

God has shown us an amazing contradiction--a crucified savior. Any sensible, analytical person would see that as an oxymoron. Yet, this is the message we are preaching, a message that rather than confirm would seems wise and sensible, is a message that replaces our notions of what is wise and sensible.

God does not work according to our expectations or logic.

Further, what miracles and philosophy can fail to do, God can achieve.

Note: I am helped by Boring and Craddock's The People's New Testament Commentary.

Lectio Divina: 1 Corinthians 1:18-20

Saturday, March 14, 2009

God is not a cosmic bellhop, Reflection on Psalm 19

God is not a cosmic bellhop, Michael Shevack & Jack Bemporad tell us in their stupid ways, Smart ways to think about God.
Just ring the bell, and God becomes your own personal Pavlovian puppy. eagerly He goes to work, gratifying your every desire, indulging your every whim....
And, by making God an extension of your own desires, you have made your own desires God-like. In essence, you have made yourself God. You are the center of the universe and God is at the periphery.

That hardly resembles a healthy faith. Indeed, it is more akin to cult behavior. it turns man into God. It has a very ancient name, idolatry. because the first step in any meaningful religion is to recognize our proper place in the scheme of things....

Friday, March 13, 2009

St. Patrick's Day

The UMC offers worship ideas for St. Patrick's day as well as other Celtic Christian resources.

The Sabbath Day, Reflection on Exodus 20:12-17

Here's a repeat of the posting from October 2, 2008, which quotes from Preaching the Old Testament, by Allen & Williamson:
Eight of the ten words begin: "you shall not." People often speak of negative commandments as off-putting "do nots" that constrict life....But that misconstrues the negative instructions in the Torah. First, we can keep all of them while taking a nap. ...Second, negative mitzvoth deal with the parameters of behavior. They do not specify what we should do, simply what we should not do. They name the actions that cancel all possibility of living with others a life of well-being (which can only be lived with others.)

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Way to Jerusalem

by Ann Weems

The way to Jerusalem
looks suspiciously like Highway 40,
and the pilgrims
look suspiciously like you and me.
I expected the road to Jerusalem
to be crowded with holy people...
clerics and saints...
people who have kindness wrinkled in their faces
and comfort lingering in their voices,
but this is more like rush hour...
horns blowing, people pushing, voices cursing....
This is not what I envisioned!

O God, I've only begun and already
I feel I've lost my way.
Surely this is not the road
and surely these
are not the ones
to travel with me.
This Lenten journey calls for
holy retreat,
for reflection
and repentance.

Instead of holiness
the highway is crammed
with the cacophony
of chaos.
Is there no back road
to Jerusalem?
No quiet path
where angels tend
to weary travelers?
No sanctuary
from the noise of the world?
Just this?
Can this hectic highway
be the highway to heaven?

Kneeling in Bethlehem

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The First Commandments, Reflection on Exodus 20:1-4

God had said to those people released from slavery but still living in the wilderness, "You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol."

Was is easier for them to focus than it is for any of us? How free are we? Do we consider our surroundings more like a promised land or more like the wilderness?

"No other gods. Don't make an idol." That's the first commandment, the starting place, the first step in preparing to live the new life--or to live life in the new way.

What a god is--the most important factor that we base a decision on. Our god can be our physical safety (or merely comfort), or our financial security, or our need to feel superior, or so on. What influences what we do every day? What is important to us? Whatever that is, that is the idol we have made for ourselves.

Let us repent.

Lectio Divina: Exodus 20:1-4

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Remembering and Believing, Reflection on John 2:17-22

When they saw him driving out the money changers and heard him castigating them, the disciples remembered the line from the Psalms, "Zeal for your house will consume me." Jesus was willing to challenge those who were using for their own benefit what was to be a place to worship.

Jesus said, "If you destroy this temple, in three days I will raise it up."

By the time that John's gospel was written, this temple had been destroyed by the Romans in retribution for a Jewish insurrection.

Christians began to understand Jesus' words as telling them that he, his living presence, would be the temple for them.

Lectio Divina: John 2:22

Monday, March 9, 2009

Cleansing the Temple, Reflection on John 2:13-16

"The Passover of the Jews was near," John tells us, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem." The first passover was celebrated when they were still in Egypt, as they gave thanks for the sparing of their own first sons and for the opportunity finally to escape slavery to the powerful Egypt (Exodus 12"1-20). They were instructed to continue to keep passover as a festival, holy convocation, a time of making offerings to the Lord (Numbers 28:16-25).

In Jesus' time, the Passover offerings were brought to the temple in Jerusalem. How jarring it must have been to have a holy day set aside to be grateful for liberation and to come to an occupied city to express their gratitude. Allen & Williamson, their Preaching the Gospels without Blaming the Jews, write:
Anyone walking to Jerusalem from Bethany or Bethphage, crossing the Mount of Olives and looking at the temple from across the Kidron valley, would have seen the Fortress Antonia, home to the Roman Tenth Legion, standing next to the temple and Roman soldiers posted on the parapets of the fort and on top of the wall surrounding the temple complex. ...The people were in exile in the land of promise.

We still wrestle, or maybe we don't, with the need to recognize our gratitude to God and to give allegiance to the nation that governs our lives.

In the synoptic gospels, Jesus accuses the sellers of turning the house of prayer into a den on robbers, combining references from Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11. In John's gospel, Jesus tells the ones selling the doves to stop making his Father's house a marketplace. This may be an allusion to Zachariah's prophecy of the final victory, a time when "there shall no longer be traders in the house of the Lord of hosts on that day" (Zechariah 14:1-21).

We may be more comfortable with the ban on robbers than the ban on marketplace. Churches need to collect money for Sunday School material, youth trips, and meals. Some congregations interpret this rule that all commercial transactions must be kept out of the sanctuary but are allowed in hallways and vestibules.

Lectio Divina: Psalm 51:9-13

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Going Public, Going Wide, Reflection on Psalm 22:23-31

Psalm 22 begins in despair, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" It lifts up complaints of mistreatment and mockery and threats. And, intertwined with these laments, are words of remembrance of what God and done and a call to God to do more.

Verse 22 begins with "Save me" but then shifts to "You have rescued me."

How do rescued people respond?

Thank God and make those thanks public. Give thanks in the middle of the congregation.

Those people present there at that place will hear of God's work. And not only them. All of the families of the earth will know what God has done and what God can do. People living now and people to come.

Lectio Divina: Psalm 22:23-27

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Re-Membering, Reflection on Romans 4:23-25

As I read this passage, I thought about a line from Faulkner that went something like this, "He brought the old man with him every time he came." The old man in Faulkner's tale had been dead a generation or so, but his descendants had not even started to let him go. Well, by the time that Paul was writing to the Romans, Abraham had been dead a long time, but his story still was affecting those who had been told about it.

Paul reminded them, "The words--the pronouncement of acceptance of the trusting--were written not just for Abraham. They were written for all believers.

We read the stories in Scriptures not merely for glimpses into history but also to relive those encounters in our own lives, to glimpse how God continues to work in us humans.

Paul expressed the insight that people who were not Jews could be Christians. Yet, the story of Abraham was also theirs.

Lectio Divina: Psalm 22:26-27

Friday, March 6, 2009

From Hopelessness to Hope, Reflection on Romans 4:18-22

Yes, God chooses us. Yes, God chooses a lot of unlikely people. Abraham and Sarah, for example. They were old, really old--100 and 90--when God told them that they were going to have multitudes of descendants.

But, notice that Abraham and Sarah didn't just sit idly by waiting for the future to fall on them. Because of their faith, they were able to respond rightfully.

These great ancestors of ours lived in a way that demonstrated that they really believed that God delivers on promises.

(Caveat: those of you who have read ahead know that Abraham and Sarah sometimes slipped up.)

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Who gets to join us? Reflection on Romans 4:13-17

Much of Paul's writing is informed by his need to address an important concern on the Christian church of his time: Can a non-Jew become a Christian? Here, in this letter to the Romans, he reminds them that, after all, Abraham himself was not Jewish at the time that God chose him to be our great ancestor. Paul makes an explicit distinction between Abraham's faith and someone's following religious instruction.

The modern Christian church, as has the church throughout history, continues to wrestle with the question of who is eligible to be included in our faith community?

For a contemporary example, read United Methodist Church moving toward all-inclusive membership policy.

Who is to be included? "We are," Paul says to his fellows Jews, "because we are descendants of Abraham and God promised inclusion to all of his descendants."

Then Paul adds, "But, remember this: God chose Abraham before the world had even heard of Moses. Abraham couldn't follow the law of Moses before Moses brought it down from the mountain. God's choice was not made because Abraham followed the Jewish law, and it still isn't."

God's promise rests on grace.

Lectio Divina: Psalm 22:23-24

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Covenant with Abraham and Sarah and their descendants, Reflection on Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16

This passage parallels last week's reading from Genesis. God chooses to make an everlasting covenant with specific individuals. Yet, this covenant extends to their descendants.

The Lord reminds Abram (soon to be Abraham) that those descendants include a multitude of nations.

God further says to (now) Abraham, "These descendants are coming to come through your wife Sarah."

Remember these are very old people.

We may not be sure why Abraham and Sarah were chosen, but they were.

How difficult is it for Christians to accept and understand that Jews and Muslims are fellow descendants from Abraham?

How easy is it for us to give up on promises because they have been long deferred?

How are we responding to God's gift of covenant; are we blameless?

Lectio Divina: I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you (Genesis 17:7).

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

One Great Hour

March 22 is the Sunday designated this year for One Great Hour of Sharing. Worship Resources.

Prescribed Burning, Reflection on Mark 8:34-38

As I think about how I need to adapt my life to fit this teaching of Jesus, I am reminded of the practice of prescribed burning.

Here's two quotations (the first by Tess Tescher,; the second by Alan J. Long, University of Flordia Cooperative Extension Service,
Prescribed burning is a useful tool for maintaining and restoring diversity in our native grasslands. Buildups of dead plant litter can be a fire hazard, lessen the biodiversity of the area, and aid in the establishment of invader species.

Reasons We Burn: Reduction of Hazardous Fuels; Altering Vegatative Communities; Improving Wildlife and Livestock Habitat; Controlling Pest Problems; Improving Access

Surely, we can metaphorize prescribed burning in some way that will demonstrate our need for Lent practices.

Lectio Divina: Mark 8:35-36. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?

Monday, March 2, 2009

Reflection on Mark 8:31-33

Jesus was rejected in his hometown (6:1-6) but continued his teaching, called disciples, gave them authority to heal (6:7-13). He fed 5,000, walked on water, and healed the sick (7:30-56). Although some of the religious folks were offended by his ways, some foreigners accepted him readily (7:1-37). He fed another 4,000, which did not impress everybody, and cured a blind man (8:1-26).

When he asked Peter, "Who do you say I am?", Peter replied, "You are the Messiah" (8:27-30).

Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must endure great suffering and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, be put to death and rise up three days later (8:31).

The title of Son of Man may be an illusion to the vision of one like a human being coming with the clouds of heaven, the one who was to be given dominion over all nations forever, (Daniel 7:13-14).

Early Christians had to reconcile the suffering and death of this man with the acceptance of him as Messiah. How could one chosen by God suffer the kind of death that he did? Mark's gospel helped them with this theological problem. Jesus said the suffering was inevitable and part of God's plan. see The Gospel According to Mark, by Morna Hooker for more on this).

He spoke plainly--not in parables. He intended for them to get it. Peter grasped the message but did not approve of it. Jesus rebuked him strongly (8:32-33).

How hard would it have been for them to continue to follow Jesus after they had heard this news?

Some Christians throughout history have read into this passage a necessity for all Christians to suffer. Was Jesus telling Peter what the Messiah had to go through, or was he preparing him for what all Christians would have to bear? In either interpretation, we can remember throughout the Scripture, God has stood by the suffering.

Lectio Divina: Mark 8:33.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Saving the Unrighteous, Reflection on 1 Peter 3:18-22

"You may be suffering," this letter tells us (verses 8-17), "but, remember, Christ also suffered."

We are in Lent, that Christian season pointed toward crucifixion--and toward Easter.

"Christ suffered for sins once for all--my sins, their sins. The righteous suffer for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God" (verse 18).

How does your congregation live differently from the folks around you that are not part of any faith community? What suffering by the righteous have you witnessed? What suffering was done for the unrighteous? Why am I equating church membership with righteousness, anyway?

"Christ was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit" (verse 18). The physical death of Jesus was not the end of him or his work. Rather, his resurrection demonstrated God's purpose and power to save.(thanks to Allen & Williamson, once again.)

"Christ suffered for the righteous and the unrighteous. He made a proclamation to those who in former times did not obey." (verse 19). God's purpose in Christ is not restricted to Christians alone. God wants to save sinners who didn't pay attention earlier. What do we do with this idea? Are we to believe--and behave as if we believed--that just as God of Israel wanted to save non-Jewish Gentiles, that this God wants to save non-Christians? Again, why am I equating righteousness with belonging to the same faith that I do?

"Our baptism is a reminder of the ark," (verse 20-21). Every year at Lent, I read Bread and Wine, Plough Press. Here is what Will Willimon has to say about baptism:
His message is not the simple one of the Baptist, "Be clean." Jesus' word is more painful--"Be killed." The washing of this prophetic baptism is not cheap....That day at the Jordan, knee deep in cold water, with old John drenching him, the Anointed One began his journey down the via crusis. His baptism intimated where he would finally end. His whole life was caught up in this single sign. Our baptism does the same.
The chief biblical analogy for baptism is not the water that washes but the flood that drowns. Discipleship is more than turning over a new leaf. It is more fitful and disorderly than gradual moral formation. Nothing less than death, often painful, lifelong death will do.

Lectio Divina: 1 Peter 3:18