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.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year, a Reflection on Revelation 21:1-6a

Here's an excerpt from the entry on November 1, 2008, All Saints Day:
This passage from Revelation is often read as if it tells us what happens to those people who have died.

But, it also tells us what we can expect while we are still here.

For example, this new heaven and new earth is, according to Revelation, going to be a city. A city, a place full of people, different kinds of people, people who look different and act different and talk different. And they may be closer to us than we would prefer. A city is often dirtier than we would prefer and in it, we may see some things going on that we don't understand or like.

Looking at this passage and my comments on it, as I think about a new year, I wonder why the earth is not already like this, why this is written in the future tense. Is not God already at home among us?

I turn, as I often do, to Allen & Williamson. According to their Preaching the Letters without Dismissing the Law, the verb in "It is done" is in the perfect tense meaning that the remaking of the world is finished but the effect of the world still abides.

John saw a vision and returned to earth. We also are staying on earth, and we also can see the vision of what a city would be like--is to be like--as we live out being God's people.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Time is a gift from God -- and a responsibility, a reflection on Ecclesiastes 3:1-13

Here's a repeat from last year:

We'll have a new calendar this week. The lectionary for New Year's Day includes this reading from Ecclesiastes that begins by discussing time. Here's what strikes me as I read this passage:

There's a time for something to happen and a time for its opposite.

God wants us to enjoy ourselves. God wants us to behave ourselves. (Are these opposites, too?)

God controls the time. God judges what we do with our time.

Lectio Divina: Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you (Isaiah 60:1).

Lectio Divina: For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven (Ecclesiastes 3:1).

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

While making your resolutions, a Reflection on Matthew 25:31-46

We're looking forward to a new year but the old years are still part of who we are.

The gospel reading chosen for New Year's Day is the prophecy of what the Son of Man will say on the day of judgment.

"When have we seen you?" they asked. His response is that he was present in the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the needy, the prisoner, and the sick.

I'm struck by how many modern day parallels we still see to this list--people who have lost their jobs, people who have entered our country without documentation, people who don't yet have health insurance.

It may be a new year this week, but we aren't quite ready yet for the Son of Man to come in his glory with all the angels with him to sit on the throne of glory and begin that separation of people who did not do to the least what they knew they should have done for Christ.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Epiphany of the Lord, a Reflection on Matthew 2:1-12

Some scholars were studying, as they had been studying, the sky when they observed a rising star. This startling phenomenon indicates to them that a new king has been born in Jerusalem. These wise men, perhaps from Persia, maybe Arabia, are compelled by their discovery to try to find out more. They journey to Jerusalem.

There, they seek out Herod the Great who had been appointed King of the Jews by the Roman Senate several decades earlier. He does not welcome the idea of a competitor to his power.

I have recently discovered Richard Einerson's Prayers of the People, a lectionary-based prayer guide. Here's a portion of the prayer for Epiphany:
... Be in all of those places where people seek like the Magi to journey to find Jesus, child of hope. Be with all who follow the bright stars of their lives...Be with all who live with the threats of reprisal, persecution, or danger because of their beliefs. Be with all leaders and temper their power with justice and love for people. O God, may the tragedies of the past not be reapeated. May there be peace and good will among all peole and may their journeys through life not be interrupted by tyrants. Amen.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

New Year's Resolutions, a Reflection on Colossians 3:12-17

If you are working on a list of New Year's Resolutions, you may well want to consult this passage from the letter to the Colossians.
Demonstrate compassion.
Forgive each other.
Show love.
Be peaceful.
Be thankful.

And if you do all of the above, then you could be qualified to do the next: teach and admonish each other. (I'm guessing more people who don't show compassion, forgiveness, etc. are also more likely to do the admonishing....I'm just saying.)

We read Advent texts for a month preparing us for the coming of Christ. Let us now show the world--and each other--what that coming does for Christ's followers.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Growth of a Child, a Reflection on 1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26; Psalm 148

Earlier, we read Mary's Magnificat and reflected on how it echoed Hannah's prayer in 1 Samuel 2:1-10. Today's passage reminds us of another parallel between the two sons. The child Samuel grew in stature and in favor with the Lord--as did centuries later, Jesus.

Samuel was raised in the home of Eli, but Eli's own sons were scoundrels (2 Samuel 2:12-17). Unfortunately, we still have many current examples of children not living up to the ideals of their parents or culture.

Feast of St. Stephen

The day after Christmas, we remember the martyred St. Stephen, as we remember that the child whose birth we celebrated yesterday will himself give upself up to die, as also did many of his followers.
Living the Christian Year by Bobby Gross.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Your Salvation Comes, a Reflection on Isaiah 62:6-12; Psalm 97

I'm wondering about the sentinels. Why do we need someone to remind the Lord to take care of Jerusalem? Who were they? Who has that role for us today?

That said, I'm also wondering about the Jerusalem part. Why is it so easy for Christians to appropriate parts of the prophecies for ourselves but just as easy to ignore any application of the parts we would rather forget.

Sorry, not very Christmasy.

I'll try again.

The Lord promised a people in distress, "I will save you. You are my people. I will always remember you." Today, Christmas Day, we open our hearts to the coming of Christ into our own lives, lives that may be painful, lives that may be undergoing great suffering and desolation. Yet, God has sent Christ to us.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christ's People, a Reflection on Titus 2:11-14; 3:3-7

The lectionary has three sets of readings for Christmas--I think, for Christmas Eve, Christmas morning, and Christmas evening. In case you would like to read them all, here's the list:

Proper I, Isaiah 9:2-7; Psalm 96; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-14 (15-20)
Proper II, Isaiah 62:6-12; Psalm 97; Titus 3:4-7; Luke 2: (1-7), 8-20
Proper III, Isaiah 52:7-10; Psalm 98; Hebrews 1:1-4 (5-12); John 1:1-14

According to an article published by the Commercial Appeal on December 19, a lot of people come to church on Easter and for services relating to Christmas. What would they think about the Titus readings? For that matter, what do people who come to church a time or two a month think?

God wants us to renounce impiety and worldly passions. Yes, that probably means New Year's Eve, too.

Jesus Christ gave himself for us to redeem us from past sins and to keep us from committing new ones. People who belong to Jesus are eager to do good deeds.

And, according to this letter from Paul to Titus, that all for whom Jesus Christ has given himself really is all (2:11).

Jesus saved us not because we deserved it, but because he is merciful.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Offertory Prayers for January

Offertory Prayers for January are made available by Robbie H. Jones, Center for Christian Stewardship/Center for Worship Resourcing Discipleship Ministries Division, GBOD, The United Methodist Church.

For unto us a child is born, a Reflection on Isaiah 9:2-7

Listen to the Ambrosian Singers' excerpt from Handel's Messiah, For unto us a child is born

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Looking ahead to the Twelve Days of Christmas

Easter was the big holiday in the early church. For hundreds of years, Christians didn't even agree on the date of Jesus' birth. The decision for December 25 may have been a way of appropriating the popular Roman celebration tied to the winter Soltice. Initially and periodically later, some Christians tried to institute the practice of Christmas being a fast day. As we can imagine, other Christians wanted to continue the practice of feast. By the Middle Ages, Christians had designated the birth of the saint Nicholas, January 6, as the date to celebrate Epiphany.

December 25 to January 6 = 12 days.

December 25: Christmas Day
December 26: Feast of St. Stephen
December 27: Feast of St. John
December 28: Commemoration of the Holy Innocents
January 1: Feast of the Holy Name

The source I used for this post is Living the Christian Year by Bobby Gross. Get the book and read it.

Receiving the news, a Reflection on Luke 2:15-20

The response of the shepherds was immediate. They went to Bethlehem at once to see for themselves. And when they had seen, they told what they had seen.

Think about who God trusted to receive and carry messages. Try to imagine a modern-day counterpart to first-century shepherds. Would you be interested in anything such people had to say to you? Is it hard for you to imagine God's telling them something before letting you know?

Monday, December 21, 2009

Who gets the news first, a Reflection on Luke 2:1-14

Augustus is emperor; Quirinius is govenor. The emperor decrees that all persons be registered; that is, the emperor is going to make sure that he gets taxes from everybody under his control.

Then there are some folks who can't issue decrees. The only things they control are somebody else's sheep. And it is to this kind of person that the angels go with their news. Not the emperor, not the governor, but the shepherds.

The shepherds.

Although shepherds had a positive image in the Old Testament--think of the 23rd Psalm for example--shepherds living and working at the time of Jesus' birth were not viewed positively. Rather, they were regarded as lower class, untrustworthy, migrant workers who used other people's grass to feed their sheep.

The shepherds were not expecting the news. They were at work, and, to their society at the time, not very well-thought-of work. Yet, the Lord sent a messenger to them with the good news.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Sanctification, a Reflection on Hebrews 10:8-10

Although the Advent readings began with reminders of apocalyptic events, we shifted into focus on the birth of Jesus. And that's the focus of the away-from-church part of our lives too. We see manger scenes all round. We hear Christmas carols.

But, even this week with the long passage from Luke 1, we are reminded of the inseparability of Christ's birth, incarnation, and death.

And it is by God's will that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all (10).

And through this sanctification, we too can respond to God's desire to offering our total lives. Showing up at church once or twice a month and putting something in the offering plate that won't affect any fun we're planning to have is not the lesson that the epistle to the Hebrews is teaching.

Christ's death made his life understandable to us. A life of love and sacrifice. Let us too be able to say, as Christ said,
See, I have come to do your will (9).

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Reflection on Hebrews 10:5-7

The earlier readings this Advent from Thessalonians and Philippians were preparations for the return of Christ. The reading from Hebrews this week shifts the emphasis to the incarnation, when Christ came into the world.

The words spoken by Christ in the verses from Hebrews refer to Psalm 40:6-8. What God desires is not empty worship, but true worship filled with following the will of God.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Reflection on Micah 5:2-5a

Micah is speaking to a people in crisis. They were under siege (5:1), a punishment that Micah thought they deserved (3:12).

He tells them that God is going to send a representative to rescue them and continue to care for them.

Yes, the OT God that we so often hear spoken of disparagingly is one who promises to save people who may not deserve being saved.

Furthermore, this savior is not a warrior but a shepherd, as Micah puts it, one of peace (5:4-5).

When we think about being rescued, are we hoping for a shepherd?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

What God wants for Abraham's descendents, a reflection on Luke 1:50-55

In her song again echoing Hannah's, Mary descrbies what God has already done. Notice how her song emphiasizes differences: God has brought down the powerful and lifted up the lowly. God has fed the hungry and sent the rich away empty.

Who should be reassured by this song? Who should start worrying?

In verses 54-55, Mary reminds us that God has helped Israel according to the promises made to our ancestors.God's promise is to Abraham and his descendents forever. How do these words sound to us Christians when we relaize that both Jews and Muslims consider Abraham to be their ancestor as well.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Birthplace, a Reflection on Luke 1:46-49

Mary responds to Elizabeth's good news and her own with a song of praise. Like Hannah before her (see 1 Samuel 2:1-10), Mary begins by praising God: "My soul magnifies the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior. From now on, all generations will call me blessed because of what God has done for me."

God chose Mary to bear the savior. Why didn't God pick a woman from one of the more powerful, prominent families? Why would God choose the backwater of the empire to be the birthplace of the savior, Rome, for example? For those of us who live in a powerful country, how willing are we to consider that God may continue to choose other venues for gifts?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Unexpected Achievement, a Reflection on Luke 1:43-45

Many of us have been tempted to give up on whatever it is that we once dreamed of. "It's too late for me," we conclude. As a nation, or as a church, we may also think that we are incapable of achieving some blessing that we once wanted very much. Elizabeth's story can remind us that, as Sarah put it in Genesis, "Nothing is impossible for God."

Has your own congregation given up on something?

What seems too hard for you to be able to achieve?

How would you respond if you realized that, contrary to your previous experience, you are now capable of carrying out that goal?

Is it possible that you may already be able to enjoy God's blessings, but have just ignored that fact?

Monday, December 14, 2009

Unexpected blessings, a Reflection on Luke 1:39-42

The angel Gabriel came directly to Zechariah and to Mary. Each of then responded initially in disbelief. Pause here for a moment to be grateful that God's message is not easily deflected by our inability or unreadiness.

Although Mary, when visited by God's messenger, was able to voice her acceptance, Zechariah was not. He returned home to his wife Elizabeth, who did conceive, as Gabriel had foretold (1:4-24). Pause here to be grateful that God can carry out work in us even is we find that work to seem difficult or impossible.

Elizabeth, who had been long barren, was now carryig a child. The first readers of Luke could see her story as one of hope for Israel. They had suffered a long time of barrenness. Yet, they had hope that God would restore then to their designated role.

Elizabeth can continue to be a model for all who read about her in Luke's gospel of how we can respond to God's gifts and challenges. When her young pregnant cousin appears, Elizabeth immediately is affected. Her child, who will be known as John the Baptist, leaps in her womb. And she is filled with the Holy Spirit.

Mary had made the physical journey. Elizabeth has remained at home. They both are blessed. They both recognize the blessings in the other. Pause here to consider what work you are capable of doing right where you are and what work would be worth it for you to move around some.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Rejoice, a Reflection on Philippians 4:4-7

Always rejoice. Never worry. Tell God what you want.

Are Paul's instructions realistic for you? That is, can you imagine yourself rejoicing at all times? Or, showing your gentleness to everyone? Or, perhaps, even having gentleness whether you show it or not?

Have you experienced the peace of God during a tough time in your life?

What portion of your prayers typically are expressions of joy? or even of moderate gratitude?

How does your congregation live out this passage?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

A Call to Thanksgiving, a Reflection on Isaiah 12:2-6

Isaiah directs us to tell God when we are grateful--and to tell everybody else, as well.

In preparing for study of the Advent texts this year, I have been using the Leader's Guide written by Kathy Bence that accompanies Paul Strobles' Advent 2009, Celebrate the Newborn Jesus. (Abingdon Press, available at Cokesbury's. Rev. Bence suggests that we write our own psalm of thanksgiving. How have you experienced deliverance?

Friday, December 11, 2009

Reversal and Restoration, a Reflection on Zephaniah 3:17-20

The prophet Zephaniah was speaking to people who had experienced disruptions and disappointments. He promises them, "You don't have to be afraid anymore. God is right there, where you are, dwelling in your midst."

As Christians read these promises to ancient Jerusalem, we consider them extended to us. The Advent message is that God will love us, console us, and renew us.

We Christians need to appropriate not only the promise that God loves us but also appropriate the reminder that God is concerned about those that need some help. Verse 19 mentions specifically the lame and the outcast. We can start with those two groups specifically and continue by using the terms metaphorically.

God says, according to Zephaniah, "At that time I will bring you home (20)." I keep reading this trying to decide whether this home-bringing is after the lame are saved and the outcasts gathered or whether the promise is specifically to them.

And who are the outcasts for us anyway?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Old Testament God, a Reflection on Zephaniah 3:14-16

When you're tired of hearing being mischaracterize whom they call the Old Testament God, remember what the OT actually does say about God, including these verses from the prophet Zephaniah

"Sing out loud. Rejoice and exult. The Lord has taken away the judgments against you. You don't need to keep being afraid."

They may not have deserved God's mercy and grace any more than we do, but God is merciful. They may have known disaster, as many of us have, too. Yet, they knew that God was still with them, still renewing them to face the future after the disaster has past.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Chaff, a Reflection on Luke 3:15-18

Luke was writing to people who were looking for an imminent Messiah. Many thought that John fit the model of what a Messiah could be like. John responded to their question by explicitly saying that he was not the Messiah, but that the Messiah was coming.

One difference between them is baptism. John says, "I baptize with water but the Messiah will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire." He then adds that the Messiah will have a winnowing fork in his hand so that he can separate the wheat from the chaff. The chaff will be burned.

Fred Craddock in Preaching through the Christian Year C reminds us not to get preoccupied with the image of chaff burning:

"Spirit and fire" can also mean "wind and fire," which were symbol not only for the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-4) but for judgment as well. In fact, the present context seems to give this meaning to the baptism....One should not get preoccupied with the burning of chaff. The primary purpose is to save the grain.

We can read this as good news if we consider that the parts of us that are sinful need to be eliminated so that we can be wheat gathered into God's granary.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Being Religious, a Reflection on Luke 3:12-14

Three groups ask John, "What should we do?"

He reponds: Share. Be fair. Don't use your position to get more than you deserve.

Repentance is more than a momentary feeling. It's something that changes the way you live, the way you treat others.

I'm thinking about what some prominent Christian movements consider the main issues of the day--abortion and homosexuality. Well, I can go all day long without having an abortion or a homosexual affair. John's requirements are more difficult. I can get through most days without doing very much voluntarily to right economic inequities. I don't steal or cheat, but I can eat a big lunch on the same day that someone within a mile of me is eating very little.

Monday, December 7, 2009

John's advice--Share, a Reflection on Luke 3:7-11

John's target in this passage is the pious. He warns them that just showing up for the worship service does not substitute for doing what God wants them to do.

John is warning them of imminent destruction--The ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree that doesn't bear good fruit is going to be cut down.

The crowd asks him how they can avoid being destroyed.

He tells them "Share what you have with who needs it."

Christians today seem to be upset about behavior of others, but I don't hear much criticism of people neglecting to share. Are we raising a different crop of fruit than what John was talking about?

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Be tough-minded, not naive, a Reflection on Philippians 3:9-11

I really do prefer reading narratives and prayers in the Bible more than epistles. I like working out the story line in the narratives. I like being given ways of speaking to and listening to God. But, I get bogged down trying to follow the train of thought in the letters.

Here's an example of my trying to work out the meaning of this passage:

What Paul is praying for the congregation of Philippi--that they will use knowledge and insight to determine what to do so they will ready for the day of Christ. Paul's criteria--they will have produced a harvest of righteousness. I have to pause--does Paul mean that being pure and blameless precedes or causes righteousness or does righteousness come through Jesus Christ's efforts or some combination?

I turn to the commentary. It doesn't answer those questions, but answers the questions I should have asked:

Having prayed for their love for each other to continue and to increase, Paul suggests that they still have something to learn. His hope is that they will continue to improve their knowledge and deepen their insight. Be tough-minded not naive. (Carl R. Holladay, Preaching through the Christian YearC

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Y'all, a Reflection on Philippians 1:3-8

For whatever reason, English speakers dropped the singular second-person pronoun. So, we can't tell when "you" means "thee"; i.e., singular, and when it means "you"; i.,e., plural.

So, I looked up this passage in my Greek New Testament to make sure which you that Paul was writing to. And, of course, the you is plural. In the American South, we would say y'all but probably wouldn't write it.

In any case, read this passage as if it is written to your congregation, not just to you personally. Paul is concerned about how all of you are, and how all of you are treating each other, and how all of you are working to do the work that Jesus Christ intended for all of you to do.

Further, as each of us waits for the promise of Advent to be fulfilled, we need to keep in mind that salvation is not merely a personal matter, a case of my being plucked out of a bad situation, but rather a much bigger matter, a case of the world in which I live being transformed.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Roadbeds, a Reflection on Luke 1:76-79

In this portion of Zechariah's declaration, he speaks to to the child who will be the prophet for the promised savior.

"You will be the prophet. You will prepare the way."

Think about way preparation. I mean how highways are actually built. Consider how existing barriers must be destroyed--buildings, ones that should have been torn down anyway and ones that were in excellent shape, even beautiful, much-loved homes. Hillsides have to be cut through or mounted. Trees and brush are dragged away. All this before any actual road building is done.

John's message about preparing is that sins will be forgiven.

When the big trees and little bushes, delapidated buildings and beautiful homes, are gone, when the high spots are overcome and the rough spots smoothed down, we will have the way that our Savior prepares.

By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in drkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace (78-79).

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Benedictus, a reflection on Luke 1:68-75

Zechariah was a priest serving in the temple in Jerusalem, but Jerusalem is ruled by the Roman government and its army. And the army had been there a long time.

Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth had lived a righteous and blameless life, but not one like they would have chosen for they had no children. They had been waiting for a long time. Then the Lord sent a messenger, Gabriel, to Zechariah to tell him that Elizabeth was going to have child.

Zechariah disputed the possibility of getting something that he had longed for so long. Gabriel responded, "Because you didn't believe these words, you are not going to be able to speak untile the things I have promised you occur."

Today's reading is the opening portion of Zechariah's response when he is allowed once more to speak.

Filled with the Holy Spirit, he prophesied that a savior was to come and that a messenger had been sent to announce that news.

He expressed gratitude to the Lord that the promises made to Israel were going to be realized, promises of rescue from enemies. Zechariah then reminded them what forgiven, rescued people were supposed to do with their freedom: serve God in every way on every day.

Try making Zechariah's Benedictus part of your morning prayer each day:
Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for you have looked favorably on your people and redeemed us.
You have raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of your servant David.
You have spoken through prophets that we would be saved from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us.
You have shown mercy to our ancestors and remembered your holy covenant,
the oath you swore to our ancestor Abraham,
to grant us rescue from our enemies
so that we might serve you without fear
in holiness and righteousness all our days.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Cleansing, a Reflection on Malachi 3:1-4

Malachi asks who can endure the coming of the messenger. The messenger will get the people ready to receive the Lord. He is like a refiner's fire and like fullers' soap.

Paul Stroble, in Advent 2009, Celebrate the Newborn Jesus, explains these terms:

Malachi uses two different images of refinement. The first is the image of fire that purifies gold and silver. Gold and silver are precious for their rarity, beauty, and malleability. Gold is durable and does not oxidize. When gold is heated, it melts and becomes better as the impurities are burned off. .... The second is the image of the preparation of newly woven cloth. A fuller was a person who prepared new cloth, and fullers' soap was a strong alkali that cleansed the cloth.

Stroble then asks, "What times in your life were refining?"

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Preparing for Salvation, a Reflection on Luke 3:3-6

Important powerful people are listed in verses 1 and 2. Yet, the word of God came not to them but to John, a priest's son (Luke 1:5-25, 39-45, 57-80).

Rather than begin his work by going to any of these powerful people or the people around them, John, like Moses and like Isaiah, whose words he quotes, goes into the wilderness to speak.

John calls for a baptism of repentance. Isaiah, in speaking out against the wickedness of Judah, had called upon them to "Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow" (1:16-17).

Jerusalem in John's time would have had evil, injustice, oppression, and many people who needed financial help. He was calling his listeners to repent--to change their ways.

John also specifically includes Isaiah's prophecy that all people are included in the promise of salvation (Luke 3:6; Isaiah 40:5).