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.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Wednesday of Holy Week

Here's a repeat from last year:
Betrayal by one very close
Readings for Wednesday of Holy Week: Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 70; Hebrews 12:1-3; John 13:21-32

Here we are in Lent, that time set aside on the Christian calendar for reflection and repentance. Today, we read about the last meal that Jesus shared with his closest disciples before his crucifixion. His people, sharing a table, eating together. And one will betray him.

Jesus knows about the upcoming betrayal and knows the identity of the one who is to betray him. The others don't seem to have a clue. Jesus knows and he allows the betrayal to take place.

As you contemplate your own failings and the failings of your fellow Christians, consider the selection from the Epistle to the Hebrews:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Offertory Prayers for April 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

April 1, 2010 – Maundy Thursday
Lord God, we are reminded through the Scriptures that you have provided us with examples of proper living. Jesus often taught that his disciples were to follow his example, to do so in memory of him. Now we place this offering before you, mindful of our responsibility to be thankful for the gift of your Son and to serve as a loving example for others. Bless these gifts. We pray in your Holy Name. Amen.
John 13:1-17, 31b-35

April 4, 2010 - Easter Sunday
God of all Ages, you have emptied the tomb and set us free from our burdens. Hope has overshadowed fear. Comfort has replaced neglect. Faith has gained victory over doubt. The bounds of everyday living, often overwhelming our souls and weakening our spirits, are liberated by Jesus Christ. Today, we recommit to offering comfort, hope, and faith as your generous disciples to others who are driven by fear, neglect, and doubt. We offer these gifts in honor of your Easter promise. Alleluia and Amen. (John 20: 19-31)

April 11, 2010 - Second Sunday of Easter
Holy Spirit, we are like young children as we hear again that Jesus Christ is risen. We believe the Easter Story without question. Your power is so great and so loving. Our hearts are filled with peace; our minds are expanded with understanding. Help us to share your power so that this offering is multiplied and brings relief to those needing to know you, the great I AM. Amen. (John 20: 19-31)

April 18, 2010 - Third Sunday of Easter
Holy One, you transformed the life of Saul. He was converted to your work as a disciple. We, too, have been transformed by your love. You earnestly listen for our daily response to your steadfast presence. Open our hearts so that we may walk consciously with you each day. We lift up this offering in obedience to your will. In the name of the Risen Christ, we pray. Amen. (Acts 9: 1-6 (7-20))

April 25, 2010 - Fourth Sunday of Easter
Good Shepherd, you keep us safe in your Word through day and night. You strip away any enemy if we focus on your righteousness. You never lead us astray. You are the Alpha and the Omega. Your goodness and mercy overflow in our lives. May these gifts with which you have blessed us support ministries that bring others into your heavenly fold. In the name of Jesus, we pray. Amen. (Psalm 23)

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

A Light to the Nations, Reflection on Isaiah 49:1-7

Repeat from last year:

How is your evangelism project doing? How has the world changed for the better because you are living your life according to principles that you have learned from God's Word?

Isaiah had been a prophet long enough to have learned disappointment. God did not let him give up. Instead, God expanded his job description: "You've been trying to do too little to too few."

Use Psalm 71 to help you pray in times of disappointment:
In you, O Lord, I take refuge; let me never be put to shame.
In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me; incline your ear to me and save me.

Be to me a rock of refuge, a strong fortress, to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress.

Rescue me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked, from the grasp of the unjust and cruel.

For you, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O Lord, from my youth.

Upon you I have leaned from my birth; it was you who took me from my mother’s womb. My praise is continually of you.

I have been like a portent to many, but you are my strong refuge.

My mouth is filled with your praise, and with your glory all day long.

Do not cast me off in the time of old age; do not forsake me when my strength is spent.

For my enemies speak concerning me, and those who watch for my life consult together.

They say, “Pursue and seize that person whom God has forsaken, for there is no one to deliver.”

O God, do not be far from me; O my God, make haste to help me!

Let my accusers be put to shame and consumed; let those who seek to hurt me be covered with scorn and disgrace.

But I will hope continually, and will praise you yet more and more.

Monday, March 29, 2010

A Light to Nations, Reflection on Isaiah 42:1-9

Repeat from last year:

Reading for Monday of Holy Week: Isaiah 42:1-9; Psalm 36:5-11; Hebrews 9:11-15; John 12:1-11

As we move through this week that began with the triumphant entry into Jerusalem, we remember Isaiah's words to a people who needed saving, as do all people who need saving.

He described their savior and reminded them what God is like.

God created heaven and earth
and gave life to the people who walked on it.

And Isaiah reminded them that this salvation was not restricted to a small group of persons; rather, these who were to be saved would be a message for the whole world.

We need to continue to remember that God is our source, our provider, and our rescuer. Use as a prayer today this excerpt from Psalms:

Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds.
Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains, your judgments are like the great deep; you save humans and animals alike, O Lord.
How precious is your steadfast love, O God! All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings.

They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights.

For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.

O continue your steadfast love to those who know you, and your salvation to the upright of heart!

Do not let the foot of the arrogant tread on me, or the hand of the wicked drive me away.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Reflection on Phillipians 2:5-11

From previous year:Consolation from love, Reflection on Philippians 2:1-13

Paul encouraged Christians to live in community and to care for one another. How might such a community look now?

Generations of Hope is a nonprofit adoption agency that has designed a community to resemble a nurturing small town, complete with surrogate grandparents. Created out of a shuttered Air Force base, Generations of Hope seeks to rescue children from foster care and place them with adoptive parents who have moved here. About 30 children currently live with parents in 10 homes. The community is also home to 42 older people who have subsidized rent.

Read more about this amazing experiment in the New York Times, September 16, 2008: For Distant Generations in Illinois, Unrelated but Oh So Close

Jesus Christ is Lord, Reflection on Philippians 2:1-13

Christ Jesus could have chosen a different kind of life, a different kind of death, but he didn't. He chose to live as one as a Jew in a Roman-occupied land. He accepted a cruel and what would have been considered a shameful death at their hands.

Paul is not preaching any prosperity gospel. Quite the contrary. He himself had given up privileges due him and had accepted a life of threat and pain and imprisonment.

"Don't be ruled by ambition. Look to the interests of each other."

Paul hadn't done it alone, nor is he expecting the Philippians to "God is at work within you. God will give you the ability both to want to do what is right and also to do it."

(With help from Neil Elliott, Liberating Paul)

Saturday, March 27, 2010

God's Servant, a Reflection on Isaiah 50:4-9a

Repeat from last year:

Jesus explained to Peter--who really would have rather heard something else--that being a messiah included rejection and suffering.

Long before their conversation, the prophet Isaiah told what it is like to be God's servant and what God's servant is to be like.

"Every day I listen to God. I pay attention to God not to those who oppose me. My call is to help the weary and to ignore those who oppose me."

Isaiah reminds us that when we accept God's help and prompting, we can together overcome our adversaries.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Death of An Innocent Man, a Reflection on Luke 23:13-56

Although neither he nor Herod could find any evidence that Jesus had done anything deserving the death penalty, Pilate gave in to the demands of the crowd and turned Jesus over for crucifixion.

But not all the crowd. Luke tells us that as he was led away that among the people following him, were women who were mourning loudly. Jesus offered them reassurance. One of the criminals being executed beside him challenged him, "If you are the Messiah, then prove it by saving yourself--and us." But the other one expressed his belief and asked Jesus to remember him when he came into his kingdom. Jesus said to him, "Today you will be with me in Paradise."

At noon when we expect direct sunlight on us, instead a darkness came over the whole land for three hours. The curtain of the temple was torn in two--opening access to an approach to the Lord that had not been possible before. Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit." Unlike in Mark's gospel, there is no expression of despair (Mk 15:34).

His death brings immediate response. A Roman soldier says aloud that Jesus was innocent of the crimes charged against him. The crowd disperses, but his acquaintances remain watching what is happened--although they are at a distance. (Boring & Craddock, in their People's New Testament Commentary, point out another difference between Luke's gospel and Mark's: "Luke replaces Mark's christological affirmation (15:39) with a political judgment. Rome recognizes that Jesus' death was a great miscarriage of justice...."

Luke reminds us that among those that had followed Jesus on the way from Galilee to Jerusalem included women, When Joseph of Arimathea asks and receives permission from Pilate to bury Jesus, these women follow him to the tomb.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Hearings before council, Pilate, and Herod, a Reflection on Luke 22:47-23:12

As we read the gospel accounts of the condemnation of Jesus, we need to remember that they were written at a time of conflict within early Christianity and within Judaism between those who followed Jesus and those who did not.

Judas, one of the closest to him, one who has been entrusted with care of the money, betrays him. Peter, one even closer than Judas, out of fear for his own safety, denies that he even knows him.

An assembly of religious leaders try to get him to admit that he has claimed to be the Messiah, he responds "if I tell you, you will not believe and if I question you, you will not answer, but from now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the power of God. They then ask him if he was the Son of God. He again answers indirectly, "You say that I am." They take these comments to be an admission that he had in fact claimed to be the Messiah, the Son of God.

They bring him before Pilate, the representative of Roman power in Judea. Pilate would have little interest in their theological disputes unless they had an impact on what he was interested in--keeping the peace. They make charges against Jesus that would be disturbing to Rome, "He told us not to pay taxes to Rome because he is the Messiah, a king."

Pilate asks Jesus if he claimed to be the King of the Jews. Jesus responds to him in a manner similar to the response he made to the religious authorities, "You say so." When Pilate can't find any threat to Roman power in this response, the religious authorities remind him that Jesus has been stirring up the crowds throughout Judea, from Galilee to Jerusalem.

Hearing Galilee, Herod determines that Jesus is under Herod's jurisdiction. Since Herod happens to be in Jerusalem at the time, Pilate turns him over. Herod is pleased because he has heard so much about him and hopes for a sign. But, Jesus is no more cooperative with him than he had been with Pilate.

Herod and his soldiers treat him with contempt dressing him up in a king costume and send him back to Pilate (Neither Matthew nor Mark mention Herod's involvement in the trial.)

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Last Supper, a Reflection on Luke 22:14-46

Perhaps no worship service will include the entire reading suggested for this week. And, that's too bad. But, the worship service is not the only place where we are allowed to hear or read scripture.

So, if you reflecting on Luke 19:28-40 (triumphal entrance) and Luke 23:1-49 (the trial and crucifixion), then you may also be willing to spend some time with Luke 22:14-56 (the back story to the crucifixion and afterwards).

Jesus is aware of what is awaiting him in Jerusalem. He shares a passover supper with the apostles. He takes a loaf of bread, gives thanks, breaks it, and gives it to them, saying "This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me." We recognize these four steps and the words as part of our Christian eucharist each Sunday (or once a month, or maybe, quarterly).

They begin to dispute over who is the greatest. I hope this practice is not a weekly one in your congregation--or monthly or even quarterly.

Jesus predicts Peter's denial. What have we learned about ourselves during Lent?
Jesus chose Peter knowing that Peter would have moments of failure.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Entry into Jerusalem, a Reflection on Psalm 118:1-2, 19-28

Some congregations will be celebrating Palm Sunday this week. Some will center their worship on the Passion. Some will combine these two.

Psalm 118 is appropriate for Palm Sunday celebrations. It begins with the call to give thanks to the Lord. Verses 3-18, omitted by the lectionary, are in the voice of the king describing the defeat of Israel's enemy. At verse 19, the king prepares for entry into Jerusalem. We hear words of thanksgiving for what has been done and a call for continued protection.

These ancient words still speak to us and for us.
This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.
Bind the festal procession with branches, up to the horns of the altar. (Caveat: translators disagree on this verse.)
You are my God, and I will give thanks to you; you are my God, I will extol you.

Even if a congregation postpones mention of the arrest, trial, and crucifixion to Holy Week services, we know that they follow this triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Carl Halladay in Preaching through the Christian Year C points this out:
If one applies Psalm 118 to Jesus' entry into Jerusalem, it must be remembered that for the original supplicant, the valley of anguish lay in the past, on the fields of war; for Jesus, the valley lay ahead, within the walls of Jerusalem

Monday, March 22, 2010

Offertory Prayer for March 28, 2010 Palm Sunday

Loving Lord, today we remember Jesus’ triumphant ride from the Mount of Olives. Jesus obediently gave everything so that we could live a life worthy of your calling. Grant us the courage and the determination to be your obedient disciples. Instill within us the desire to proclaim, “Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord.” Increase our generosity so that these monetary gifts may be transformed into inspired ministries. In the name of the Sacrificial Lamb, your only son, we pray. Amen.
Luke 19:28-40

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

Reflection on Luke 19:28-40

Jesus has just told the parable of the ten pounds (we said talents when I was a child). Three people are each given a gift. Two of them are willing to run risks but one is not--he hides what he has received. Jesus says one of those hard sayings, "But as for these enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them--bring them here and slaughter them in my presence."

In this week's reading, the people recognize Jesus as the king as he comes riding in on a donkey (look at Zechariah 9:9--go ahead and read the rest of the chapter as well to help understand what the people were expecting from the king and the Lord). Crowds gather, they throw their cloaks on the road (as had been done for King Jehu, 2 Kings 9:13).

Large numbers of followers begin to shout loudly their thanks to God for giving them this king.

Not everyone is pleased.

When some in the crowd tried to get him to get his disciples to quiet down, he responded "Even if they were silent, the stones would cry out." He's reminding them what Habakkuk had said about the powerful who try to protect themselves from debtors (Habakkuk 2:6-11).

Now, another way to look at this passage: I wouldn't have noticed the absence of palms in Luke's version if Allen & Williamson had not pointed it out to me in their Preaching the Gospels without Blaming the Jews:
Luke's omission of these branches is significant. Branches recollect 1 Maccabees 13:49-53. For three centuries Palestine had been under foreign rule. In 141 BCE, Jewish rebels defeated the Syrian oppressors. When the Jewish victors recaptured the temple, they waved branches. The branches became a symbol of Jewish independence, By omitting them, Luke signals that the church is not a revolutionary movement and encourages his community to live within Roman rule even while criticizing that oppression and recognizing that God will judge Rome ...

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Pressing On, a Reflection on Philippians 3:10-14

Paul in verses 4b-9 tells of what has already happened, how he got to where he is--what he has already achieved and what he now thinks about those past achievements.

In verses 10-14, he turns to the future. He looks forward toward his goal. Paul is not where he wants to be, not yet. Moreover, he is not planning to sit around idly waiting for a reward. Rather, Paul is determined to work, to press on.

The past will not hold him back. Paul is looking toward the future--straining forward to what lies ahead. I'm reminded of this week's reading from Isaiah "Do not remember the former things....I am about to do a new thing."

I am grateful to Carl R. Holladay for writing in Preaching Through the Christian Year C:
As we read these words closely, we see the nature of Paul's exchange: it was an exchange of something he actually possessed for something he might finally possess, the past for the future, past certainty for future hope. And this is what is especially instructive. As we experience loss, it is usually loss of the known, of what we own and have, whether it is our past or our possessions. As we lay all this aside for the superlative worth of Christ, we engage in a cardinal act of faith, for what we gain is a vision that is not ever fully ours until Christ makes us fully his won in the resurrection.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Gains and Losses, a Reflection on Philippians 3:4b-9

We have become so accustomed to hearing that Paul renounced Judaism and the law that we may have begun to believe it. Paul here reminds the Philippians of his allegiance to law and traditions. The law was the way that faithful persons could live out the lives that God intended for them. As Allen & Williamson put it, "a person followed the law to embody the righteousness that God bestowed through grace."

Despite his own background, Paul now regards his achievements and gifts as of little value. Again, from A&W, "he is convinced that through Christ, God is fulfilling God's promises by welcoming the Gentiles."

In their People's New Testament Commentary, Eugene Boring and Fred Craddock relate this passage to 2:6-11 that describes Christ as giving up all claim to equality with God in exchange for obedient service:
Paul tells his own story here for the same reason. Giving ourselves up to God is total trust, having no claims, seeking no advantage, but in service to one another leaving our status before God entirely in God's hands.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Offertory Prayer for March 21, 2010 – Fifth Sunday in Lent

Good and Gracious God, when Jesus was anointed at Bethany, he reminded us all that our earthly time would be short in proportion to our heavenly time with you. We recognize that we only have so much time to love, to laugh, to give, and to care in this world. In this time of giving, we present these generous gifts to be anointed by your hand to glorify the promise of everlasting life. Through your son, Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.

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

From weeping to joy, a Reflection on Psalm 126

Like Isaiah, the psalmist trusts the Lord to take care of the future because of what has already happened. "When you saved us before, we were full of joy."

Another parallel in this week's lessons: saying out loud that we had received gifts and we were happy about them.

Lent is a time that Christians look back--at what has been and what could have been, at what we have received and what we have lost. We remember our joys without forgetting our sorrows.

And it is a time that we look forward.
Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like the watercourses in the Negeb.
May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy.
Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Promise and Reason for it, a Reflection on Isaiah 43:19-21

Both parts are important--the promise and the reason.

The Lord says, "I'm about to do a new thing." This new thing will be so overwhelming that they will be able forget what things had been like. As examples of how radical the new thing is, the Lord asks them to imagine a wilderness, "I'll make a path through it." The Lord asks them to imagine a desert, "I'll put a river in that desert for my chosen people."

But, not just for them. The Lord then tells them the reason for these overwhelming gifts, gifts that would be as welcome and life-saving as a path through a wilderness or a river in a desert: "So that they might declare my praise."

God makes gifts to us so that we can acknowledge those gifts; that is, so we can witness to others what God can do, what God does do. We aren't supposed to clutch our gifts to ourselves. The ancient texts taught this, and now modern people are demonstrating that it is true.

A recent example is Social scientists build case for survival of the kindest. Their results indicate that generosity toward others turns out to be good for us.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Former things, a Reflection on Isaiah 43:16-18

What makes it possible for us to consider that any situation can be improved? that our circumstances, no matter how dire, might be bettered? that we could repent and become the kind of people that God had intended us to be?

Isaiah is talking to a people who know dire.

He retells a story that they know well, reminds them of what the Lord has already done for them.

For assurances of the future, we remember the past. Yet, right after the reminder of how the Lord has saved them before, Isaiah then says, "Don't remember the old stuff."

I'm reading this directive to mean that we're not supposed to dwell on our own failings.

In Lent, we confess and repent. Repent. Change the way we live, how we act, and what we say. Anguishing over what we have lost can obscure any happiness over what we have been given. Obsessing over our past failures shouldn't take the place of rectifying them.

Our new lives are possible just as new lives were possible for those ancient Israelites crossing a river while being chased by an army. I'm using verse 16 as a metaphor now. We need to get across this river to live over there--over there where our lives are not controlled by Pharaoh but rather are lived in accordance with the intentions of the Lord. It's hard and even kind of scary to change from the habits of the life we have been accustomed to--even if we don't approve of that life.

Still with the metaphor: God has the power to strike down our bad habits, addictions and obsessions.

And looking toward Eastertide, when we get across that river and are standing on dry land, we need to keep moving toward the Promised Land not go back for one more swim

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Contrasts, a Reflection on John 12:7-8

Judas and Mary. He is male, a close associate who has been entrusted with the money, yet not loyal. She is a woman, as far as we know has not been traveling with then but has been staying there in Bethany, but does recognize the importance of Jesus.

She takes a large quantity of an expensive perfume and uses it to anoint his feet. She realizes that a great sacrifice on her part is appropriate because of his greatness. Later, Jesus will command his disciples to wash each other's feet.

Judas pronounces her actions as wasteful, "That money could be spent on the poor." But, he is not thinking of the poor. He's planning to use the money for himself. And Jesus knows this.

His rebuke to Judas should not in any way give us permission to ignore the needs of the poor. Rather, since they are always with us, we should always be thinking of ways to continue to show Christ's love through our own actions.

Monday, March 15, 2010

How Methodists are spending their money

Thinking about the conflict between Mary and Lazarus on how funds entrusted to them should be spent, I checked the United Methodist Church website to see how we are making that decision in current times.

According to Mission, Ministry, and Money an article in New World Outlook written by Scott Brewer:
In looking at the ways congregations have spent their money over the last decade, a few patterns emerge. Churches spend most of their money in support of the local congregation and the clergy in the United Methodist connection. These categories of expense--pastoral and lay staff salaries and benefits, and operations--accounted for about 85 percent of all church spending in 2008, except for building projects and debt service. That figure was up about 0.5 percent compared to 1998, though it was up about 5 percentage points compared to 1978. While local church statistics can tell us only part of our story, the data do indicate that churches continue to show a consistent willingness to send money outside their walls.

What is changing, however, is where our churches are sending that money. This remaining 15 percent of church spending is used for mission and ministries outside the local congregation and for denominational administration (which helps to pay for things like holding annual conference and general conference) and for the supervision of clergy through support of bishops and district superintendents.

From Bethany toward Jerusalem, a Reflection on John 12:1-6

We are reading this lesson during Lent, two weeks before Good Friday and Easter. Jesus is in Bethany, on the way to Jerusalem.

Jesus is in the home of Lazarus. Look back at Chapter 11. Jesus had called Lazarus from his tomb precipitating the plots for his death. Mary anoints him with nard, an allusion to burial--or reminding us that kings were anointed. And Judas is there--Judas, the one who will betray him.

Judas objects to what he characterizes as wasteful spending. John tells us that Judas didn't really care about the poor, but that he was planning to use the money for himself.

Although an anointing of Jesus by a woman is told in the other Gospels, only in John is it tied so closely to the death of Jesus. Fred Craddock in Preaching through the Christian Year C lists ways in which John's account is passion-specific:
1) The anointing is set between the decision of his enemies to kill Jesus and his entry into Jerusalem.
2) The anointing takes place in Bethany where Jesus called Lazarus from the tomb.
3) It takes place at a Passover feast--Jesus died as the Passover lamb (19:31-37).
4) Judas is also at the banquet table.
5) Jesus explicitly refers to his burial (v.7).

Sunday, March 14, 2010

What We Might Become, a Reflection on 2 Corinthians 5:20-21

Paul wrote to those fractious Corinthians, "In Christ, there is a new creation." They can start over. And this time they can do it right. At the first creation, God pronounced each part good.

And while it started off good, our human ancestors did mess up quite a bit.

But, remember, "In Christ, there is a new creation."

Paul goes on to tell them--and through them, us--what our assigned task in this new creation is to be. We are ambassadors for Christ. Ambassadors--we travel, reach out, communicate. God appeal is made through us--in our travel, reaching out, and communicating, we are charged with transmission of what God wants them to know.

Paul had explained the meaning to the Corinthians, and now they were to live it out so others would also know it.

Since the first creations, humans had given in to sin. Now, it's time to defeat it.
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Note: We are not being called to be self-righteous but rather to be part of and communicators of God's righteousness.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Reconciliation, a Reflection on 2 Corinthians 5:16-19

Many days I use my Abingdon Press Lectionary Bible to read the scripture for that day. This Bible is arranged in lectionary order. Each week has the lections for that week. But, only the verses that are in that week's lectionary.

That's not enough some days. For example, today, I read the first verse in the lesson from 2 Corinthians, "From now on, therefore...." and stopped at the therefore. What was the fore that was different from the now on, I wondered. So, I got out a bible that is arranged in Bible order and looked back at the verses preceding this week's selection.

At the beginning of chapter 5, Paul contrasts the earthly tent we live in with the building we have from God, an eternal heavenly dwelling. He then shifts terminology from tent to body. While we are in living in this body, we are not in the home we will have with God. Paul asserts that we need to think ahead while we are still in this body because we will be judged by Christ and receive recompense.

Paul, as usual, moves from the each to the all. "Since everyone is to be judged, we need to persuade everybody," he argues. "Everything we do is for you. Everything we do is because of the love of Christ. Christ died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them."

Paul himself had once viewed the followers of Jesus as troublemakers. He had tried to stop them until he himself was stopped by the risen Christ. Paul now sees everyone not just in the flesh but as a new creation.

Everything is new. God took action, reconciling us to God and also giving us the ministry of reconciliation.

Reconciliation--getting things back to the way they should have been before we disrupted them.

Reconciliation implies that we weren't always right and that other people didn't always do right to us. You don't need forgiveness if you have never sinned. But we did. And they did. And God reconciled the world through Christ, that is God forgave our trespasses. And didn't stop with our forgiveness. God entrusted the message of reconciliation to us.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Who's Happy Now? a Reflection on Psalm 32

In the reading from Joshua, the Lord has made restoration possible. It's a new day in an old place. A place they had abandoned during a famine for a place of sufficiency--an exchange that didn't turn out well at all. But, now, that's past.

In Luke, the younger son behaved badly, and in a foolish, short-sighted way, then, in desperation, went home. The son was ready to confess his sin to his father and ask not for complete restitution but for only a job. That is, in both these readings, someone has left home for what seemed to be a better deal but wasn't. The son was willing to grovel; the Israelites spent forty years in the wilderness.

And both were restored.

In both Joshua and Luke, a feast celebrates the restoration.

Others have sinned --and still others still are. They--we--can anticipate restoration.

Psalm 32 begins "Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven."

The Israelites were not happy in Egypt--not after the Pharaoh who knew Joseph died. After some initial amusements, the son was not happy sleeping in the pig pen eating their leftovers. We just cannot count on sin to keep us happy. The psalm expresses a similar situation: "As long as I wouldn't admit my errors, I suffered. But, when I confessed my sins to the Lord, I was forgiven."

Lent's a good time to review this process. To reflect on our choices--the ones we have already made and the ones that it is time to make. We need to stop doing what we shouldn't even have started doing. We need to confess and to ask forgiveness.

And confession and forgiveness are not the end of the story according to this psalm. Once we have gotten right, we need to stay that way. "Do not be like a horse or a mule, without understanding, who needs to be curbed with a bit and bridle."

The alternatives are stark, according to this psalm: The wicked will live in torment, but steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the Lord. We are being asked to change our ways so that we can live out the command:
Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, O righteous,
and shout for joy, all you upright in heart.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Celebration of Arrival, a Reflection on Joshua 5:9-12

Camped at Gilgal. Their ancestors had lived in Egypt, but this generation had been born on the journey through the wilderness. Now that they have crossed the Jordan, they are ready to claim the promise that has been made to them.

The night before their forbears had left Egypt, they had a passover. Now, they once again keep the passover. They have gone from passover to manna to once more passover. They now will be fed by the crops of their new home.

Captive to Egypt, wandering in wilderness, celebration of freedom. Useful metaphors for us on our own journey from where we've been captive to worldly demands--or just our own selfish pleasures--to a period of lent, towards a new life--Eastertide, with its promises, rewards, and renewals.

Warning, though--they are in the land but haven't quite conquered it. Battles will occur. So for us when we make it through Lent to Easter. We'll still have some of those old temptations to face.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A Father Had and Has Two Sons, a Reflection on Luke 15:25-32

If Jesus had stopped at verse 24, we still would have a powerful example of unmerited grace--a father forgiving his son and celebrating his return. When we sin, we can find hope that we will be forgiven. When someone sins against us, we can find an example of how to show forgiveness.

But, Jesus did not stop with the celebration.

Rather, he introduced the elder brother. Like the Pharisees and scribes who had been complaining that Jesus was associating with sinners, the elder brother had always been obedient. And, like them, he wasn't happy at all about the inclusion of someone who had not exhibited much obedience.

He's particularly upset by the extravagant celebration. "I've done everything you could have expected, and now, you are giving a dinner for him!"

The father reminded the elder son that he still was going to get everything that he had been expecting to get. Celebrating the return of the younger brother did not change the status of the elder brother. "But," the father insists, "You need to be happy about his return. He was lost to us and now has been found."

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Inclusion, a Reflection on Luke 15:20-24

I can read this parable as an illustration of repentance and forgiveness in a family. The younger son has sinned and recognized his sin. Or, at least, he has recognized that he needs his family. Admitted to himself not yet to those he has sinned against. But, before he can do that, his father comes to him, comes not reluctantly or grudgingly but running.

His father embraces him. Then, the son speaks his words of repentance.

Or, paying attention to the introductory words of this chapter about the grumbling Pharisees and scribes, I can read this parable metaphorically. Who is welcome at the table? What prevents someone from being worthy of sharing a meal with us? Who gets to decide? Which comes first--repentance or grace?

Further, what is this grace for, anyway--and, who's it for? Remember that Abraham was blessed to be a blessing (Genesis 12:1-3. Remember Jonah's assignment. (Thanks to Allen & Williamson, once again). Also, remember that foreigners had been included in the Exodus (Numbers 9:14; Judges 1:16)

Evangelism Checklist, Reflection on 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10

Here's another repeat from last year:
...[On] Ash Wednesday, we need to think about how Paul described the life of a Christian missionary. "Here's how we commended ourselves to you: great endurance, afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger."

That is, servants of God will go through a lot as they reach out to people who are themselves going through a lot.

Then Paul offers a checklist that is still useful for us as we invite people into our Christian community: purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech.

After reading Paul's description of evangelism, does your congregation have any repenting to do?

Lectio Divina: Psalm 51:1-4

Monday, March 8, 2010

Offertory Prayer

The GBOD of the UMC has posted Offertory Prayers for March

The Prodigal, a Reflection on Luke 15:1-3, 11b-19

The respectable people sure didn't like it that Jesus was willing to associate with people who weren't so respectable. And they said so out loud. And Jesus answered them out loud.

The Parable of the Prodigal Son (or, as some put it, the Parable of the Two Sons, or, as others put it, the Parable of the Waiting Father) is part of his response.

Something like what was upsetting the religious leaders keeps on happening. People who don't behave the way we want our children to grow up should be welcomed into our fellowship? Join our local church? Speak at the Annual Conference? Who makes the rules? Who gets to decide who is following them? Have they read the Bible? Don't they care?

These are questions that the respectable church members can ask. Jesus is talking to the respectable people of his time. But, before we address their attitude, let's look at an example of someone who inarguably does not behave the way he should have.

In the parable, the younger son does behave in an unquestionably poor way. He demands his inheritance before his father dies. He squanders it in dissolute living. Then the economy turns against him. Just as he runs out of money, so does the whole country. He finds an unpleasant job that doesn't even pay well.

So hungry that he's eating pig food, he starts comparing his situation with the one his father provides for his employees.

Whether he would have repented even if his circumstances had been different, we don't know.

What we are told is that even though he no longer feels that he deserves to have the status of a son, he wants to return to his father--because his father treats non-sons well.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Way Out, a Reflection on 1 Corinthians 10:11-13

Often we use scripture to comfort ourselves or others, but, sometimes, we can use it to harm. I'm thinking of what someone told me last week. A friend of hers was at the funeral of one of her children when somebody came up to her and quoted verse 13, "The Lord won't give us more than we can bear." The grieving mother thought, "Oh, if only I had been weaker would this have happened?"

I'm once again looking at Ronald Allen and Clark Williamson's Preaching the Letters without Dismissing the Law. They stress that we shouldn't assume that every bad thing that happens to us was planned that way be God. Rather, as they put it, "They arise simply from the fallen nature of the world. Paul's enduring point is that God is faithful, and the divine presence makers it possible for us to live though such experiences."

Another thing that Allen & Williamson find problematic in this text is verse 11, "These things happened to them to be an example for us." We can agree with Paul that other people's failures and successes can help us as we go through our own lives, but we don't have to assume that their lives weren't pretty important to the folks living them.

And, I do agree that good and bad examples can be instructive. And, I agree that being a good example is not always easy. And, further, I agree with the last part of verse 13, that when we are tested, God will provide a way for us to respond and to endure.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Do Nots, a Reflection on 1 Corinthians 10:7-10

Paul lists specific behaviors that caused suffering for those ancient people during the exodus:
Do not become idolaters.
Do not indulge in sexual immorality.
Do not put Christ to the test.
Do not complain.

Paul had already chastised the Corinthians about some of this. Midway through Lent, we could well look at this list provided by Paul to see how our own journey toward Easter is going.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Nevertheless, a Reflection on 1 Corinthians 10:1-6

Our ancestors is a group much broader than just those people on our family tree. Or, maybe we should think of the term, family, in a much broader way.

"What happened to some people a long time ago turns out to be an important part of your life right here and now," Paul says.

Knowing what they did helps us to know what we should be doing. But, before we can benefit from their example, we have to have heard about it. In order for others to benefit, once we know something, we must share what we know.

Knowing the good parts is good and so is knowing the bad parts. Where our ancestors failed and then suffered from their failures, we can instead do what they should have done in the first place.

They all received guidance, baptism, spiritual food and drink. They all did. But, some did not respond as they should have to these gifts.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Satisfaction, a Reflection on Psalm 63:1-8

I've just read one of my favorite passages--Isaiah telling us to enjoy rich food. A biblical injunction that I do follow more faithfully than many of the others. At least when I take it literally.

Now looking at Psalm 63, I'm looking at it more metaphorically. The psalmist says "my flesh faints for you." Someone who likes to eat when hungry or not and drink when thirsty or not can surely understand how important seeking God when put into these terms.

Continuing the metaphor--just as I have enjoyed those feasts, I have received great joy from feasting on the presence of the Lord in the sanctuary. Or, at least, I can recognize what it would be like.

And I can recognize what follows from receiving something really good--saying thank you to the provider.

Let me spend some time today remembering what blessings I have already received. Let me think about the Lord who has provided these blessings to me:
You have been my help,
and in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy.
My soul clings to you;
your right hand upholds me.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Offertory Prayer

Here's an Offertory Prayer and other lectionary help for March 7 on the UMC website.

Seek the Lord, a Reflection on Isaiah 55:6-11

The invitation continues, "Seek the Lord, call upon him." But not just simple imperatives. Seek while he may be found. Call while he is near. Yes, God has made an everlasting covenant. Yes, all nations are invited. But, we aren't being reined in against our will. We are to seek, we are to do some calling. Moreover, we're supposed to do that seeking and calling now.

I don't know what to do with the phrases "while he may be found" and "while he is near." What's with the "whiles"? Are we under a time limit?

Or, can I let verse 7 help me here? Our return to the Lord enables us to realize the mercy and pardon. They are there waiting for us but we have to notice.

Or, should I give in to verse 8? How am I supposed to know everything; after all, the Lord is capable of thoughts and ways that are not available to us humans.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Abundance, a Reflection on Isaiah 55:1-5

Excerpts from postings in 2008:
A country church on a state highway was trying to raise enough money to pay off the mortgage on its new Family Life Center. One of the favorites was selling tickets for catfish suppers, grilled hamburgers, even chitlins, once.

On their sign out front, the preacher would post:
Catfish Supper
June 27, 5-7 p.m
Cost $8
Isaiah 55:2
No one ever told her they thought the sign was funny or appropriate.


Isaiah is writing to exiles in Babylon describing for them what their new life in an old place will be. Water for the thirsty. Food for the hungry. God promises to make with them an everlasting covenant. And because God has done so much for them, they are to reach out to strangers, to foreign strangers....

Sometimes when I read this passage from Isaiah, I focus on the everlasting covenant part, but, this week, since it is Lent, I'm looking harder at the repentance part. "Let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them...."

Remembering the parable of the fig tree that despite its three-year span of unfruitfulness has been given one more chance, I'm reading Isaiah's plea, "Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near."

Is there a time limit for us? Well, even if there isn't, shouldn't we start seeking? If we haven't been calling, wouldn't this be a good time to?

Abundant pardon is available. Lent in a good time to ask for it, to live for it.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Repent, Now, a Reflection on Luke 13:1-9

Jesus had said to the crowds "You can look at a cloud and know when it's going to rain, but you seem to be missing more important signals (my rewording of Luke 12:54-56).

He then brought up some recent misfortunes. "They weren't repayments for misdeeds, but sin does have consequences."

Not all misfortunes indicate that the sufferer deserved what happened. Bad things do happen to good people. But, don't let that lull you into a misunderstanding. Repentance is necessary.

Jesus then told them the parable of the fig tree. The fig tree owner was ready to cut down the fig tree that hadn't produced any figs for three years, but his gardener argued for one more chance, "Let me dig around it and fertilize it, and then if it produces fruit, well and good. But, if it doesn't show any change after this other chance, then cut it down.

Unlike the Galileans sacrificed by Pilate or the eighteen who were killed by the collapse of the tower of Siloam, we may well deserve punishment. Let us look at our lives for the last three years and measure how much fruit we have produced. What would the owner of the orchard have to say? Would the resources we consume be more profitably put to use by other trees?

Don't confuse a delay in judgment with approval of what we're doing.
Let us not be lulled by all the mercy we have received. It's time to repent.