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, November 30, 2009

Stir up our hearts, O God

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

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

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

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

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

God has not forgotten them nor abandoned them.

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

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

Sunday, November 29, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 28, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 27, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Prioritizing, a reflection on Matthew 6:25-33

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

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

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

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

2) Be alert

What challenges you in this scripture?

What hope does it offer?

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

What would you be sure to continue doing?

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

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

Monday, November 23, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Advent Resources

UMC Communications offers Advent Resources including sermon starters

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Reign of Christ, a reflection on Psalm 93

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 20, 2009

Offertory Prayers for December

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Source: Preaching the Old Testament]

Thursday, November 19, 2009

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

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

The first is to feed the poor.

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

Back to the first--feeding the poor.

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

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 16, 2009

Prayer and other Planning Helps for Christ the King Sunday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Witness, a Reflection on Hebrews 10:19-25

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 14, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I have forgiven you."

Friday, November 13, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

God cares about the poor, Hannah promises.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Prayer for Protection, a Reflection on Psalm 16

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Thanksgiving Plans

The UMC offers Resources for Thanksgiving.

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

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

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

He speaks of resurrection and of reward and punishment.

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

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

Monday, November 9, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 8, 2009

God's Daily Life, a Reflection on Psalm 146

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

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

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

Saturday, November 7, 2009

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

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

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

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

Is that good news, or not?

What does "eagerly waiting" mean"?

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

Friday, November 6, 2009

Happy is the man, a reflection on Psalm 127

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

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

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

Thursday, November 5, 2009

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Hope in God, a Reflection on Psalm 42

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 2, 2009

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

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

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

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

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