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, June 30, 2009

Mission Work, Reflection on Mark 6:7-13

Healings have not been working. The people around them just don't believe. The disciples themselves have been shaky.

Jesus sends them out. They go. They have limited resources. A lot of people don't respond well to them. And yet, miracles occur.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Sunday School Lessons for July

The Mississippi Advocate has published Sunday School Lessons for July.

TV show rec

Have you tried the NBC show Kings yet?

Unbelief and Efficacy, a Reflection on Mark 6:1-6

In Mark's gospel, it's when Jesus goes to the place that we today call the church that he meets with opposition. See 1:21-28; 3:1-6 (taken from Allen & Williamson, Preaching the Gospel.

Jesus is teaching. Religious authorities raise doubts. After all, he doesn't come from the right family.

And troubling, their unbelief affects the efficacy of his work.

And also troubling, he doesn't return to the synagogue after this.

How much of this lesson do we want to apply to our modern day? Can our unbelief in the possibility of things getting better keep them from doing so? If we don't trust Jesus' power to heal a situation in church, will we find him in church next time we go?

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Need and abundance, a Reflection on 2 Corinthians 8:7-15

There's a lot of poor people in the world. And there's a lot of the rest of us that don't think of ourselves as being all that rich. Paul told the Corinthians that they were supposed to give gifts relative to what they had. "It's only fair that those of you that have anything should be willing to share it," he said.

The United Methodist Church asks Can we feed the world?
One in ten households in the U.S. lives with hunger, or is at risk of hunger. Around the world, almost a billion people go hungry.

That website includes links to other related stories: gleaning, biotechnology, reasons for hope, and Biblical ethics.

reports that Rich countries have snubbed poor. What would Paul say to us?

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Worship and Music Resources for (USA) Independence Day, 2009

The UMC offers Resources for Independence Day.

What I am waiting for, a Reflection on Psalm 130

This psalm helps give us voice to our laments, for those times when we are lost in situations of despair, times when we are not in control of the outcome. It is a reminder, an affirmation, that what we are waiting for is for the Lord to take control.

We are turning to the Lord even when the admission that we don't deserve help. God forgives. God loves. God redeems.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Reflection on 2 Samuel 7:1, 17-27

David calls on Israel to lament openly the deaths of Saul and Jonathan. Gene M. Tucker in Preaching through the Christian Year B, points out that the instructions that David gives contain many expressions helpful for expressing grief:
1. Wailing, moaning, and expressions of the pain of loss...
2. A description of the catastrophe...
3. Expressions of anger....
4. A description of the situation before death....

Before Saul was anointed king by the prophet Samuel, Hannah (Samuel's mother) sang of victory over enemies. Look back at 1 Samuel 2:1-10. She asserts that God is more important than kings then says "The bows of the mighty are broken..." and that the Lord raises the poor, lifts up the needy, but shatters foes.

Samuel later warned his people of the dangers of kings, but anointed Saul (and David) as king.

Now Saul has fallen.

Since David's lament has some echoes of Hannah's song, "How have the mighty fallen...." we may wonder if we are supposed to temper our regret at the loss of Saul with the memory of his failures.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Reflection on Wisdom 1:13-15; 2:23-24

In case you don't have the Apocryphal books in your Bible, here's the reading for today:
God did not make death,
and he does not delight in the death of the living.
For he created all things so that they might exist;
the generative forces of the world are wholesome,
and there is no destructive poison in them,
and the dominion of Hades is not on earth.
For righteousness is immortal.

God created us for incorruption,
and made us in the image of his own eternity,
but through the devil's envy death entered the world
and those who belong to his company experience it.

Commentators tell us that this book was written to Jews living under Hellenistic rule--thus, under the influence of its philosophy. It is in response to an old question that is still new: How do we retain our identity if the important people have different traditions and practices?

Part of the answer is in today's lesson: Remember what is really important to God. God intends for us and for everything to be good. We don't always do what God intends. And when we don't we--or someone--will suffer the consequences.

This text is an interesting companion to this week's gospel lesson about the two healings. Surely, the compilers of the lectionary didn't want us to think that either the daughter or the hemorrhaging woman deserved her situation. I would rather conclude that we are supposed to focus on the call to faithfulness--that shown by the woman willing to approach Jesus and Jairus, the father of the dying girl.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Waiting and Hoping for Compassion, a Reflection on Lamentations 3:23-33

Lamentation is a collection of five laments that originally were reflections on the suffering and dislocation that resulted from the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple and the exile that followed (The Jewish Study Bible).

As we face suffering and dislocation, we still turn to this book to find words to express our pains and our fears--and the source of our help.

The lectionary this weeks pairs this reading from Lamentation with the gospel reading from Mark concerning the healing of the woman's very long-term ailment and the raising of Jairus' daughter.

"It's good to wait," says our lesson today. "There may yet be hope." Then we read:
For the Lord will not reject forever.
Although he causes grief, he will have compassion
according to the abundance of his steadfast love;
for he does not willingly afflict or grieve anyone.

Much of this is comforting to me, but some is disconcerting. Do I have to believe that all my suffering is caused by my own wrong-doing? A further problem for me is that many other passages affirm the need for us humans to complain loudly to God about our problems. This passage says to wait patiently.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Having the Last Laugh, a Reflection on Mark 5:35-43

We are told that Jesus healed the woman's long-time ailment, but would anyone in the crowd have known? Could Jairus' friends have known what had happened--after all, they were in the house at the time. (Sideline: watch for "in the house" in this gospel).

How much should we criticize these religious insiders that they don't think that Jesus could possibly do anything for Jairus' daughter?

It's a continuing question for us, too, because we are asked to believe in things that we have not witnessed directly, and in things that have not yet occurred.

They laugh at Jesus when he uses the term "sleeping," because they believe in literal translation? Is there some sort of message to us in how we should interpret, believe, in Jesus' sayings?

Monday, June 22, 2009

In need of healing, A reflection on Mark 5:21-34

Earlier lessons from Mark: From a small seed grows a large tree. Parables are used for people not ready to hear the explanation. In a storm, even disciples get scared. In the calm, even disciples wonder who Jesus is.

In this week's lesson, two people approach Jesus. Like the disciples from last week, they are in trouble. Like them, they turn to Jesus. Unlike them, one of those approaching him is a leader of the synagogue. He comes publicly. The other is a woman who has been suffering from a hemorrhage for over a decade.

An insider and an outsider. Both have faith in him. (Look back at the verses the lectionary skipped, 5:1-20. Jesus performs exorcisms in gentile territory.)

The disciples seem pretty much oblivious. He healed a woman right in front of them, but they don't notice. They are overwhelmed by the crowd.

Not the main point, but an interesting one, nevertheless. What great healings of ungreat people are happening and we don't see it or expect it?

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Wide open hearts, a Reflection on 2 Corinthians 6:1-13

Here's his recruitment pitch for disciples:
downside: beatings, imprisonment, hunger
requirements: purity, patience, kindness, genuine love

Paul continues to list the contrasts:
being treated as impostors although we are true, as dying although we are alive, as poor although we make many rich, as having nothing although we possess everything.

Paul is asking the Corinthians, and, through them, us, to face honestly the hardships entailed in following Christ. Don't pretend that it is always easy. But, accept the joys that come with this life. Don't be turned off by people's inability to understand this--just keep loving them.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Pastoral Letter from Bishop Ward

A Pastoral Letter from Bishop Hope Morgan Ward to the Annual Conference

Grace and peace to each of you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The 2009 Session of the Mississippi Annual Conference was filled with wonderful and with challenging moments. As we move toward this Sunday of worship in our churches, I offer this reflection and my prayers for each of you.

The Friday evening worship service has become a focus of much conversation. Some of our United Methodist community believe that the witness of a lesbian couple in the service was a mistake for which apology should be made. Others give grateful witness to being reminded of those in our midst and beyond who have stories that are intertwined with our own. The pastoral intent of the Friday evening service was an invitation to remember all of the people God loves; including those who have felt hurt or marginalized by our church.

As your bishop, I have been given responsibility to uphold the doctrine, discipline and polity of The United Methodist Church. This is a responsibility I remember and embrace in this instance and in every instance.

The Mississippi Conference has consistently supported the positions on homosexuality stated in The Discipline of The United Methodist Church.

The symbol for the bishop’s office in the United Methodist Church is a shepherd’s staff. The crook of that staff can be turned inward in caring for the flock safely gathered in. The crook of that staff can be turned outward toward those who are not yet here. It is my commitment and my prayer to give careful attention in both of these directions.

I am committed to listening to your concerns and your wisdom. You are invited to engage in dialogue on July 1 or July 2 around this or any other matters that are on your minds and hearts. The places and times for these opportunities will be sent to you early next week. I am also answering any letters or emails that you care to send.

Jesus told a story in Matthew 13 of a field in which wheat was growing. An enemy came into the field and sowed weeds among the wheat. The weeds and the wheat began to grow together. The question is posed: do we pull up the weeds? The answer is given: allow them to grow together until the harvest. At harvest time the wheat will be gathered in and the weeds destroyed.

We are bound together in this life and ministry with those who are different from ourselves. Living well together is a great challenge and a great opportunity. Thank you for your leadership in the onward journey.

With gratitude for your ministry,

Hope Morgan Ward

A Prayer for Father's Day

For our fathers, who have given us life and love,
that we may show them respect and love,
we pray to the Lord....

For fathers who have lost a child through death,
that their faith may give them hope,
and their family and friends support and console them,
we pray to the Lord...

For men, though without children of their own,
who like fathers have nurtured and cared for us,
we pray to the Lord...

For fathers, who have been unable to be a source of stregnth,
who have not responded to their children
and have not sustained their families,
we pray to the Lord...

God our Father, in your wisdom and love you made all things.
Bless these men, that they may be strengthened as Christian fathers.
Let the example of their faith and love shine forth.
Grant that we, their sons and daughters,
may honor them always with a spirit of profound respect.
Grant this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
UMBOW, 441

Underdogs can win, a Reflection on 1 Samuel 17:57-18:5

Read Malcom Gladwell's analysis of how underdogs can overcome more powerful opponents in How David Beats Goliath" in the May 11, 2009, issue of the New Yorker. Here's an excerpt:
When the lion or the bear would come and carry off a sheep from the herd, I would go out after him and strike him down and rescue it from his clutches," David explained to Saul. He brought a shepherd's rules to the battlefield.

In our lives, we often are willing to give in to what seems to powerful or pervasive to overcome--poverty, greed, fear, e.g. John H. Hayes,in Preaching through the Christian Year B, cautions us not to read this story of David's success as one that encourages us to overthrow those forces with violence. Rather, we should model David's faith, "The Lord does not save by sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord's."

The battle is the Lord's, but we aren't supposed to cower in the crowd. We are to step up and out.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Heeding the cry of the afflicted, a Reflection on Psalm 9:9-20

Thinking about those disciples out on a boat, scared when the storm threatened, or, thinking about me--and you--out on metaphorical boats during metaphorical storms. The Psalmist reminds us that the Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.

This psalm includes both a prayer for help and a call for us who have been helped to tell the story.

What do oppressors think when they read this psalm? I'm thinking specifically about verses 15-17 that explicitly state that the wicked get what they deserve.

We individual human beings and we groups of people may ignore the needs of the people around us, but we will be judged for this. Read verses 19-20. Can you honestly pray them?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Only a Boy, a Reflection on 1 Samuel 17:32-49

King Saul has seen Goliath. He tells the lyre-playing shepherd, "You're not up to the job."

David is willing to confront the king. He tells him what the job of shepherd involves. He's had the necessary experience--he has been able to kill lions and bears. "The Lord who saved me from lion and bear will save me from that Philistine."

Saul is convinced enough to let David try. He gives him his own armor, hands over his own sword. But what has worked for Saul doesn't work for David. He can't even walk in the armor that Saul is used to.

Instead David uses the tools he is accustomed to, a small bag of stones.

Goliath is amused when he sees what kind of opponent Israel has sent against him. Unfortunately for him, his helmet didn't extend over his forehead, and David had good aim.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Challenge of Goliath, a Reflection on 1 Samuel 17:1a, 4-11, 19-23

The army of Israel is camped in the valley of Elah facing the Philistines who are gathered for battle. (Previous battles between them in chapters 13 and 14).

Goliath of the Philistines steps forward. He is 10 feet tall, head protected by a bronze helmet, body by a coat of mail, legs by sheaves. He's carrying a javelin and holding a shield.

He hollers out sarcastically, "Why are you positioned to fight a whole army? I'm one man. Just send out one man to fight me. If he beats me, the war is over. You win. If I beat him, the war is over. You lose."

All of Israel, including their king, Saul, hear this challenge. They don't have any 10-foot tall, armor-bearing soldiers to respond to this challenge. They are dismayed. They are afraid.

In the meantime, not even on the battlefield, was David. His brothers are soldiers. He helps his dad take care of the sheep--when he's not playing music for Saul (16:14-23). He arrives at the battlefield in time to hear Goliath repeat his challenge.

Israel will continue to face powerful foes. They will continue to need someone to step forward. As do we.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

God Replies, a Reflection on Job 38:1-11

The Lectionary has paired the Mark text of stilling the storm with this passage from Job in which the Lord appears from a whirlwind (the Hebrew word can also be translated as storm).

In Mark, Jesus does not speak to the disciples in words but does show them his power.

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.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Offertory Prayers for July 2009

The Global Board of Discipleship of the UMC has posted Offertory Prayers for July.

Do you care? a Reflection on Mark 4:35-41

When the storm came up, he was asleep.

They asked him, "Don't you care about us?"

I'm reminded of the many laments in the psalms, how often appears the plea, "O Lord, how long?" And I'm reminded of how any of us feel during those really hard times--how we may wonder if the Lord is paying attention to our needs right now.

The disciples don't trust him. Or, they do trust him, and they want him to be quicker about it. In either case, they don't seem to realize that they themselves have any power to improve their situation.

He calls them on this, "Where's your faith?"

Mark says that after he stilled the storm, the disciples were amazed and asked each other "Who is this guy?"

Have they not been paying attention? I need to remember that I know a lot more of the story than they did this early in Jesus' life. And I need to remember to pay attention.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

New creation, a Reflection on 2 Corinthians 5:11-17

Paul tells us: At one time, we viewed Christ from a human point of view. We now know better. His death changed what we knew about him, and it changes what we know about ourselves and each other. We don't live just for ourselves; we live for him who died and was raised--raised for all.

Paul is telling us about a great do-over:
So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!

God has acted. God promises to act: Christians look forward to the coming of Christ. Christians have been changed by the coming of Christ.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Home, now and someday, a reflection on 2 Corinthians 5:6-10

Paul's message to the Corinthians and through them to us is a reminder to be (remain?) confident. I'm granting that he wouldn't need to issue this reminder to people that didn't need it.

We're are here, on earth, living our daily lives, existing among some unhappy and some unkind people, witnessing some unpleasant things. As Paul puts it, we are "away from the Lord." That seems to be the human condition many times, many days.


We might rather be with the Lord than with these earthly types, but, wherever we are, no matter who is around us, our intention is the same. Paul says, "We aim to please the Lord."

For those of us who like to lean pretty heavily on the "saved by faith," verses, we need to remember that Paul also said that our deeds are important:
For all of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil, v. 10.

Even if you believe that your deeds will not be judged some day, live as if you did.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Clay Jars, a Reflection on 2 Corinthians 4:4-5:5

Here's a repeat from Feb 22, on 2 Corinthians 4:3-6, a reading toward Transfiguration Sunday:
The gospel reports of the transfiguration tell us that the disciples saw something very different from what they had been able to see before. I've always understood that to mean that the appearance of Jesus changed. As Mark says, "He was transfigured...and his clothes became dazzling white."

But, what about us? We've heard about Jesus. We know about the crucifixion and we know about the resurrection. Is transfiguration interesting only as an historical event that happened to some other people at some other time in some other place?

Paul was writing to the early church, the post-transfiguration, post-crucifixion, post-resurrection church: Those other apostles have been misleading you. They have thrown a veil over the true gospel. The light that has enabled us to see is the light that will enable you to see. That light comes in the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

The light was there for the Corinthians, but they had allowed themselves to be blinded by the false apostles.

Now, we are reading this passage just after Pentecost and Trinity Sunday. And here we are, not quite the church that we ought to be. Was Paul comforting us or confronting us when he used the image of clay jars to describe us? Everyday objects, easily broken, yet, useful.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Praying for the King, a Reflection on Psalm 20

The psalmist is addressing the King who is going into battle

--Here is my prayer to the Lord for you.
May the Lord answer you when you call for help.
May the Lord accept your offerings.
May the Lord grant your requests and fulfill your plans.

We want and need the king to defeat our enemies. We acknowledge that the king needs God's help.

Our enemies, on the other hand, says the psalmist, depend on chariots and horses. They fail. We, who depend on God, succeed.

I'm supposing that this psalm was chosen for the response to this week's lesson from 1 Samuel in which the prophet anoints the king. "Now I know that the Lord will give victory to His anointed...."

We might ponder how we apply Bible scriptures written in a different society and different time to our own situations. In countries like mine with no king, how do we read that question? Who is king for us? What does the term anointed mean to us? Are there any modern-day equivalents?

Another tangent--I'm struck by the last verse, "Give victory to the king, O Lord; answer us when we call." The psalmist seems to recognize that the king's victory is not the end of the story. Rather, we still have request of the Lord, and, even after the king's success, we want the Lord to respond to our prayers.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Anointing, a Reflection on 1 Samuel 15:34-16:13

In the weeks after Trinity Sunday, the Lectionary offers two alternative readings from the Old Testament. One choice will be a semi-continuous reading; the other, the other offering illumination to the gospel reading.

This week, the passage from Ezekiel is related to the reading from Mark. The alternative from 1 Samuel begins a three-month series that will take us through David's and Solomon's stories, 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 Kings. Although occasionally we'll see a link between a reading from this series to the gospel lesson of that week, we shouldn't expect it.

Now, as for 1 Samuel,

We are told of the Lord's regret over the choice of Saul as king. For more about this, read chapters 8-14, especially 13-14, to learn where Saul failed.

Some interesting points in this week's lesson:

First, Samuel is afraid but does what God wants anyway.

Second, Samuel misunderstands at first what is important in a leader. He thinks the one with he best appearance will do the best job. But, God tells him not to judge by outward appearance.

Third, the Spirit of the Lord comes upon David at the point of being anointed by Samuel.

Questions that arose in my mind as I thought about Samuel and David:

Who takes the role of prophet in our contemporary congregations?

Considering how many evil acts have taken place by someone using the name of the Lord (recent murder of doctor who performed abortion, for example), do we want to retire permanently the role of prophet?

Are our modern-day ordinations in any way similar to the anointing of a human being by a prophet?

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

From mere sprig to mighty cedar, a Reflection on Ezekiel 17:22-24

"Just a sprig off the top of the tree," the Lord God says through Ezekiel "will I break off and plant. And that sprig will grow into a noble tree. In its shade all birds will nest."

Very comforting. Very reassuring. Even in the time that Ezekiel wrote, a really bad time--Nebuchadnezzar's army had conquered Jerusalem. Even then, we can be reassured that God can make it right.

But--comforting to those who are not doing so well now. To others--a warning. Ezekiel tells us that God adds, "I bring low the high tree. I make high the low tree. I dry up the green tree. I make the dry tree flourish."

Sometimes we need that comfort--Jesus thought his hearers did that day when he told them the parable of the mustard seed. And sometimes, we need the warning.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Beginning with a Seed, a Reflection on Mark 4:26-34

It seems to me that I read a lot of articles in religious and popular press about the decline in church membership and attendance. Discouraging.

And then I think about those early Christians, the first hearers of Mark's gospel. What discouragements were they facing? What did the future of the church look like to them?

Their gatherings were as small as mustard seeds. Yet, they did become as great shrubs providing protection.

So, I would like to draw from this parable a parallel--size now does not limit potential.

But, I'm also drawn to the lesson embedded in this passage--that Jesus spoke in parables because his hearers were not ready to learn his meaning. To his disciples, and in private, he explained everything.

Yet, even without understanding, the other hearers became part of the growth of the church? I'm looking back at verses 26-27. The sower of the seem doesn't have to know how the sprouting part works in order for it to work.

Planning for Father's Day

The UMC offers Father's Day Worship Resources, including a prayer and links to other resources.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Dissension, a Reflection on Mark 3:20-35

Jesus has caused such a stir that people were talking, saying that he had lost his mind. His family tried to rescue him from himself. Religious authorities accuse him of being in league with the devil.

His family wants to protect him by shutting him up. The others don't want to protect him but they do want him to shut up.

Religious people still become offended. Loving people still become protective.

I'm reading Phyllis Tickle's Great Emergence . She describes the massive transformations that shake the Christian Church every 500 years.

When we are living through a time of division, how do we discern the correct path? Jesus said that we would be forgiven for our sins and blasphemies--except for blasphemies against the Holy Spirit. The New Interpreter's Bible explains this by saying:
It is forgivable to wrongly judge the evil as good, but it is unforgivable to judge the good as evil.

Good rule for religious, political, and social disputes, don't you think?

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Hardness of Heart, a Reflection on Mark 2:23-3:6

Year B is the Mark year, but, during Eastertide, our gospel readings have been from John. Another lectionary complication is that Easter moves each year--so then does Ordinary Time. Ordinary--my understanding of the term is that it originally was intended as a reference to "ordinal," denoting how many Sundays after Pentecost a Sunday was. But, Ordinary also means ordinary. We aren't in one of the two Festival times, Christmas and Easter.

This year, because of the date of Easter, two week's Ordinary Time readings are omitted. Remember, we have to finish Ordinary Time before Advent. So, today's reading is a kind of bonus. It would have been the reading for the Sunday between May 29 and June 4 if that Sunday had been after Trinity Sunday. It was Pentecost Sunday this year, 2009.

In the reading from Mark, Jesus and his disciples, on a sabbath, pluck some grain to eat because they are hungry. Some really religious folks chastise them for breaking the sabbath.

Jesus responds first by quoting Scripture to them, "Aren't you familiar with the Bible? Don't you remember that David and his companions did pretty much what we just did?"

Then he interprets Scripture for them. "God gave us the Sabbath as a gift, a protection. God did not intend it to be an occasion for some kind of 'gotcha.'"

Still on the Sabbath, still being watched by the pious, this time inside the temple, Jesus heals a man with a withered hand. He is angry that his enemies cannot see how God intends for us to be.

"Don't use the Scripture to prevent good being done. Don't use the Scripture for harm."

Friday, June 5, 2009

Heirs of God, a Reflection on Romans 8:12-17

Paul reminds us that we are children of God. God's Spirit is within us. The idea did not originate with Paul. Israel spoke of God's Spirit dwelling within their community (Exodus 25:8). Paul recognizes that the Spirit lives within Gentiles as well.

Trinity Sunday is a good time to look at the people around you and consider what it means for you that God's Spirit is within each of them. And it's a good time to consider what it means for your congregation that God's Spirit is dwelling within your church body. What kind of witness are you viewing? What kind of witness are you showing?

(again, I'm thankful to Allen & Williamson's Preaching the Letters.)

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Voice of the Lord, a Reflection on Psalm 29

Isaiah spoke of experiencing the presence of God--whose voice would shake the doorposts. The psalm chosen for response also speaks of how we are struck by God's presence in our lives by using the metaphor of a thunderstorm

"Abscribe to the Lord..." the NRSV begins. I'm told by Robert Alter's Book of Psalms, that this verb means "to give" or "to grant." The Psalm begins by speaking to the heavenly court (a group that modern day Christians don't talk about much) telling them to grant praise to the Lord, and ends with the prayer that the Lord will give us strength and wellbeing.

We cannot see the invisible God but we can see the impact that God has on earth and within our community. Last week, in the reading from Acts 2, we remembered how this presence was described by the witnesses at Pentecost.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

An unclean prophet, a Reflection on Isaiah 6:1-8

Verses 1-4 describe an overwhelming sense of God's glory and the appropriate response to it. On a throne. A high and lofty throne. So large that just the hem of his robe fills the temple. Heavenly beings attend him. They sing, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts."

Verses 5, in contrast, describes the great contrast with this glory with the human condition. Isaiah realizes that he is unworthy.

Verses 6-7 give us reassurance. Since we are not worthy, God has a way of redeeming us, of overcoming our sin. Isaiah's guilt was removed.

Verse 8 reminds us why we need this redemption. We have a task. Isaiah accepted his call.

(much of this from or inspired by Isaiah 1-39, by Walter Brueggeman)

How much of this is repeated in a typical church service? Do we recognize an overwhelming divine presence? Do we recognize our own sinfulness? Can we receive redemption? If so, what are we prepared to do with it?

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Sunday School Lessons for June

The Mississippi Advocate has posted Sunday School lessons for June.

June 7, Exodus 3:1-12, Called Out of Egypt
June 14, Exodus 4:10-16, 27-31, Moses and Aaron Respond
June 21, Exodus 5:1-9, 22-6:1, Pharaoh Ignores God's Call
June 28, Exodus 14:15-25, 30, God Calls the People Out of Egypt

The Grace of God, a Reflection on John 3:16-17

Here's what I posted about John 3:14-17 during Lent:
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.

Since we are now approacing Trinity Sunday, I'm adding a paragraph from Fred Craddock's contribution to Preaching Through the Christian Year B, who explains that Jesus Christ reveals the truth about God and that the Holy Spirit is the active presence of God. Then, he stresses:
But the overall affirmation of the text is that God is a life-giving God. This is no new word, as though God had ceased to be a wrathful judge and had now mellowed into forgiving love. The Hebrew Scriptures had declared God's grace in the story of the brazen serpent in Numbers 21:4-9 (vv.14-15). Our text proclaims, then, what has always been true of God, and what is comforting to hear again: God loves the wold; God desires that none perish; God gives the Son that all may live; God has acted in Christ not to condemn but to save. To trust in this is to have life anew, life eternal.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Offertory Prayers for June 2009

The Center for Stewardship of the UMC has Offertory Prayers for June online.

Praying toward Trinity Sunday

The UMC offers planning help for Prayers and Meditations for Trinity Sunday.

Everyone? a Reflection on John 3:1-15

Jesus has been upsetting the insiders. One of them, Nicodemus, comes by night. I am told by Bible commentators that "night" implies more "not understanding" than a time. I had always taken "night" as literal and read that Nicodemus was hoping not to be seen by anyone important when he approached this trouble maker. After thinking about it for a moment, I've decided to keep both meanings.

Nicodemus asserts that the miracles they have seen Jesus perform have been persuasive. Yet apparently not completely so. It's night after all.

After being asked about how anybody can have a second birth, Jesus answers him by asserting the necessity of the Spirit.

"What is born of the Spirit is spirit....The wind blows where it chooses..." Remember that the Greek word translated as wind also means breath or spirit. God breathes on us; a force moves us like the wind moves us and that force is as invisible as the wind as it is as potent as the wind.

"So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit." Who is this "everyone"? Who has been born of the Spirit? Am I reassured? insulted? puzzled? grateful?
.... "