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.

Friday, December 31, 2010

Music for Epiphany

Virtual Abbey,, offers a Playlist for Epiphany

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.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Gift and Responsibility, a Reflection on Ecclesiastes 3:1-13 and Psalm 8

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.

Repeat: Being Given Dominion, Reflection on Psalm 8
"O God," the Psalmist sings, "When I consider your glory, when I consider your power, when I consider what you have created, I wonder why you bother with us."

God is greater, much greater than human beings. Yet, don't get too humble. God has a job for us.

Many of us can use this psalm to prod us or to assure us of the value of what we're trying to do--or, ought to be. We're responsible for maintaining, caring for, being responsible for, God's creations--human and earthly.

Lectio Divina: Psalm 8:3-8

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.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Prayer for New Year's Day

Creative God, you make all things new in heaven and on earth.
We come to you in a new year with new desires and old fears,
new decisions and old controversies,
new dreams and old weaknesses.
Because you are a God of hope,
we know that you create all the possibilities of the future.
Because you are a God of love,
we know that you accept all the mistakes of the past.
Because you are the God of our faith,
we enter your gates with thanksgiving and praise,
we come into your presence with gladness and a joyful noise,
and we serve and bless you. Amen.

(from Maren C. Tirabassi, the United Methodist Book of Worship, 294)

Save Your People, a Reflection on Jeremiah 31:7-14

Jeremiah is speaking to a people in exile, telling them--reminding them--what God can do, what God has done, what God will do.

"I will bring them back," God promises.

They are now scattered. They are far from home. And, then dislocation is more than geographic--among them are the blind and the lame. All will be brought home. They will once more be together, once more be at home.

Jeremiah describes the gifts of their new life--grain, wine, and oil. Party food, everyday food.

And, they will be happy about being home, about their food, and about being together.

Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem! Praise your God, O Zion!
For he strengthens the bars of your gates; he fills you with the finest of wheat.
He sends out his command to the earth; his word runs swiftly
.... (Psalm 147)

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Word Lived Among Us, a Reflection on John 1:10-18

Repeat from December 2008 The True Light, Reflection on John 1:1-14
.... I am pondering on verse 10, "He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him." Why did the world not know him? Has the world caught on yet?

I keep reading. Verse 11 says "He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him." Okay, many of the Jews of his day did not convert to Christianity. But, how many Christians of my own day really accept Christ? Do we show evidence of this acceptance by the way we live our lives?

"And the Word became flesh and lived among us," (v14). In their commentary, John, Gail R. O'Day and Susan E. Hylen point out something that I had totally missed--The use of first person pronouns--John intended for his readers--intends for his readers--to understand and accept that the Word is here--As O'Day and Hylen put it, "The eternal Word of verses 1-2 now completely enters the human and time-bound sphere by becoming flesh...The story of God and the Word is no longer a cosmic story, but is an intimately human story.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Offertory Prayers for January 2011

The GBOD of the UMC has Offertory Prayers for January 2011 written by by Betsy Schwarzentraub

The Word, a Reflection on John 1:1-9

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him.....

Excerpts from Boring & Craddock's People's New Testament Commentary:
The word "word," in Greek, logos, can be translated as speech, discourse, language, thought, reason, message, account, document, or book. The first hearers of John's gospel, being familiar with scripture (what Christians may call the Old Testament) would have associated the word of God with the creative Wisdom of God

The act of creation, the transmission of wisdom so that we may live in the world created by God, both are ways of understanding how God has and still interacts with this world.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Rachel Weeping for Her Children, Dream Act, a Reflection on Matthew 2:13-23

Long ago, parents carried their child to a foreign country hoping to protect his safety. When the imminent threat passed they were able to return home.

Today, many parents are still taking their children to places that seem safer for them than their birthplace.

In their new homes, the children grow up, go to school, volunteer for the military. And, in the U.S., some think that they should be given the opportunity to be citizens.

Dream Act,


Dream Acts fails.

"A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because they are no more

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Faith in spite of, a Reflection on Isaiah 63:7-9; Psalm 148; Hebrews 2:10-18

On the day we celebrate the Nativity and the blessings on our lives that have come to us, we also can admit that at times we haven't felt very blessed or secure or even free. Our faith does not in any way require us to pretend that we don't at times have fears or doubts.

Ronald Allen & Clark Williamson, in Preaching the Old Testament, discuss this reading from Isaiah who was speaking to people who had been allowed to return home from exile only to find their new lives there very difficult:
It is an almost inevitable part of the life of faith to feel abandoned by God. We do well to remember Martin Luther's insistence that our faith, hope, and trust in God are always "in spite of." We believe in spite our unbelief, trust in spite of our lack of trust, commit ourselves to live lives of faith in spite of our sins, and we hope against hope. At Christmas we celebrate the coming into the world of the Prince of Peace in spite of the absence of peace. We love the neighbor, in spite of the fact that many of the are homeless and we seem not to notice. To lament, at its deepest level is not to express a lack of faith. It is to confess faith in spite of the failures of faith. ...
As God has acted graciously on our behalf, so we too should act graciously, particularly when doing so does not seem reasonable. Radical love is what is called for.
God's love is a relational love that calls forth love in return. ....

and my former seminary professor John Holbert has a post The Hope of Divine Companionship as part of the Advent Series on the Patheos website. Here's an excerpt:
Poets exercise their huge imaginations to offer hope to those who have no hope. This God has acted throughout the long history of God's people, and the poet wishes to remind them of those actions for them, the chosen ones. So, he now "recounts the gracious deeds of YHWH, the praiseworthy acts of YHWH" (63:7ab). One could also translate these lines: "I will remember YHWH's acts of unbreakable love, YHWH's ringing hymns!" YHWH has acted and we have sung in response, because "of all YHWH has done for us, great good to the house of Israel that YHWH has shown according to God's mercy (compassion—Hebrew is literally 'womb'), according to the abundance of steadfast love (or "unbreakable love)" (63:7cd). The poet has here reached into the deep language of the very center of Israel's faith and is reminding them of God's good deeds from the foundation of the nation.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Responding, a reflection on Luke 2:8-20

Repeat from last year: 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?

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

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

Repeat from December 25, 2009:
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." On 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.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Hearing the News, a reflection on Luke 2:1-11; Titus 2:11-20

Repeat from 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, 2009, 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.

Another repeat:

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.

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?

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Grace and Apostleship We Have Received, a Reflection on Romans 1:1-7

How good a job did Paul do? How are we doing on that apostleship and obedience that we are called to exhibit?

I have been reading this year's Advent study, Blessings of the Manger by Jeanne Torrence Finley, and recommend that you do, too.

For example, here are some questions that she poses for us that arise from this reading from Romans:
Where are our loyalties, and how do they define us?
What do our checkbooks tell us about what we value and to whom we give our allegiance?
What do our to-do lists say about our loyalties? What do our calendars and appointments tell us about what we value most?

Saturday, December 18, 2010

We Will Call on Your Name, a Reflection on Psalm 80:17-19

I've been looking at these verses for a while this morning. I'm thinking about them as prayers by a people who had seen disaster, and in their distress, pled with God for help. I've considered what the compilers of the lectionary intended by using this psalm as a response to this week's reading from Isaiah. A child is promised, and, before that child grows up, the enemy will be defeated.

And, I'm reading these verses considering their message to a Christian in the fourth week of Advent. We are looking forward to the one whom God has made strong. We ask for and need to be restored, to be saved.

May we also pray sincerely the words, "We will never turn back from you; give us life, and we will call on your name."

We receive the rescue as a gift not as a reward for our efforts. Then we are able to respond to that gift.

Friday, December 17, 2010

When in Distress, a Reflection on Psalm 80:4-7

"O Lord God, how long will you be angry?" this psalm asks. This lament is rather frank--the people are unhappy, their neighbors have scorn for them, their enemies are laughing at them.

They admit their despair, not pretending that things are all right. But they don't accept it as permanent. They continue to pray:

Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Restore us, O God, a Reflection on Psalm 80:1-3

Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock! You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh. Store up your might, and come to save us! Restore us, O God; let your face shine that we may be saved.

We can read this ancient prayer and deduce the circumstances under which it was first voiced. We can think of times that the people of Israel depended on the guidance of the Lord as a flock of sheep depended on their shepherd. We recognize the names of Rachel's sons. We can recall the various times in their history that they were far from their homes or the times when they were at home but that home was under attack by enemies. And, recognizing and remembering their difficulties, we can recognize and remember that in those difficulties, they turned to the Lord for rescue.

We, their descendants, can also read this ancient prayer in the midst of our own contemporary disruptions and troubles. And, we, like them, can voice our recognition of the power and concern of God. And, we, like them, can gather to ask for God's help.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Christmas Communion

On his blog, United Methodist Worship, Mike Rayson offers A Christmas Communion with Musical Settings and Texts

A Sign, a Reflection on Isaiah 7:10-16

King Ahaz was more willing to trust the Assyrians than he was to believe that the Lord would save his country from invasion by Aram (2 Kings 16; Isaiah 7:-6).

The Lord spoke to this fearful king--please note that the threat he fears is real, that's he's not just timid. "Ask me for a sign," the Lord said. But Ahaz refused saying "I will not test the Lord." We can interpret his refusal as piousness or as an unwillingness to know what God wants him to do after he has already decided what's best.

The Lord gives him a sign anyway.

Ahaz had been focusing on kings and armies and enemies. Isaiah points his attention to a young woman who is about to bear a child, "She will name him Immanuel, God is with us. What you fear, you need no longer fear."

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Emmanuel, a Reflection on Matthew 1:22-25

The angel of the Lord told Joseph to name the child Jesus, a name that means "God saves." Matthew adds the quotation from Isaiah 7 that cites the announcement of a birth of a child centuries before that was to demonstrate the rescue of God's people.

Fred Craddock, in Preaching through the Christian Year A says:
Isaiah 7:14 was in its original context a promise and a fulfillment, and so is it here in a new setting. Here, however, the fulfillment is more broadly understood than in its context in Isaiah, for here the word "Emmanuel" capsules the central meaning of Jesus as son of David and Son of God: "God with us." That is the promise containing all promises, the fulfillment containing all fulfillments.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Mercy Over Literalism, a reflection on Matthew 1:18-21

Most of the images we hold in our heads--or in our hands--of the announcement of the impending birth of Jesus are of Mary, as we are told by Luke. I own and often look through a book that compiles paintings of the annunciation--and all of them are of Mary.

Matthew's gospel tells us more about Joseph.

When he found out that his betrothed, Mary, was pregnant, he knew quite well that he would not be the father of that child. Yet, he wanted to protect her to the extent possible. Rather than subject her to public disgrace, he decided to handle the situation as privately as possible.

The Lord sends him a message that changes his mind. Eugene Boring & Fred Craddock, in their People's New Testament Commentary say:
Matthew's main point is that Joseph the righteous man had already decided not to carry out the letter of the biblical and traditional law, but to act in mercy and preserve Mary's dignity with a quiet divorce. How it could be that a righteous person would not go by the written traditional law of God is a theme of Matthew's whole gospel, for the church to which he writes respects and affirms God's law, but no longer lives by it literally (see on Matt. 5:17-48).

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Be Patient, a Reflection on James 5:7-10

"Be patient," James says. And, if patience weren't hard enough, he then says, "Don't complain about each other."

When I think of when I have needed some patience this week, I'm thinking about how irritated I got when I was put on hold and had to listen to music I didn't like, or when there were lots of cars at the intersection when I wanted to be able to turn left immediately. But James is talking about a different situation that requires patience.

James is talking about our waiting, our anticipation, for the coming of the Lord. A farmer looks at the land where he's planted the crop. The crop's not showing yet. He's still waiting. But, as he waits, he is confident that rain will bring that crop up from the earth.

Beverly Gaventa, in Texts for Preaching, A Lectionary Commentary based on the NRSV-Year A expresses it this way:
Like the farmer who relies on God to send the needed rain (Deut. 11:14; Jer. 5:24; Zech 10:1), the faithful may and must rely on God. Patience derives from that certainty about God's protection.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Good News for Whom?, a reflection on Luke 1:52-55

Repeat from last year:
In her song again echoing Hannah's, Mary descrbies what God has already done. Notice how her song emphasizes 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 realize that both Jews and Muslims consider Abraham to be their ancestor as well?

Lectio Divina: Psalm 146:3-10:
Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom tjhere is no help.
When their breath departs, they return to the earth;
on that very day their plans perish.

Happy are those whose help is in the Lord their God,
who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them;
who executes justice for the oppressed;
who gives food to the hungry.

The Lord sets the prisoners free;
the Lord opens the eyes of the blind.
The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down'
the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the strangers;
he upholds the orphan and the widow,
but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.
The Lord will reign forever,

your God, O Zion, for all generations.
Praise the Lord!.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Response, a reflection on Luke 1:47-51

Repeat from last year:
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?

Lectio Divina: Psalm 146:1-2
Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord, O my soul!
I will praise the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praises to my God all my life long.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Homecoming, a Reflection on Isaiah 35:5-10

They knew despair, but they will know gladness. They have known drought, but they will know healing rain.

In despair because of military oppression or natural disaster, they can look forward to repair. "God will come to save you," Isaiah tells them. Peace restored. The land restored to bounty. And more. The blind will be able to see; the deaf, to hear; the lame, to leap like a deer; the speechless, to sing for joy.

What might have seemed ordinary has come to seem extraordinary. And it will be ordinary again. God's compassion is extensive.

Isaiah describes how nature will respond. No more drought but instead the burning sand will become a pool of water, springs will gush forth, the desert will be transformed into a field of reeds and rushes.

And, as rain returns to a barren land and transforms it into a livable place, the people will return also. As springs flow, so will God's people return to that land, return singing and rejoicing. The land of sorrow and sighing will be a place of peace and joy.

But, what do we do while we are waiting for this transformation? I'm reading in Advent this year, Blessings of the Manger, by Jeanne Torrence Finley:
In Advent, we reflect on these images from Isaiah and imagine ourselves waiting with Israel for an end to sorrow and sighing. When have we wandered in the wilderness and desert? What would it mean to find streams in the desert and blossoms in the dry land of our lives? How can we join God in the work of redemption? How can we be part of restoring sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, and voice to the speechless? How can we be part of God's saving purposes? This vision in Isaiah tells us what God loves and intends for all of creation, and the vision itself is a blessing that inspires us to participate in making that vision a reality.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Do Not Fear, a Reflection on Isaiah 35:1-4

It's Advent and the promises of good things to come are appropriate for us to ponder: "shall be glad," "shall rejoice and blossom," "the glory shall be given," and "shall see the glory."

Isaiah was speaking to a people who had known disastrous defeat. They had deserved punishment. But, even now, the Lord will provide a home for them (read Isaiah 34).

The promises of restoration begin with nature itself--blossoming of the desert. I grew up in a place without much rain so I can easily imagine the joy described, but I can also appropriate the image of the desert covered with crocus blossoms metaphorically. E.g., what would opportunities for jobs, better educational facilities, enhanced health care, and so on, do for the impoverished sections of the city in which I live and that I love?

Verses 1 and 2 are in the future tense. Verse 3 shifts to the imperative. "Strengthen make firm," "Tell them to be strong and not to fear." Weak hands and feeble knees also can be interpreted metaphorically. To accept those promises includes a willingness to be able to accept them--to be willing to accept them--to prepare oneself (or, as in my example, prepare the whole city).

And we are capable of this because we can believe the words of Isaiah as words coming to us in our time and in our troubles, that God is coming to save us.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Prophet Identification, a reflection on Matthew 11:7-11

Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John, "What did you go out to the wilderness to look at? What did you expect to see? What did you think a prophet would look like?" He questioned whether they were more impressed by rich people with fine clothes.

He then quoted Malachi, "See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me..." (3:1a). Malachi was prophesying that Elijah would return before the great day of the Lord (4:1-5).

What would Jesus say to us? Where are we looking for a prophet? What do we think a prophet looks like? What kind of buildings and clothes impress us? What kind of prophet did Herod want?

Monday, December 6, 2010

Are You the One Who Is to Come? a Reflection on Matthew 11:2-6

John has upset the ruling authorities to the extent that he has been put in prison (14:1-12). While there, he heard reports of what the Messiah was doing. John responds to these reports by sending word to Jesus, "Are you the one we have been expecting, or do we have to keep waiting?"

Look back at Matthew 3:1-17. John had been proclaiming the imminent coming of the one foretold by Isaiah. When Jesus had come to John to be baptized, at first John refused saying, "I need to be baptized by you," but agreed when Jesus assured him.

When John questions whether Jesus is the foretold Messiah, do we think that he wonders whether Jesus meets the expectations of what a messiah was supposed to do and be like, or do we think that he wonders whether they had the right expectations?

Jesus responded to the question about his identity by saying to John's disciples, "Go and tell him what you have witnessed, that the blind can see, the the lame can walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf can hear, and the poor have good news brought to them." Look at Isaiah 35 to see how this message would fulfill the prophecy.

What is it that we are expecting the Messiah to do for our world in our time? What signs would validate the identity of Christ for us? How concerned are we with other people's blindness, lameness, disease, etc.? Do we see the work of the Lord coming through those who care for the sick and the poor?

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Confirmation of the Promises, a Reflection on Romans 15:8-13

The Romans that Paul was writing to were Gentiles. Christ had come to confirm promises made to Jews. But, the benefits did not accrue solely to them. Paul says that Christ has come "and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy." Gentiles had not kept the Torah, did not even know what the Torah required; yet, Christ has come to show God's mercy.

Although Paul was writing to a largely Gentile audience, he still quotes Jewish scriptures:
Therefore I will confess you among the Gentiles, and sing praises to your name (see Psalm 49:1).
Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples praise him (see Psalm 117:1).
The root of Jesse shall come, the one who rises to rule the Gentiles; in him the Gentiles shall hope (see Isaiah 11:10).
[with thanks to the editors of the Wesley Study Bible for locating the sources for me]

One way we can read this passage is with satisfaction that we can be Christian without first having to be Jews. But, another way to read it is to consider who might be included in Christ's care other than whatever particular tight circle we inhabit.

That is, do we in the church consider that Christ's mercy to us is intended to be instructive to onlookers? How welcoming are to those outsiders anyway? How can we expect them to know what Christ has done if we are keeping it a secret in house anyway?

Paul's understanding was that God had always intended to include Gentiles. Who are today's Gentiles? How intentionally inclusive are we?

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Harmony, a Reflection on Romans 15:4-7

Do you ever say, "Well, somebody should have told me"? If you said it out loud, I'm guessing someone responded by saying, "We tried, but you weren't listening." Paul is reminding his readers that they have had lots of opportunities to know what to do.

"Scripture was written to teach you," and then he added, "Paying attention to scripture can give you what you need now--hope."

With attention to what had been taught, with hope for what was to come, they were instructed also in a necessity--to live in harmony with one another.

Their forming and maintaining a community was essential.

Look back at Romans 14 to see what the church was like. Then look around at your own congregation. How much harmony is there? How do you welcome visitors? How do you welcome those long-time members who hold opinions upsetting to you? How often do you even hear an upsetting opinion? Is it reassuring or disappointing to consider that we are to welcome each other just as Christ has welcomed each of us?

Friday, December 3, 2010

May the Lord's Glory Fill the Whole Earth, a Reflection on Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19

We can read this psalm in its historical context. A few kings had praise-worthy reigns. Most did not. Psalm 72 is a prayer that the new king will be one of those who carries out the role the way the Lord would have intended for a king to do.

And we can read this psalm in our own time and place. I am a citizen of a country that eschewed the monarchy over two centuries ago. But, the qualities of a king in this psalm are certainly the qualities we would pray for in our elected leaders.

I have done so myself. Several years ago, a member of the local church I was serving asked me to attend and say grace for a breakfast and for a mayoral candidate. Even though as a minister, I was not willing to make an endorsement in an election, I was and am willing to pray for leaders and prospective leaders. I read portions of this psalm before giving the blessing to the meal, including verses 1 through 4.

In Advent this week, we are reading this psalm in response to the description in Isaiah of the leader who is promised--and a description of what this leader's kingdom (I really ought to learn how to substitute "reign") will be like. The vision is one of peace, peace among natural enemies.

Psalm 72 asks that God give the king justice and righteousness. Note what righteousness means--defending the cause of the poor, giving deliverance to the needy, and crushing the oppressor.

In Advent, as we look forward to the coming of Christ, let us hope for, let us pray for a world in which the poor and needy are cared for and oppression is crushed.

And, while we are waiting, we need to assume some of these kingly responsibilities ourselves. The poor and needy don't need to be kept waiting. Neither does oppression.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Peaceable Kingdom, a Reflection on Isaiah 11:6-10

Isaiah describes what the kingdom ruled by this new king will be like. Peace among natural enemies. More than peace, harmony.

Edward Hicks painted the Peaceable Kingdom many, many times.

In an article, "Preaching the Advent Texts: Hope, Peace, Courage," in the Journal for Preachers, Advent 2010, John Buchanan writes:
Americans read the morning paper and hope that there hasn't been another suicide bomber, that a Palestinian rocket hasn't precipitated a deadly Israeli retaliation, that more beautiful young Americans have not died in Afghanistan. We live between yearning for peace and the reality of the world in the year of our Lord 2010. And the preacher's responsibility is to help the congregation remember the promise of Isaiah's vision and to point to signs, tiny green shoots sprouting in unlikely places--shoots of Jesse.
What gifts do we bring as peacemakers--in our world, our cities, our neighborhoods?
In what ways do you see God acting to make all things new?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Ideal King, a Reflection on Isaiah 11:1-5

Isaiah was speaking to people who were aware of the devastation that the powerful Assyria had deployed. Israel had been overtaken. Judah was under threat. Yet, the prophet speaks a message of hope (Read chapters 9 and 10).

Isaiah promised them a new king.

This king would be supported by the Lord:
The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.

The promised king would be an ideal king. A king who would be what kings should be. With his wisdom, understanding, counsel, knowledge, and fear of the Lord, this king would be a good judge. He would be fair to the poor and the meek. He would overcome the wicked.

Christians have long appropriated this vision of the ideal king to the messiah, Christ.

Questions to ask in Advent as we anticipate the coming of Christ:
Do we need a powerful monarch to enforce peace?
In what ways does this passage describe the church (after all, we think of the church as the body of Christ)?
Isaiah described the ideal king as caring for the poor and vulnerable. Do we see this as a necessary role for a ruler? for Christ? for the church?

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Even Now, a Reflection on Matthew 3:10-12

Those of us who are faithful churchgoers and Bible readers may get uncomfortable when we read John the Baptist's warnings to the studious and scrupulous leaders of that time. "Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire."

He said, "even now." Do we hear the "even now" to extend to our time? Is it still now?

During the season of Advent, we are contemplating the second coming; yet, the first coming gets most of the attention. What do we do with this ax and winnowing fork talk? What kind of trees are we? What is our fruit? Are we more wheat or chaff? Should we just hope that John is talking about pruning a few limbs but leaving the main tree standing, separating our bad parts from our good and tossing out the bad?

Here's what Fred Craddock has to say in Preaching through the Christian Year A:
Whereas Mark speaks only of a promised baptism with the Holy Spirit (1:8), Matthew has the stronger image of judgment in the phrase "with the Holy Spirit and fire" .... John's preaching makes it abundantly clear that one aspect of the Lord's Advent is the full revelation of the kind of persons we are and of the consequences of character and conduct that await us.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Offertory Prayers for December 2010

The GBOD has published Offertory Prayers for December written by David Bell.

December 5, 2010 -- Second Sunday of Advent
Lord of our life, the path to you is straight, yet we waiver in our behavior like the Pharisees and Sadducees. Our hopes and dreams often are self-serving and materialistic. We rush through this season, buying gifts that we hope will convey just the right message. However, you invite us to ask ourselves if we are equally as busy preparing messages that proclaim the good news to a hurting world. Through giving, remind us again, O God, of the baptismal covenant. This Advent, may we proclaim a message that is exemplified by our generosity, our kindness, and our prayers. In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen. (Matthew 3:1-12.)

December 12, 2010 -- Third Sunday of Advent
Redeeming God, you sent us your messenger, John the Baptist, to prepare our hearts and souls for the coming of Christ. Multiply these gifts to echo his message of your greatness and glory. Open our ears to the needs of your people shrouded in depression and despair. Use our voices to tell your stories and to lead others into the community of Christian fellowship. Let our actions of faithful giving be a beacon of our complete devotion to your guidance in our lives. We pray to your glory forever and ever. Amen. (Matthew 11:2-11.)

December 19, 2010 -- Fourth Sunday of Advent
Father, teach us how to listen for your call in our lives. Teach us how to be faithful stewards with the gifts you have entrusted to us. Teach us how to use this offering as a source of your ministry and mission. Teach us how to bow down on our knees and to spend time beholding the miracles all around us. In the name of the greatest teacher, Emmanuel, we pray. Amen. (Matthew 1:18-25.)

December 24, 2010 -- Christmas Eve
Glory to God in the highest heaven! We praise your name with our offerings and tithes. We give these gifts in recognition of Jesus, a tiny babe who from humble birth was created great in your light. Thank you, Gracious God, for pure, unbounded love wrapped in clothes laying in a manger -- a gift so great to share that it could not be contained. Let the joy we feel in our hearts overflow in unending praise. Amen. (Luke 2:1-14.)

December 26, 2010 -- First Sunday after Christmas
Compassionate God, your mercy and unfailing love are as constant as the rising sun. You offer us salvation and swaddle us in your Holy Word. You sent us the example of living and giving by sharing your son, Jesus Christ, and by asking us to follow his ways. We are now ready to follow those ways. We place upon your table the fruits of our labors as an outward sign of our commitment to your bounteous grace. We pray in the name of the one born in a stable, Emmanuel, God with us. Amen. (Matthew 2:13-23.)

Written by David S. Bell, Vice-President of Stewardship with the United Methodist Foundation of Michigan and Senior Design Partner with Design Group International™. You may contact him by visiting

Copyright © 2010 David S. Bell. Used with permission. Any local church, regardless of denominational affiliation, or any United Methodist organization may reprint any or all of these prayers provided that the author is cited.

Interested in reprinting this item? Please read Copyrights & Permissions

Repent, Yes, You, Too, a Reflection on Matthew 3:1-9

We are in the time that the church calendar has designated as Advent. Advent, waiting for an arrival. Remembering the birth of a baby and anticipating the return of our Savior. Advent.

While we are waiting, we read this passage from Matthew.

John the Baptist preached repentance. In looking forward, they also were looking back. John and his appearance and his words recalled for them the prophet of an earlier time, Isaiah, who had also preached repentance and hope.

John was addressing people who were living geographically in the land promised to them, but the conquering Roman army was occupying that land. John preaches to them that the kingdom of heaven has come near. Many are listening and responding. They come from the city of Jerusalem and from all over the country to hear John and to be baptized by him.

To summarize, so far: John preached. People responded.

Matthew tells us that among the crowds that came to hear John and be baptized by him, some religious leaders also showed up. John addressed them sharply, calling them names. Look back at Isaiah 28 to read judgment on the corrupt rulers, priests, and prophets of his time--and, to John's time, and, to ours.

Charles Cousar, Texts for Preaching, A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV-Year A:
What John attacks is the presumptuousness of the Pharisees and Sadducees. The prophet had written, "look to the rock from which you were hewn...Look to Abraham your father" (Isa 51:1-2). The problem was that the rock had become something behind which to hide, a place of supposed protection, a spot of security. John challenges the privileged position claimed by the Pharisees and Saducees...Repentance has to do not only with remorse over past failures, but also with a new heart and a changed life...

Sunday, November 28, 2010

It's Time to Wake Up, a Reflection on Romans 13:11-14

Advent theme: It's time to wake up.

"The night is far gone, the day is near."

Then he describes behaviors that we might have indulged in if we thought nobody could see--reveling, drunkenness, debauchery, and licentiousness.

It's time to wake up. It's time to live in the light. Those dishonorable actions of ours weren't really hidden by the dark no matter how we might have thought that they were.

And then, for those who may pride themselves on not being reveling drunks, Paul adds a couple more behaviors to give up--quarreling and jealousy. Two more activities that the dark does not hide. I'm trying to imagine a world in which we had something like AA but for people who were addicted to quarreling or jealousy. Or, do we already have such an organization, and we just need to pay attention?

It's time to wake up.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

A Song for Pilgrims, a Reflection on Psalm 122

In this week's passage from Isaiah, we looked back at a time of upheaval and fear and heard words of promise--along with a call to repentance. Isaiah told them what the future was to be--the restoration of place and, moreover, in that place, a life of peace among all people.

We read these ancient prophecies and hear them new for us. We remember what God has provided for us and look forward to a realization of hopes and peace.

Psalm 122 is the lectionary response to the reading from Isaiah.

It begins with an expression of gratitude to be able to go into Jerusalem. We modern day Christians can read this as a reminder of what God did long ago, and we can read these words as a reminder of what God is still doing and will do.

What is our Jerusalem? Where do we see ourselves gathered in worship? Do we visualize this place as one with many kinds of people gathering?

And, there, what do we pray for?

And, having prayed, what do we do when we leave our places of worship? Whose good are we seeking?

Friday, November 26, 2010

Repentance and Promise, a Reflection on Isaiah 2:1-5

Isaiah lived in a time when his nation was under threat--and a time when the leaders and the people of the nation had not been following the instruction of the Lord. Having called the powerful to repentance, the prophet also offers hope to the fearful.

In the season of Advent, we are remembering the birth of the Christ child and we are looking forward to the Second Coming, with the realization of a world like the one described by Isaiah. We are looking back, looking around, and looking forward.

Questions to consider as you read the text:

v1, What new thing have you seen--something that was totally unexpected?
Can you hope for something without working for it?

v2, What parallels do you see between the highest mountain and our places of worship?

v3, Why do we go to church?

v4, How important is the prophecy of peace for us? Do we think we are judged on basis of whether we are will to go to war?

v5, What does the phrase "walk in the light of the Lord" mean to you?

Is this passage from Isaiah about them and then, us now, or us someday?

In his article, "Preaching the Advent Texts: Hope, Peace, Courage," in the Journal for Preachers, Advent 2010, John Buchanan writes:
We know how the story of human history ends--with God's creation healed, whole, and all of God's people, at last, living together in justice and compassion and peace. Advent hope lives in the midst of darkness in every age. It will not be defeated, silenced, or extinguished. The light that is coming into the world shines in the darkness, after all, and the darkness has not and will not overcome it.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

A Day of Thanksgiving, a reflection on John 6:25-36 and Philippians 4:4-7

These readings selected for Thanksgiving Day have also been in the lectionary on other occasions.

Repeat from July 2009: True Bread, a Reflection on John 6:28-35
Jesus has told them that they need to work for a different goal.

Both are important--work and what they are supposed to work for.

Their work is to believe. Believe--how hard is that? Believe--is it possible? Believe--does he mean creed or something else?

The goal is bread. And they want it. They ask how they can get this true bread from heaven. Jesus says, "You've already got it. I am the bread of life."

This passage is raising a lot of uncomfortable questions for me today: Why do I go to church? What do I pray about? What am I working for? How do I know if I have passed the "believe" requirement. Am I looking for a sign? And most disturbing, what do I do with verse 35? I know that hunger and thirst exist, and I know that good, believing people are among the hungry and thirsty. And I know that I don't want to metaphorize the terms completely.


Menus, a Reflection on John 6:24-27
Why do we go to church? What do we expect to get out of it?

Or, what methods do we use to try to get other people to join our church? What do we think motivates them?

Jesus told the crowds that day, "You've come because I provided food for you."

He adds, "You're searching for the wrong kind of food. Church suppers are great, but you'll still want breakfast the next morning."

Yet, I don't think he is disparaging typical church evangelistic efforts. We do want to get people in the doors. But, once inside, they need to know more.


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?

The Vanderbilt Divinity Library offers Prayers for Thanksgiving Day including this one:

O God,
in your Son Jesus Christ
you richly bless us with all that we need,
bread from the earth and the bread of heaven,
which gives life to the world.
Grant us one thing more:
grateful hearts to sing your praise,
in this world and the world to come. Amen.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Offertory Prayers for November 28, First Sunday of Advent

God of the Advent, as we joyfully enter this time of waiting, we feel nestled and safe in your everlasting peace. You have taught us the paths and choices that lead to being in your Temple. We wait, hushed in anticipation of the coming of your son. He serves as the guide of our lives and the shepherd of our souls. We hope to emulate his generosity and compassion as we share these gifts. Use these gifts so others can be blanketed with the warmth of your unconditional love, like a newborn baby wrapped in the loving arms of a parent. Amen. (Isaiah 2:1-5.)

Written by David S. Bell, former Director of Stewardship with GBOD. He currently serves as Vice-President of Stewardship with the United Methodist Foundation of Michigan. You may contact him by visiting

Copyright © 2010 David S. Bell. Any local church, regardless of denominational affiliation, or any United Methodist organization may reprint any or all of these prayers provided that the author is cited.

Thankfulness, a reflection on Psalm 100

For Thanksgiving day, the psalm responding to the reading from Deuteronomy is 100. Go to Jack and Lauri Marti or the Norfolk State University Concert Choir sing Psalm 100.

Here's a repeat of a discussion of this psalm I posted in June, 2008 (not Thanksgiving Day but any day is a day for us to be thankful.

Reading Psalm 100 and asking Who? and Where?
I once asked a group of church-goers what scripture they had memorized. Several named Psalm 100. I was not surprised because when I was a child I had been encouraged to learn this psalm either at Sunday School or Vacation Bible School.

I don't know what I made of that phrase "all the earth" when I was trying to memorize Psalm 100. I'm not even sure if I learned it in the NRSV or KJ. I'm not sure what I mean by it when I say it today. Who is being called to make this joyful noise? Am I recognizing Christians in other countries? Am I including Jews? What about Muslims? What about everybody else, those who don't descend from Abraham?

What do I think about "his gates"? Am I restricting the meaning of this phrase to church buildings (and synagogues and mosques)? Can God's gates include somewhere outside the church building? That is, am I restricting worship to a kind of formal space?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Gift that God Has Given Us, a reflection on Deuteronomy 26:1-5

We in the United States will celebrate Thanksgiving Day this Thursday. For help in planning, see the GBOD website for lectionary notes and lists of other sources. Here's an excerpt:
What feeds your soul?
It is no secret that many of us are driven by a soul-hunger almost impossible to articulate. The Thanksgiving holiday has, unfortunately, become a time to stuff ourselves with what we thought we wanted, while often neglecting what we need most -- Bread from heaven. Jesus declared himself to be the Bread of Life (verse 35), sent from heaven to satisfy the longings of the human soul (33). Have we discovered that God has provided both food and drink for the hunger and thirst of our souls?
When You Get There, a Reflection on Deuteronomy 26:1-5
The book of Deuteronomy as we have it is a reshaping of Moses' words in light of the later experience of exile. We read of the hope that Moses was sharing and realize that, even after failure and loss, we are still offered hope.

The passage begins, "When you have come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you..." We aren't where we want to be, but Moses says that we're going to be.

A second point that was true for Moses' first audience, for the readers of the compiled Deuteronomy, and then for us as well: we won't get there by ourselves--we are going as a congregation, and the achievement is not due solely to our own efforts; rather, the Lord God is making a gift.

Now, what are we supposed to do with this gift? Not hide it or hoard it. Rather than ownership, we have assumed something more like trusteeship. We are supposed to use this gift to continue God's work.

In Moses' time, the distribution was through the priests. We still use the church as one of our conduits.

And not just do it--Moses commands us to say what we are doing, and why.

I'm trying to imagine a church service at offering time when all of us sitting in the pews might say something--either individually or together--as we put our money in the plate. Once again, I am grateful for the choir who takes care of this part for us. Yet, I can't quit wondering what I would say to help me remember that it is God's gift to me that I am sharing with others that day.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Be Ready, a Reflection on Matthew 24:36-44

We begin the season of Advent by contemplating the second coming. Jews had been awaiting the coming of the Messiah. The early Christians identify Christ as the Messiah had expected him to return in their lifetimes.

In speaking to them, Matthew is addressing our needs and concerns as well. "No one knows when; so, stay ready."

Jewish hope and Christian hope had (can I say "has"?) been for a Messiah to come to rescue them from their earthly enemies and troubles by setting things right. No more war. No more poverty. No more oppression. No more sin.

If we think that the Messiah is coming immediately and will end the world as we know it, we might be tempted just to sit around and wait for that event. But, that attitude might interfere with our living our lives the way God intends.

With the rescue, Matthew ties in judgment. He cites the examples of many who had been living lives not in accordance with the ways of the Lord. He warns, "If they had known when, they would have prepared; so, you be ready."

Someone once told me the difference between prophetic and apocalyptic texts is that prophecy is telling us to change, but apocalypse is saying that it's too late to do anything about it, just hold on, it's almost over. Then someone else later told me that the prophets were also calling for perseverance and the apocalyptics were also calling for repentance. Whoever is right about that, I am hearing both repentance and perseverance in Matthew's text. And, I think both attitudes are appropriate for us to assume in Advent.

After writing all this, I discovered a better commentary in, WUMFSA Advent Reflections 2010 offered by Wesley White through his Kairos CoMotion page.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Reign of Christ, a Reflection on Colossians 1:11-20

Russell Rathbun writes in his regularly excellent blog, The Hardest Question,
I like this text’s unshrinking dismissal of any power or authority other than that which proceeds from the Living God. This dismissal is not just about the world to come, or some kind of non-material after life, but is embedded in the blood and earth and death and life of the now.
I long for the reassurance that God, whom I have long been convinced has redeemed my soul, also redeems a living breathing us, freeing us in the midst of our cultural and political context.

Repeat from July 11
Prayer for Wisdom and Strength, a Reflection on Colossians 1:7-14
Paul and Timothy (or perhaps other apostles writing in their names) give words to prayers of gratitude and of hope for the Colossians. As we read the prayer, we can think about our own congregations--how we originated, what gifts we exhibit and share, and what problems we face.

Paul prays that they will be filled with the knowledge of God' will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And he adds to this request the reason for it--so that they may lead lives worthy of the Lord, so that they may bear fruit in every good work.

But, he explicitly includes the recognition that wisdom and work will not preclude pain. Not preclude but means to overcome.

God has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of Christ in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
Repeat from July 18:
Provided that, a Reflection on Colossians 1:15-28
Last week's passage from Colossians ended with the reminder that God has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the beloved Son, in whom we have redemption and the forgiveness of sins. Let us recognize that in order to need either redemption or forgiveness, we have been spending some time in the wrong kingdom.

This week's passage says more about the Son of God--the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation, before all things and in him all things hold together.

[Tangent: I'm reading from the NRSV in which all of this is laid out in prose. Other translations present this passage as a hymn. I suppose the difference would affect whether I read this as Paul's original ideas or Paul's reminding the Colossians of something of which they were quite aware.]

In any case, we who came after them may read these lines as references to the Trinity. I had, anyway. Then, today, I read what was to me a new idea in Ronald Allen & Clark Williamson's Preaching the Letters without Dismissing the Law:
An example of a wisdom hymn or saying in Judaism regarding Woman Wisdom read, "She is a reflection of eternal light, a spotless mirror of the working of God, and an image of his goodness" (Wisdom 7:26); and Wisdom herself claims, "Before the ages, in the beginning, he created me" (Sirach 24:9)...The church expressed its faith in the language of Israel's Scriptures.

According to Allen & Williamson, the term translated as "image" is in Greek, "eikon" connotes agency. Christ is the way that an invisible God can be disclosed to us. Further, as the firstborn, Christ "reveals not only God to us but humankind as well..." (15-21)

Back to the "in him all things hold together": the reconciliation came through the blood of his cross. We have been made holy and blameless and irreproachable (22).

Yet, we need to live up to the image that Christ provides for us. Paul adds "provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you have heard...." (23).

Paul is writing to an ancient congregation reassuring them and warning them, and his words still apply to us. Our congregation have their origin in the gospel, we are living out the image of God in our communities, we are held together by Christ, and we also need to be reminded that if our congregation begins to neglect our faith's requirements, then we will inevitably start to dissolve. Shifting from Christ to anything else would change what we would do, what we would be capable of doing.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

God is our refuge and strength, a reflection on Psalm 46

Psalm 46 recognizes that life does have pain and disruptions. It speaks of disruptions in nature and among people. Mountains tumble into the sea because of earthquakes. Nations fall to attack by enemies.

Yet, in times of affliction, we have the comfort of the presence of God.

Listen to the comfort of Psalm 46.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Into the Way of Peace, a Reflection on Luke 1:68-75

Repeat from DECEMBER 3, 2009
The Benedictus,
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 until 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

On this Sunday when we focus on the Reign of Christ, we hear the words given by the Holy Spirit to Zechariah and Elizabeth's son, the one we call John the Baptist:
And you child, will be called the prophet of the Most High: for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins.

The Holy Spirit also told what was to be for these forgiven people. They had been living in darkness, afraid of death. Now the light from the Lord would guide their feet into the way of peace.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Justice, Righteousness, and Safety, a Reflection on Jeremiah 23:5-6

Jeremiah was writing to a nation undergoing great turmoil and spoke words of promise giving them hope. Christians read this prophecy and adapt it to our own times.

Gene Tucker in Preaching through the Christian Year C:
Although the king is a ideal one, the promise is rooted in flesh and blood and history. This is the promise that the earliest followers of Jesus saw fulfilled in him, the divine will incarnate. Theologically, the Old Testament text enables us to keep our eyes fixed on two points also fundamental to the New Testament witness: the humanity of the Anointed One, and the faith that through him Christ is at work.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Judgment and Salvation, a Reflection on Jeremiah 23:1-4

Jeremiah had been commanded by the Lord to speak to the king, "Act with justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor anyone who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the alien, the orphan, and the widow; or shed innocent blood in this place" (Jeremiah 22:1-5). King after king has failed rule as they should have. Rather than care for the welfare of the people, they have built up their own wealth.

The Lord is ready to take action against these injustices, "Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture. So I will attend to you for your evil doings."

Persons of wealth, persons in positions of authority had forgotten what the Lord had expected of them, had forgotten that the wealth and authority was not solely for their own benefit but was intended to be used to care for the poor, the powerless, the stranger.

In the time of Jeremiah, Babylon invaded Judah, destroying Jerusalem and taking many into exile. But, destruction and exile, though deserved, are not to be the end. The Lord promises to regather them and to install new shepherds for them.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Somebody finally realizes, a Reflection on Luke 23:39-43

The authorities had condemned him to a humiliating, painful death. Many onlookers had just watched--not voicing agreement with what was happening but saying nothing in protest. But other witnesses, powerful people and soldiers, had mocked him. Even one of the criminals condemned to the same punishment derided him in the same terms as the others had, "If you're the Messiah, then start saving."

The first dissenter to the scoffing and mocking is the other criminal who is being crucified with him that day. "We deserve this punishment because we have done what they have accused us of doing. This man has done nothing wrong." He then addresses Jesus directly, "Remember me when you come into your kingdom"

Jesus had not responded to the leaders or soldiers or the criminal who kept deriding him. But, he does respond now, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise." Jesus has not done anything to prevent his death that day, but death is not the end of life.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Recommended blog for this week

In his blog The Hardest Question, Russell Rathbun ponders what he terms as the beautifully problematic feast day, in his discussion of this week's gospel reading, Luke 23:33-43.

Reign of Christ

Check out the Text This Week website for resources for Christ the King/Reign of Christ Sunday.

Mockery, a Reflection on Luke 23:33-38

The leaders scoffed, "Let him save himself if he's the Messiah." The soldiers also mocked him, "If you are the King, then save yourself." Their point--since he was being crucified, then just how powerful could he be?

Allen & Williamson in Preaching the Gospel remind us that Jesus never claimed to be the Messiah or the King of the Jews. Rather, he spoke of himself as the "Son of Man" and of the kingdom of God:
But Luke's leaders and soldiers misunderstand salvation, seeing it entirely in terms of the continuation of life or military "liberation" and not as the restoration of people Israel through forgiving of sins, including the marginalized, feeding the hungry, or dying the death of a martyr, a witness, to all of these.

Those long-ago leaders and soldiers thought that anyone who couldn't stop his own death sentence must not have much power. We might ask ourselves what is proof to us of power? what goals do we think the powerful should have? And, we might also ask what salvation means to us--whether it can begin only after we die or whether it can start right here, right now.

Also we might consider what kind of people, what kind of actions that we make fun of.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Not To Do List, a Reflection on 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13

We need to think about the then-and-now setting for this passage. Then, Christians were expecting the imminent return of Christ to issue in the final days. Why work, why do anything tedious when the whole world was going to undergo great transformation soon? Why not just sit back and do nothing while waiting for Christ to come handle stuff for us? Well, Paul said, "Don't be idle and don't associate with idlers."

Our expectation of the eschaton has changed over the millenia. How does Paul's advice fit our modern lives?

One school of thought is to think about what behavior and beliefs aid the work and continuity of the congregation. What are the minimum entrance requirements? What actions would lead to a person's being ejected from church membership? What actions not taken would? Does each member have to do some of the church work? What portion of income or wealth is a person required to contribute? And so on with questions that I'm supposing that very few church congregations consider.

Paul was concerned with how the church appeared to pagans. Are we worried about a modern-day equivalent to that? Paul criticized busybodies--what should today's church do to change the behavior and attitude of our busybodies?

Warning from Carl R. Halladay in Preaching through the Christian Year C:
In the wrong hands, this text can easily become a club used to beat those who are out of work, especially the long-term unemployed. Clearly, if we are idle and remain idle, for no good reason, we come under the censure of this text. Paul's example also serves as a worthwhile corrective to the 9-to-5 ministry. As we know, genuine ministry often involves us in round-the-clock work. People in need do not punch a clock. But perhaps one of the most important dimensions of this text is its insistence that we best prepare for the end time not by being idle but by working and earning our own living.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Comfort and Praise, a Reflection on Isaiah 12

Scholars believe that the first thirty-nine chapters of the book of Isaiah were written during the 8th century, a traumatic time for that part of the world. Isaiah lived in Jerusalem during the time that the Assyrians were expanding their empire--invading nations and taking them over, forcing them to pay tribute to the Assyrians so they could continue their expansion. The Northern Kingdom, Israel, was overtaken by the Assyrians in 722. Although the Southern Kingdom, Judah, escaped being destroyed by the Assyrians, they had their own disruptions. The rich began to accumulate large estates and appropriating much wealth for themselves leading to the impoverishment of the poor (Read Chapter 3, for example.) Yet, Isaiah could see a peaceful, harmonious future for them (Read Chapters 10 and 11). They will have a new beginning, one that will be for them like their new beginning made possible when through the help of the Lord, Moses had led them across the sea to escape from the Egyptians.

Chapter 12 is a psalm describing what the people of Judah will experience when the Lord delivers them from their suffering.

The people will recognize and admit that they have sinned and have deserved to be punished. Yet, God does not stay angry with them. God replaces anger with consolation. The people have been afraid, but they will replace their fear with trust in God.

When they recognize the comfort that God offers them and they are able to trust, then they will be able to express their gratitude to God. Isaiah calls on them to tell others about the deeds that God has accomplished for them--and that God is still with them, living in their midst.

In his commentary, Isaiah 1-39, Walter Brueggemann says:
Chapters 1-12 have uttered Jerusalem to its sorry judgment and have imagined Israel in the nadir of its existnece, due to its recalcitrance. None of this is here denied. But if these chapters constitute an intentional unit, then it is important that israel's final word is praise and thanks. That is because Yahweh's final act is not wrath but comfort. Yahweh does indeed do harsh work. In the end, however, Yahweh will do otherwise. Yahweh will give an abundant life. Of this, Isael must sing. To this, all the others are invited as well.

We Christians are reading this oracle by Isaiah during our own time of disruption, fully recognizing how much of the pain we experience is the result of our own sinning. And we can continue to rely on the nature of God, a God who will bring comfort to our lives. Let us also respond to the gifts that God has given us by singing praise.

Friday, November 12, 2010

A New Earth, a Reflection on Isaiah 65:17-25

Internal conversation I had with myself: How do we read this passage? Is it about heaven? Being about just heaven doesn't fit. But, if it's about life here on earth, is it realistic? Are we able to believe such promises? We can testify that the calamities that existed in Isaiah's times persist into ours; e.g., infant mortality, theft and usurpations, and, in the U.S., economic disruptions that have caused great losses in retirement accounts by many and great difficulty in acquiring resources by others who had not been able to accumulate much during the time of national prosperity.

The words from Isaiah call us to rejoice and promise long life, economic stability, and blessings. And peace. Creatures that are natural enemies will live together in peace.

Walter Brueggemann, in his Westminster Bible Companion on Isaiah 40-66 says:
This poet, and the Isaiah tradition more generally, knows that Yahweh's coming newness is not contained within our present notions of the possible. And although the work of urbanization is hard and daily and concrete, that work is situated in a vision unscarred. What this poet imagines for his treasured city, the subsequent people of faith have regularly entertained as a promise over every failed city. Here the old city is submitted to the wonder of the creator, the one who makes all things new.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Judgment is Coming, a Reflection on Psalm 98

In this week's gospel lection, Jesus tells them about destruction that is coming and what their response should be, "This will give you an opportunity to testify....I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict." He tells them that even their families and friends may betray them. The lesson from Malachi also faces the reality that believers may undergo pain and destruction.

From Luke and Malachi, we also get assurances that the Lord will be with us through our times of loss and pain.

Psalm 98 is a call to all of us to give thanks to the Lord who has done marvelous things for us, whose love has remained steadfast and faithful. And not just us few gathered in worship centers many weeks a year. All the earth is to sing praises to the Lord. All the earth.
Let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
the world and those who live in it.
Let the floods clap their hands;
let the hills sing together for joy
at the presences of the Lord

Psalm 98 has appeared in the lectionary several times this year--including last week. What makes it particularly appropriate in this penultimate week of the Christian year is its attention to the eschaton, the time of final judgment:
for he is coming to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with righteousness,
and the peoples with equity.

We might consider how pleased or how irritated we are with the thought that the Lord is interested in everyone, not just the people who are in our particular denomination. We also might consider whether we are living lives that encourage our being comforted by the idea of judgement with righteousness and equity.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Day is Coming, a Reflection on Malachi 4:1-2a

In the gospel lesson this week, they are looking at the temple, talking about its significance. Not only was it adorned with beautiful stones but it was the place where people could bring gifts to God. Jesus warned them that the temple was soon to be destroyed.

Five centuries earlier, Malachi (since the word means messenger, we can't be sure if Malachi is a prophet's name or a description of his function) spoke to the faithful remnant--or, perhaps to the first returning exiles. He told them that they needed to change a lot of things from the ways they had been behaving before the destruction by Assyria of Jerusalem and the temple, "You have not been faithful in worship or in your dealings with each other. Repent."

In the passage from this week's lectionary, Malachi warns that the Day of the Lord is coming and that this arrival is not good news for evildoers. But, he promises that those who have been faithful will be rewarded.

At the time of exile, they could look back and contemplate rather they really had spent much effort on caring for widows and orphans, or being honest in business, and worrying about the welfare of the stranger. And at the time of Jesus, they also could also review whether they had followed those commands of the Lord or whether they had focused more on their own welfare. And, of course, here we are, with the same opportunities and temptations.

Jesus said, "For some of you, the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings." Here's what Allen & Williamson, In Preaching the Old Testament, say about this assurance:
The good news in Malachi is that, although we sin long and hard, God never gives up on us. God's steadfast love is an adamant love, a love that will not let us go....

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Endurance, a Reflection on Luke 21:12-21

After listing the portents of the end--war, earthquakes, heavenly signs, Jesus warned them that before those disruptions would come arrests and persecution for them. The first hearers of Luke's gospel would have been witnesses to the disruptions both within the synagogues and with the Romans whose government and army occupied and controlled their nation.

Jesus said, "Your arrests will give you the opportunity to testify. You don't need to worry about what you are going to say because I will give you the words and wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict."

They are not to take this as an assurance that nothing bad was going to happen to any of them. They are not exempt from suffering. Rather, some of them were going to be betrayed by relatives and friends, some of them were going to be put to death, they were going to face hatred because of their loyalty to him.

Yet, he added, "But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls." Historically, tribulation did befall the early church. And, historically, God has continued to support the community through conflict--internal and external. Sharon Ringe in her commentary on Luke writes:
Even a false assurance (21:18)--for many would indeed suffer harm--echoes an earlier word of comfort (12:7). The final promise is not that they will be spared the suffering, but rather that their hope lies in endurance (21:19)--standing firm and refusing to give in to the evil around them.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Signs of the End, a Reflection on Luke 21:5-11

They are talking about the temple, how beautiful it is--beautiful to see and beautiful in purpose. Then Jesus announces to them that one day this temple will be destroyed.

Those listening to him that day would have known about the destruction of the first temple and the pain and disruption of the exile that the destruction had signaled. Those would have read the words that the prophets had used to call the people to repentance and change and the accusations and sorrow that followed when they did not.

They responded to his announcement by asking "How will we know when this is going to happen?"

Jesus cautioned them not to be misled by some who would claim to be coming in his name. Still good advice. Then he told them what signs would foretell the end: Wars and insurrections, natural disasters, and great signs from heaven.

With help from Allen & Williamson's Preaching the Gospels, here are several texts that would be useful for background reading:

God destroyed the first temple because of Israel's unfaithfulness, Jeremiah 7:1-14
Signs of tribulation, 2 Chronicles 15:5-6; Daniel 11:20-44.
Elements of nature--earthquakes, famines, plagues, and astrological signals, Haggai 2:6; Zechariah 14:5

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Stand Firm, Hold Fast, a Reflection on 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17

The Christian Year begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas with the season of Advent--this year, November 28. This period in the Christian calendar is more complicated that just waiting for Christmas, and I'll write a lot about this later. But for now, the weeks before Advent, the lectionary focuses on eschatology--end times, second coming, or the coming reign of God.

This week's lesson from 2 Thessalonians was written to caution those new Christians not to be unduly disturbed by what had to happen before the culmination and what was required while waiting.

Waiting was not, and still isn't, easy, especially when the waiting is taking place during times of disturbance. In this year's edition of The Upper Room Disciplines, Bishop Gregory Palmer writes:
When change, fear, or anxiety come, we must keep this in mind: God's great love, God's salvation, and God's faithfulness will lead us to confidence, growth, and the peace that abides in God's arms. Our purpose does not change. The tools we employ may vary. But our purpose--to be a sign of God's love and reign in this world--is unchanging.

BTW: Next year's book of daily devotions is already available, Disciplines 2011.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Sing to the Lord a new song, a reflection on Psalm 98

One time when someone in the congregation complained about having to sing unfamiliar hymns, I told her that the Bible told us to and quoted Psalm 98:1, "Sing to the Lord a new song." Yes, I know that was snarky, but, I was kind often enough that they put up with me when I wasn't.

And, I wasn't just being snarky--this psalm does call us to newness. Every day, we have something to be grateful for that day. God has led us to a new victory over new problems.

The psalms include many laments which is appropriate since we find so many situations in our lives as individuals and our life in community to times of despair, fear, and need. Yet, the psalms also include praise and thanksgiving. As we read this week's lesson from Haggai, we can remember their pain at losing their country and their frustration at the length of time it was taking to reform their nation even after they had been granted release from their enemies. Yet, they turned to God, worked to rebuild their temple as the place where they could focus and proclaim their gratitude.

Let us continue to practice gratitude to God by singing the phrases of Psalm 98:
Shout with joy to the Lord,
all you lands;
lift up your voice, rejoice and sing.

Christ Church, Moscow Idaho sings Psalm 98.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Great is the Lord, a Reflection on Psalm 145:1-5, 17-21

If you have trouble finding words for prayer then consider Psalm 145 as a guide. And, if you aren't having any trouble finding words, you might consider it anyway. This psalm is a song of praise to God.
Every day I will bless you,
and praise your name forever and ever.
Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised

It reminds us to think about God and remember that so many have helped us to know about God and because they they shared with us we are not to keep those thoughts to ourselves:
One generation shall laud your works to another,
and shall declare your mighty acts.
On the glorious splendor of your majesty,
and on your works, I will meditate.

We are part of a long line of worshippers who have praised God, learned about God's care, and told others:
My mouth will speak the praise of the Lord,
and all flesh will bless his holy name foever and ever.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Take Courage, I Am with You, reflection on Haggai 2:1-9

Historical context: Judah's rebellion against the Babylonian empire resulted in an overwhelming defeat. The center of government, Jerusalem, fell, many people were taken into exile, and the Temple, the center of worship, was destroyed. Almost 50 years later, Persia defeated Babylon, and allowed the people to go back to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple (from commentary in The Jewish Study Bible.)

The word of the Lord came to the prophet Haggai, "Tell the governor and the high priest and the remnant of the people that are left to remember the greatness of the Temple and to look at the rubble it was turned into."

Being faithful does not mean ignoring pain or defeat.

But, in their case, just looking and grieving was not all that the Lord had in mind for them. "Tell them: take courage, I am with you. I was with you when you came out of Egypt. I am with you now. Things are going to get better for you. Rebuild the temple."

No, the church is not a building, but gathering to worship is essential for the church. So, the building that houses that place is important. Many of the prophets had scorn for the temple and what went on there, but none of the prophets can be interpreted to mean that right worship is anything but right--and since the building is the place, then we who gather there should in all ways think and act as God's people.

Interesting sideline (also from JSB): The Lord promises that gold and silver from all over is going to come to Jerusalem. But, note that this treasure is not intended to enrich individuals; rather, it is the Lord's.

A portion of this passage is quoted in Handel's Messiah: Thus Sayeth the Lord

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A Plea for Protection, a Reflection on Psalm 17:1-9

The psalmist asks for deliverance, and backs up the request by asserting his innocence. Thus, this psalm does fit the situation of Job. However, I can't help but wonder at least a little if it applies to me when I am in trouble. How often have I contributed to whatever particular difficulty that I find myself in?

So, I'm not sure that in every case, every day that I can say that there's no wickedness in me, that my mouth hasn't transgressed, that my feet have never slipped.

Yet, beginning in verse 6, I find the words ones that I can more honestly pray,
I call upon you, for you will answer me, O God;
incline your ear to me, hear my words.

Wondrously show your steadfast love,
O savior of those who seek refuge
from their adversaries at your right hand.

The psalmist, although in great difficulty, is confident that God will always love and, in that confidence, turns for help.

Guard me as the apple of the eye;
hide me in the shadow of your wings,
from the wicked who despoil me,
my deadly enemies who surround me.

In the notes for Psalm 17 in the Wesley Study Bible, I learned that Charles Wesley had used the image of God protecting the psalmist with his wings in the hymn, Jesus, Lover of My Soul.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

I Know My Redeemers Live, Reflection on Job 19:23-27a

Job had replied to those who had been reproaching him, "How long will you torment me?" He recounted a list of people who had failed him, forgotten him, despised him. Attacks. Laments.

Then this. Job speaks confidently that he will be rescued and that he will be in God's presence. Many commentators and other readers assume that Job is talking about God when he says redeemer. For example, hear an excerpt from Handel's oratorio, Messiah:

I know that my redeemer liveth

Monday, November 1, 2010

Attempt to divide, a reflection on Luke 20:27-38

Jesus has come to Jerusalem. The crowds welcomed him enthusiastically but the religious authorities are not pleased with him at all. They have questioned him and eve sent spies to try to trap him into saying something about taxes that would warrant his arrest (19:29-26).

When that trick did not work, they try another. They try to force him to take a position on the theory the alternative he proposed would alienate either the Pharisees, who believe in resurrection, or the Sadducees, who don't. That is, the Sadducee asking the question doesn't want elucidation or support; he wants to try a wedge into the crowd of supporters.

The question was based on the requirement in Deuteronomy that if a man died without a heir, then his brother should marry the widow. They asked then if a seven brothers followed their law one after the other, at the resurrection, whose wife would she be?

Jesus responded first by stating that life after death is not like life before it. Resurrection is not merely resuscitation (also see 1 Corinthians 15:35-57).

Then he uses a reference to Exodus to remind them that those who are dead to us are alive to God.

I've used Sharon Ringe's commentary on Luke in this comment and now quote directly:
Jesus' response ends the riddles (20:39-40) but not the opposition. One who speaks so well that he is able to defuse the arguments of the powerful presents a clear and present danger to the public order, and appropriate steps must be taken.

Suggestions for All Saints Day Services

All Saints Day is November 1. Methodist churches often celebrate on the first Sunday of November, this year the 7th. Either way, the General Board Of Discipleship offers A Contemporary Global Celebration of All Saints Day/, written by Taylor W. Burton-Edwards.

The GBOD also offers Homiletical and Worship Notes:
Make this a festive day, and take time to give thanks and remember those from the congregation who died during the last year in the context of the great parade of men and women made holy by the Holy Spirit. Consider using a bell to toll for each person as each name is read. Consider using a brief refrain, spoken or sung, such as: "Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord" or "Absent from us; present with the Lord (God)" or "Into your hands we commend their spirits."
You will find a service outline for All Saints' Day on the General Board of Discipleship's Worship Website.
See resources in the United Methodist Book of Worship (1989), 413-415.
You will find a helpful article called "Do United Methodists Believe in Saints?" in the November-December 2001 issue of Interpreter magazine (published by United Methodist Communications).
For many churches in the New York and Virginia-D.C. areas or other towns and cities that lost people tragically to the terrorism of September 11, 2001, this may still be a difficult day; but it also could be a reassuring and comforting day. It is another time to grieve in hope. It is a time to speak the names, remember the lives, and to honor those who have died, whether heroically or tragically.
Preaching on this day may be on one of the texts or may build on the texts. The first reading opens the subject of saints and holy ones. The second reading gets clear about the vision of "holy making" and God's means of working holy love in our lives by the resurrection of Jesus. The Luke reading takes us to the far edge of holy love's way — loving the enemy, the opponent. Consider focusing on saints as those who are baptized into Christ's royal priesthood — people who are stewards of sanctifying love. If you go in this direction, include a brief overview of Wesley's understanding of grace: prevenient, justifying, and sanctifying.
This is a day to celebrate Holy Communion and to experience the creed's affirmation: "I believe . . . in the communion of saints . . ."

Offertory Prayers, November 2010

GBOD continues to deliver the full text of each month's offertory prayers via email. You may also find the Offertory Prayers online at

November 7, 2010 — Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
God of all generations, pour out your goodness on this bounty so it multiplies according to your will. We rejoice in the teaching of Psalms as we strive to be more hopeful, merciful, and generous in our lives. We are committed to sharing your mighty acts with those in despair. We offer these gifts in thanksgiving and praise. May our ministry satisfy the thirsty across our community and world. In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen. (Psalms 145: 1-5, 17-21.)

November 14, 2010 — Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
Exalted Lord, how can we sufficiently prepare our hearts to stay firm in your love? We praise your name with songs and prayers, yet are we truly ready to stand on your promises and risk persecution for being a fully committed Christian? Are we devout to your will by the way we live and give? Our offertory response is one means of answering those questions. Thank you for this opportunity to dedicate these gifts as we become bold in our faith and slow in our judgment. Let your stream of living water flow from our lips as we share your good news. Amen. (Luke 21: 5-19.)

November 21, 2010 — Christ the King Sunday (Twenty-Sixth Sunday after Pentecost)
Gracious God, you provide hope for our future. We join together in unison prayer knowing that you act as a loving parent who calms our worries and fears. You consistently give us truth unclouded by the good that you work in our hearts. Multiply these tithes and offerings so our hearts and our actions reflect your love. We pray in Jesus' name. Amen. (Jeremiah 23:1-6.)

November 28, 2010 — First Sunday of Advent
God of the Advent, as we joyfully enter this time of waiting, we feel nestled and safe in your everlasting peace. You have taught us the paths and choices that lead to being in your Temple. We wait, hushed in anticipation of the coming of your son. He serves as the guide of our lives and the shepherd of our souls. We hope to emulate his generosity and compassion as we share these gifts. Use these gifts so others can be blanketed with the warmth of your unconditional love, like a newborn baby wrapped in the loving arms of a parent. Amen. (Isaiah 2:1-5.)

Written by David S. Bell, former Director of Stewardship with GBOD. He currently serves as Vice-President of Stewardship with the United Methodist Foundation of Michigan. You may contact him by visiting

Copyright © 2010 David S. Bell. Any local church, regardless of denominational affiliation, or any United Methodist organization may reprint any or all of these prayers provided that the author is cited.

GBOD | 1908 Grand Avenue | Nashville, TN 37212 | 1-877-899-2780

Sunday, October 31, 2010

A Glorious Inheritance, a Reflection on Ephesians 1:11-23

Sections of Ephesians 1 are used in the lectionary five times: 2nd Sunday after Christmas and Ascension every year; Reign of Christ, Year B; July 10-16, Year B; and this year for All Saints.

Reading the passage and thinking about how its message applies to our celebration of All Saints Day, I am focusing today on the references to saints. Paul's prayer is for those who have faith in the Lord Jesus and love toward all the saints, that they might know the riches of the glorious inheritance among those saints.

Let's pause a moment to think about what we mean when we hear the word "inheritance" and then reflect on what it means in this letter. He calls it glorious and refers to it as being immeasurable greatness of power. But not just money that the descendants can use to buy a lot of expensive stuff for themselves. Rather, the power is working among us to continue the work that Christ began and the work that continues by the church, his body, which fills all in all.

Repeat from Nov 2008
God raised Christ from the dead, Reflection on Ephesians 1:15-23
Paul wrote to the Ephesians, and through them to us, "You have been called. God has immeasurable power, and has put this power to work in Christ by raising him from the dead... The church is the body of Christ."

Simon Barrow, of Ekklesia, has written about the continuing contemporary importance to Christians of the concept and fact of resurrection:

So let’s get straight to the heart of the matter. What does it mean to speak, as Christians should do, of the “bodily resurrection of Jesus”, the wounded and crucified healer, as the very basis of our life?

Rather, to confess that “God raised Jesus” is to believe that everything of substance in the life of Jesus, the human person who is indissolubly God’s person, is dynamically taken up in, through and beyond death into the life of God – a quality of living and a form of life that affirms, but also transcends, anything we can currently mean by the term ‘life’. This is not any old life but “new life”, says the New Testament, in a variety of ways. It is, if you will, God’s unconditioned love recreating possibilities for emergent life that we thought had been lost, sinfully destroyed, denied, wasted, gambled away or blocked off. Not some vague post-mortem assimilation into the Godhead, but a new order of being.

To believe that “Christ has been raised” is to live in a new way, sustained by God rather than our own efforts alone, as if the order of death had no final determination. Among other things, it is to refuse killing as an instrument of policy, as an untruth not just a moral outrage. This is why resurrection, the non-violent, non-vengeful and utterly gracious (‘given’, not made or claimed) form of eschatological living, is the ultimate threat to Caesar and his empire – which finally can only rule by death and its thrall, because it knows of no other possibility that would allow it go on being what it is.

Repeat of a Repeat:
Power to the Church, a Reflection on Ephesians 1:15-23
Repeat from last year:
"I pray that God will send you the Spirit," Paul writes to the Ephesians.

Here's what the Spirit does for the church: enlightens the eyes of your heart
--that is, helps you to catch on to what God intends for you to be doing and what God has already done for you.

To these early Christians as they began to form congregations and missions, he is emphasizing power and what power is to be used for.

To these Christians adjusting to their life after the crucifixion of Jesus, he writes of the power available to them through God. God put this power to work in Christ and has made him the head of the church. The church is the body of Christ, "the fullness of him who fills all in all."

As I regularly do, I have been reading Boring & Craddock's People's New Testament Commentary. And, as I regularly am, I am glad that I do. For example,here's their discussion of the phrase, "glorious inheritance":

The phrase refers to God's inheritance, not the believers'. In Old Testament theology, Israel as God's chosen people is often called God's inheritance (Deut 4:20; 9:26, 29; 2 Sam 21:3; 1 Kings 8:51, 53; Ps 28:9; 33:12; 68:9; 78:62, 71; 94:14; 106:5, 4-; Isa 19:25; 47:6; 63:17; Jer 10:16; 51:19). For the author of Ephesians, to be in the church is to be incorporated into the continuing people of God, Israel (2:11-12).