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.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Recognizing Those that Labor among Us

Next Monday will be Labor Day in the US. Here's a Litany for the Affirmation of Work offered by the Ministry in Daily Life of the Episcopal Church.
This litany was adopted from a work developed by D.Min. students at Hartford Seminary in Anne Rowthorn's class "Ministry of the Laity for Clergy and Church Professionals." It was used in a statewide service for Those Who Labor in Our State, conducted by the Connecticut state chaplains. This adaptation was for an interfaith setting, Christians may wish to adapt it for a Christian setting or write their own.

A Problem with Success, a Reflection on Mark 7:24-30

Try to imagine this--You go to an area where people are different from you. They have different backgrounds and different beliefs. Moreover, there's a history of antagonism between your people and theirs, and they have a reputation of doing bad things.

Keep imagining--You go there anyway, and you get an enthusiastic response. So enthusiastic that you go into a house to avoid the crowds. There you are confronted by someone you weren't looking for, someone that you didn't want to meet.

She's the kind of person you wouldn't want to be seen with, and she comes from those people that your people don't much like. And when you try to get her to just leave you alone, she instead convinces you that you really ought to help her.

Mark is telling us about something that happened to Jesus back then. Could anything like this happen to the Body of Christ today?

Sunday, August 30, 2009

September Sunday School Lessons

The Mississippi Advocate has posted Sunday School Lessons for September.

Sept 6, Joshua 1, A Leader for the People
Sept 13, Judges 6:1-3, 7-14, A Deliverer for the People
Sept 20, Ezra 9:5-11, 15, A Priest for the People
Sept 27, Nehemiah 2:5, 11-20, A Motivator for the People

How Doers of the Law Act, a Reflection on James 1:22-27

James knows that we are familiar with scripture, can even recite it or discuss it, and he knows that we may have not allowed that scripture to change us very much. He says "But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves."

He cautions us to look at what the Bible throughout has required.

His test for whether someone is religious includes care for orphans and widows in distress and keeping oneself unstained from the world. Some of us think that one of those is more important than the other. James is holding out for both--as well as refraining from anger.

Being religious might be hard for some of us.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

To fulfill God's purpose, a Reflection on James 1:17-21

God gave birth to us.

We are to view this as a gift and as a responsibility.

God created us with God's purpose in mind. So, we are to act in a way that will fulfill God's purpose.

The first requirement is a hard one: Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger. Also, eliminate sordidness and wickedness.

What kind of person would be like this? Oh, right. The kind of person that will be able to welcome God's word that can save our souls.

Look at Psalm 34:11-18 for themes underlying this passage from James' letter:

Come, O children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord. Which of you desires life, and covets many days to enjoy good?

Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking deceit.
Depart from evil and do good; seek peace, and pursue it.

The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their cry.

The face of the Lord is against evildoers, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth.

When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears, and rescues them from all their troubles.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Surely you can't mean all, Continuing to reflect on Psalm 145

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

The Psalmist is quoting the proclamation of the Lord on Sinai after Moses had cut the words of the Ten Commandments onto stone tablets. This good news of love for all is repeated throughout the scriptures (The Wesley Study Bible cites as examples Numbers 14:18; Nehemiah 9:17; Psalm 103:8, 17; and Jonah 4:2).

I'm reading these words today first as a reminder that God loves me, gives me what I need, and is merciful when I don't deserve mercy. And, these words are also a reminder to me that I'm not the only recipient of God's gifts and mercy; nor, are they restricted to people like me. God has compassion over all. And, then, it gets harder for me. If God is compassionate to all, how does God expect me to be?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

She's glad to see him, a Reflection on Song of Solomon 2:8-13

According to the Jewish Study Bible, introduction to what is called there the Song of Songs:
"While the book's origin remains obscure, the history of interpretation of the Song in Jewish tradition is well documented. From as early as the 2nd century CE, it has been understood in both human and divine terms. In rabbinic tradition, the Song narrates the words which God and Israel spoke to each other at the REd Sea, at Sinai, or in the Tent of Meeting. The descriptions of the male lover are understood as allegorical descriptions of God while the descriptions of the female lover are understood as divine praise of Israel...."

According to the Wesley Study Bible, Wesley asserted that this particular passage describes how the church triumphs in Christ's love and gracious call.

And, not surprisingly, many commentators read this book to be about human sexual love. In this passage, for example, it's spring, the couple enjoy each other, and they want to be together.

Praise for the King, a Reflection on Psalm 45:1-2, 6-9

If we read this week's passage from Song of Solomon as praise for a bridegroom, we can also think of Psalm 45 as also describing one who is loved and is honored.

But, the praise is not restricted to one woman's new husband. We can read Psalm 45 as extending to the king--who, might be thought of in ancient times as assuming the responsibility of care and protection to his people, like a husband, say.

Somewhat troubling is the NRSV translation of verse 6 that addresses the king as elohim. According to John H. Hayes in Preaching through the Christian Year B, most English translations had put this reading in a footnote or margin.

I suppose Christians can overcome any problem with this verse by thinking that the ancient psalmist was anticipating the birth of Christ the King.

In any case, the king is this psalm has important characteristics that all persons in power should attempt to emulate: love of righteousness and hatred of wickedness.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Make an Impact

Looking for suggestions for volunteer work? offers Advice to make the world better.

Who Gets In, a Reflection on Psalm 15

"Who is allowed into a place of worship?" asks this psalm.

I'm reading the qualification for being in communion with God:
walk blamelessly and do right.

And I'm thinking about how Jesus called the Pharisees hypocrites for what they would have called blameless walking--that is, appropriate handwashing.

And I'm thinking about the current controversy over who can join the Methodist Church (and all the not-so-current controversies). Who should be allowed in?

Back to Psalm 15 for direction. Those who dwell with the Lord have these characteristics:
They speak the truth. They do not slander. They do no evil to their friends. They do not take up reproach against their neighbors.
And, worrisome, for us in the contemporary world, they don't accept interest on loans they make. Not so worrisome, they don't take bribes, either.

Summary: In order to be in communion with God, we need to be in community with each other.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Get Ready for a New Bible Translation

Shane Raynor reports that we can soon expect the Common English Bible and why we need a new translation.

More Defiling than Dirt, a Reflection on Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

If you were asked to choose between these two statements, how would you answer?
First, this passage demonstrates that Jesus taught that Jews were wrong to focus on the law. Second, Jesus says that anything goes.

The correct answer is: neither of the above.

Jesus is not maligning the Pharisees for attempting to follow the law. He is saying that they aren't following it. That is, they are neglecting the reason that God gave us the law anyway--to help us to live in community and to worship the Lord.

It's not a Jew/Christian thing. Look, Jesus is quoting the prophet Isaiah to help make his point.

Jesus is saying to those who hold themselves out to be religiously scrupulous, "What you are calling a sin is not all that important. If you want to get in line with what God intends then you need to refrain from things like adultery, greed, envy, slander.

Monday, August 24, 2009

After I'm Gone, a Reflection on Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9

Two big things are about to change. First, they are coming to settled landowners rather than transients in someone else's country. Second, they are going to have to make the adjustment without Moses--the one who led them out of slavery and shepherded through the wilderness.

The book of Deuteronomy tells us how Moses prepared these people for their new way of being. In this week's passage that is paired with the gospel lesson, Moses is emphasizing how important it will be to them to remember the instruction they have already received--instruction that has come to Moses from the Lord.

He preaches, "There's a way to live that is best. Following the intents of the Lord is the best way to run your lives."

And he adds, "Since I myself am not going to be there with you when you start making your new life, you will not only have to remember these teachings, but it's up to you to make sure that the next generation hears them, learns them, and lives them."

Sunday, August 23, 2009

When they're against you, a Reflection on Ephesians 6:10-20

This letter is written to the church--a church that apparently has some scared people in it. The advice, "When you think demons are after you, depend on God for your protection."

The modern-day application that came to me today was the debate we Americans are having over our government's role in health care.

One poll indicates that 39% of Americans want government to stay out of Medicare and another 15% aren't sure. (See a summary of the report by Public Policy Polling.)

As the faith community considers how best all can receive whatever help they need, can we not use the metaphors in this passage?
belt of truth
breastplate of righteousness (note, not self-righteousness)
shoes so you'll be ready to step out
shield and helmet (there's a lot of folks that will be shooting arrows at you)

And not metaphorical at all, prayer.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Immigrants in the Temple, a Reflection on 1 Kings 8:41-43

In the last few years here in the US, we have become accustomed to reading about immigrants--and arguing about them. Many Americans would prefer that we not accept any new arrivals although of course we know that almost all of us are descendants of immigrants.

So, it's interesting to me to read in the OT yet one more passage about immigrants. In his dedicatory prayer in the newly built temple, Solomon includes the foreigners who have heard about God and showed up at the temple.

Now, Solomon does give a practical reason for welcoming the outsiders. The more people that know about God, the most people there will be to teach others. But, let me also point out that Solomon assumes that God hears the prayers of these outsiders and will respond favorably to them.

What would it mean for us in the US--or, for any of the rest of you, for that matter--to recognize that God listens to the prayers of people that aren't just like us?

Friday, August 21, 2009

Present but not Confined, a Reflection on 1 Kings 8:1, 6, 10-11, 22-30

Solomon has the ark brought into Jerusalem to be set in place in the new temple. The priests carried the ark into the holiest part of this holy place. As they came out, a cloud filled the temple--a cloud, the visible sign of the glory of the Lord.

(His ancestors had been led by the cloud through the wilderness on their journey from slavery to promised land.)

Solomon prayed before the altar in the presence of all those assembled in the temple. He praised God for the covenant that had been made with David that extended to David's descendants.

The glory of God is visible in the temple, but God is not imprisoned there. Solomon could pray to God in the temple and expect God to hear him, but God is not confined to the temple.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Lord Hears Our Cries, a Reflection on Psalm 34:15-22

When Joshua asked them to commit to the Lord, he reminded them of what had happened in the past and told them what their life could be like. Psalm 34 can be read as wise advice for people who are in covenant with the Lord.

Don't slander anybody. Cease hateful talk. Remember that God hears the cries of people who are in trouble.

We may have caused that trouble for ourselves, or, it may have been dropped on us undeservedly by evil people or by happenstance. Yet, in our trouble, God cares for us.

We are not promised an absence of suffering. We are promised compassion and help when suffering comes. (Gene M. Tucker, Preaching through the Christian Year B).

Health Care Reform--We Need It but We're Scared

For a discussion of troubling issues, see United Methodists Struggle with Health Care Reform.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Choose this day, a Reflection on Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18

Last November, I posted a comment on this passage. Here's an excerpt:
Each person, each family, each leader has to make a choice. Yet, the choice involves the entire community. They have shared a history, their present situation depends on each other's decision, and their future will be affected by not only what each one does but also on what is important to their neighbors. John Donne was right.

This week, the passage from Joshua is paired with the gospel lesson from John in which some get offended when Jesus preaches to them. Does that sound like something that you've seen in your church?

Joshua is asking them to make a commitment. Notice how he does this. He reminds them of what has already happened to them, what benefits they have experienced already. And he outlines for them what their future can be like--if.

When the Bible was collected into the form that has been handed down to us, the descendants of Joshua's audience would have known the defeat by Babylon, the agonies and disruptions of exile. They could look back on their own inability to be loyal to the commitment to God that Joshua had demanded of them.

But, of course, this passage is about more than history, even layers of history. It is about us. We still gather in communities. We are still being asked to choose who is the boss of us. And we still say that we serve the Lord, and we still --finish this sentence for yourselves.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Deciding to Stay with Jesus, a Reflection on John 6:66-69

Jesus is talking to his disciples, and even they have a hard time accepting his teaching. Many of them give up on him and walk away. Jesus asks the ones who remain, "Do you also want to go away?"

Peter, not unusually, speaks up, "To whom else can we go? We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God."

Even those closest to Jesus have the choice to walk away. Some take the choice. But, some have not only heard Jesus' message, they have come to believe it.

Why ever they were first attracted to him, they are now staying for the right reason: they know that he is the Sent One of God. (I've been reading Ronald Allen & Clark Williamson's Preaching the Gospels).

Modern-day application: How do we get people to come to church? How do we get them to stay? Why do we stay?

Monday, August 17, 2009

Difficult Saying, a Reflection on John 6:56-65

Jesus reminded them of their ancestors in the trek through the wilderness--between slavery and promise. They would have starved without the manna. Eating the freely provided manna made it possible for them to live and to continue their journey.

Jesus tells them that he is the manna for them, that their consumption of him will make it possible for them to live and to continue on their journey.

They didn't buy into the concept right away. Just hearing an assertion was not convincing enough for them.

And some were offended.

Jesus recognized that his teachings were difficult to understand and to accept, and he responded to their complaints. John tells us that Jesus always knew that everyone would believe his words.

Remember, those who believed him and those who didn't were all together that day at a place of worship. It still happens. People go to church, listen to the sermon. Some get really offended. They can't bring themselves to believe.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Live as Wise People Live, a Reflection on Ephesians 5:15-20

Last week's lesson from Ephesians listed rules for the new life--life, as Christians. The lectionary omits 5:3-14, calls to renounce non-Christian activities and attitudes.

This week we're back to advice on right living, and the advice sounds rather relevant to our own era--don't waste your time, don't get drunk. Rather, the letter tells us, be filled with the spirit.

Sing praises and give thanks. Give thanks at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Of course, not every bad thing that happens to us is our fault, but we really do bring some of it on ourselves. Of course, not every good thing that happens to us is due to our own efforts, but how we live really does affect what happens next.

If we are filled with the Spirit, we're not leaving room for non-Spirit things.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Beginning of Wisdom, a Reflection on Psalm 111

Although most of our prayers are asking please, we do occasionally (often?) also say "thank you" to God. Psalm 111 can be a model for our expression of gratitude.

Gratitude, in this case, that's not a secret. The prayer is expressed in the company of the congregation.

Not surprisingly, since the lectionary has chosen it to accompany the reading about Solomon's granted request for wisdom, this psalm voices gratitude for the wisdom of God:

The works of his hands are faithful and just;
all his precepts are trustworthy.
They are established forever and ever,
to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Solomon's Gifts, a reflection on 1 Kings 3:3-14

When asked what gift he wanted, Solomon responded "Wisdom, so I can better govern."

God, pleased with this answer and this attitude, gave Solomon what he had asked for and gave him more.

One reading of this passage would be to use it as a reminder of what good leaders need, and what really good leaders think that they need.

Another reading would be to reflect on the riches and honors part. Is that how we tend to measure success? Even more disturbing, is that how we tend to recognize God's approval?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

From David to Solomon, a Reflection on 1 Kings 2:10-12

David, the youngest of his family, had been chosen to be King. During his reign, he had unified his people, and brought peace. His story had begun with his willingness to take up arms against a formidable opponent and then even against his king. His personal life was troubled. He had committed adultery; his children fought among themselves (1 and 2 Samuel). He spent his final years in weakness. As he lay dying his sons argued over succession. David named Solomon, Bathsheba's son, over Adonijah, the eldest son (1 Kings 1).

David had reigned a long time, but his reign ended. A successor had to be chosen. Not everyone agreed.

Kingdoms, companies, clubs, and churches have to go through transition. Following a strong leader can be hard.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Offertory Prayers for September 2009

The Center for Christian Stewardship of the UMC has posted Offertory Prayers for September.

Pursue Peace, a Reflection on Psalm 34:9-14

Since the lectionary has paired this portion of Psalm 34 with this week's gospel reading, I look back at John:51-58 to see if I can identify what they have in common.

In John's Gospel, Jesus said, "I am the living bread...Whoever eats of this bread will live forever...Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you...."

From Psalm 34: "Taste and see how good the Lord is...Those who turn to the Lord shall not lack any good...I will teach you..."

In John, we read "I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me."

I think it's a mistake to interpret this promise as being restricted to some life after we die. Rather, I think Jesus is promising us a new life, right now. And Psalm 34 helps me see what that life can be like for someone who has tasted and has seen how good the Lord is--a life in which we keep our tongues from evil and our lips from deceit; a life of departing from evil and doing good and seeking peace.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Invitation to Supper, a Reflection on Proverbs 9:1-6

Much of Proverbs points us to the choice we can make between wisdom and folly. Wisdom, personified as a hospitable woman, invites us over to share dinner. She has prepared the banquet and the place to share it. She issues the invitation that includes an exhortation: "It's time for you to grow up, to get over being foolish and begin living the life you should."

We still have that choice. We can choose the living bread that God sent from heaven.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The food that gives life, a Reflection on John 6:51-58

I'm reading these words today as Jesus reminding us to look back--to remember all that God has done in the past--and to look forward--to be assured that God will continue to find ways to provide us with what we need.

And I'm reading them as a metaphor for the Eucharist.

As we step toward the altar and accept the gift of bread and wine (or juice, of course, in the UMC), we enter a changed life. Christ is in us. We are in Christ.

And as good as the rolls will be at Sunday dinner, this bread is even better.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

A Call for Peace, A Look at War, Reflection on Ephesians 4:25-5:2

We are members of one another. Do not let the sun go down on your anger. Live in love.

But, what about those warlike texts in this same Bible?

Simon Barrow has posted an article in Ekklesia, that explores the answers the Bible gives to our question of what God intends: Peace or War?

Saturday, August 8, 2009

A Cry from the Depths, a Reflection on Psalm 130

Psalm 130 is classified as a lament psalm. David cried over the loss of his son. And each of us has our own losses and regrets. This psalm reminds us that in our loss, we can turn to the Lord. We can expect God to pay attention to us--although we can't claim that we deserve any care. And we can ask God to forgive us.

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.

Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications!

If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand?

But there is forgiveness with you, so that you may be revered.

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope;

my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning.

O Israel, hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is great power to redeem.

It is he who will redeem Israel from all its iniquities.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Choosing violence, a reflection on 2 Samuel 18:31-33

John Hayes in the excellent Preaching through the Christian Year B raises the issue of the decision that Joab had to make. By killing Absalom, he protected the king and kingdom from the usurper, but Absalom was the king's son, a beloved son.

Hayes reminds us that we continue to wrestle with the ambiguities of moral decisions, balancing our desire to protect one set of needs against another's. Joab's motives were complex and, so, sometimes, are ours.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Loss of a Son, a Reflection on 2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15

As David had once been close to Saul then in revolt against him while still being emotionally attached, now he is in a parallel situation with his son and heir.

His heir, because Absalom has murdered his older brother Amnon out of revenge (2 Samuel 13).

Absalom after years in exile has mustered a large rebel army to overthrow David as king. Even though David had ordered mercy for his son, Absalom is killed.

As we read this terrible, tragic story of a suffering country and suffering family, we should remember how Samuel had responded initially to Israel's desire for a king (1 Samuel 8).
The compilers of our Bible wanted us to reflect on the truth of Samuel's prophecy.

And, we can read in this terrible tragic tale a reminder of the pain in families as well as in nations.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Sunday School Lessons for August

The South Carolina Advocate has posted Sunday School lessons for August.

Praise for Deliverance, a Reflection on Psalm 34:1-8

The psalmist has noticed that the Lord has done something. And the psalmist is not going to keep quiet about it.

Receiving help, Noticing, Announcing.

Also, the psalmist is reminding others to join in the praise. After all, they need the Lord. After all, the Lord has helped them, too.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Not Enough for the Lord, a Reflection on 1 Kings 19:4-8

Although the lectionary has paired this passage with this week's gospel reading in John, and they're both about God's provision of food in the wilderness, they have very different messages.

Elijah has performed great acts and, as a consequence, has angered the queen. She has issued a death sentence. He's fleeing for his life.

And he gives up. He prays to the Lord, "I've had enough. I'm ready to die," and he lies down ready for his prayer to be answered.

Instead, the Lord sends a messenger to him who provides him with food and also encouragement.

Elijah, after this encounter, is able to resume his vocation. (A few verses later, Elijah will hear the word of God.)

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Bread of Life, a Reflection on John 6:35, 41-51

When the crowd needed food, God provided it for them. It happened for this crowd and, as Jesus reminded them, it had happened before.

Then he says, "I am the bread of life."

Sometimes, bread is food; sometimes, a metaphor.

Jesus asked them to think of a time when they needed something in order to survive, a time when God provided that need. Now they still need something in order to survive, and now, God is still providing what they need.

The bread would not have been helpful if they had refused to eat it.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Unity though Diverse, a Reflection on Ephesians 4:1-16

Insights from Ralph P. Martin in his commentary on Ephesians (part of the Interpretation series).

The first three chapters is a rather idealistic picture of the church--one that can help us see what we should be working towards.

The last three chapters are in Martin's terms "ecclesiology brought to earth"; that is, some harsh realities--harsh, yet not insurmountable.

My heavily reworded summary of his summary of 4:1-16:
1. Be true to your destiny while remembering that unity is essential.
2. Unity does not mean that we are all alike.
3. Church members have different gifts.
4. Christ intends for grownups to be grownups.
5. Christ intends for the church to be grownup.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

When we've done wrong, a Reflection on Psalm 51

from March 27 and 28, 2009:

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.

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.