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.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 30, 2009

UMC Policy on Health Care

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

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

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

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


Health and Wholeness

# # #

UMC Statements related to health care reform

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

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

2008 Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church

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

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

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

# # #

Quoting Denise Leverton

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

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

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

Reflection on Hebrews 9:11-14

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

We Christians can read this as reassuring.

We should be grateful but not triumphalistic.

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

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

Thursday, October 29, 2009

A Prayer for Remembering the Saints

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

Rerun of earlier posting, a reflection on Psalm 146

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Preparing for All Saints Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 26, 2009

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

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

Are we?

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 25, 2009

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

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

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

Saturday, October 24, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 23, 2009

OTOH, a Reflection on Job 42:10-17

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Reflection on Job 42:1-6

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Restore us, a Reflection on Psalm 126

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Reflection on Isaiah 31:7-9

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 19, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 18, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 17, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

Bless the Lord, O my soul.
Praise the Lord

Friday, October 16, 2009

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 15, 2009

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

Reposting of earlier entry:

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Offertory Prayers for November

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 12, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Had the disciples not been listening? Have we been?

Sunday, October 11, 2009

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

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

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

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

And more than that, I can't hide.

Let me take the word of God seriously.

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

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

Saturday, October 10, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 9, 2009

Mapping Muslims

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 8, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 5, 2009

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

Methodists, Catholics, and Lutherans seek unity.

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

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

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

Sunday, October 4, 2009

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

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

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

Saturday, October 3, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 2, 2009

Declaration and Supplication, a Reflection on Psalm 26

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 1, 2009

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

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

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

Then things fell apart.

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

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

He wouldn't.

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

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