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, April 30, 2010

Who should praise the name of the Lord, a Reflection on Psalm 148

On his website Liturgy, the Rev. Bosco Peters has included an excerpt from the Benedicite Aotearoa in the New Zealand Book of Prayer

10 All prophets and priests, all cleaners and clerks,
professors, shop workers, typists and teachers,
job-seekers, invalids, ' drivers • and ' doctors:
give to our ' God your ' thanks and ' praise.
11 All sweepers and diplomats, writers and artists,
grocers, carpenters, students and stock-agents,
seafarers, farmers, ' bakers • and ' mystics:
give to our ' God your ' thanks and ' praise.
12 All children and infants, all ' people • who ' play:
give to our ' God your ' thanks and ' praise.

As you read verses 10 through 12 in Psalm 148, substitute persons appropriate for your own life and locale.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Not just about menus, a Reflection on Acts 11:13-18

Peter had a vision--the Lord told him no longer was there a distinction in food between clean and unclean. We could argue why religious people could not eat shellfish (I myself am very grateful that I was permitted to eat crawfish etouffe).

At the moment he heard the voice from heaven tell him that "What God has made clean, you must not call profane," three men fro Caesarea appeared. With the help of the Spirit, Peter then translated the revelation about menus to extend to men.

He could not only now eat shellfish, he could eat them with the uncircumcised.

On direction from the Spirit, Peter traveled to the home of Cornelius, a Gentile. There, Peter witnessed the Holy Spirit falling on those in Cornelius' household. Peter saw that the Holy Spirit that had inspired his own people was including these others that Peter had been taught to avoid.

Peter's response to this revelation is one that we might consider, "If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed i the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?"

Christian churches still ponder the question of what minimum entrance requirements the church should make.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Past Distinctions are Past, a Reflection on Acts 11:4-12

Peter explained his unorthodox behavior by telling the of the vision he had seen.

Background: Peter and his questioners would have been quite aware of how the Lord came to their forbearers in visions. For example, Abraham (Genesis 15), Jacob (Genesis 46), Samuel (1 Samuel 3), Nathan (2 Samuel 7), Isaiah (1; 21), Jeremiah (14), Ezekiel (1; 7).

In the vision, a large sheet came down from heaven. In it were animals, reptiles, and birds. A voice told Peter to kill and eat them. Of course, he refused. He knew what was required of him. These were considered unclean, and he would not eat anything unclean ever. He never had, and he never would.

The voice from heaven spoke again: What God has made clean, you must not call profane.

A distinction that had been important, essential even, was not gone.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Letting in People Who Aren't Like Us, a Reflection on Acts 11:1-3

The more things change ....

From the time of their founding father Abraham, men who were going to be part of the congregation just had to be circumcised. Circumcision was a minimum requirement. Yet, now, some groups were letting in Gentiles--letting in people who did not fit the profile, people who weren't the kind that religious people were used to letting be part of the congregation.

When the church authorities in Jerusalem heard that Peter, Peter!, had been associated with these people who had made different life choices, they were critical of him.

Peter defended his actions by explaining that he was doing what God had told him to do.

Congregations today are still wrestling with the question of what constitutes a deal-breaker for membership.

Carl Holladay in Preaching through the Christian Year C offers this list for us to consider:
Who should be included within the circle of the people of God?
Are the traditional boundary markers still to be observed?
If traditions prevents Jews and Gentiles from associating with each other, what happens when the old social distinctions no longer exist?
How are they to relate to each other within a newly configured people of God?

Offertory Prayers May 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

May 2, 2010 -- Fifth Sunday of Easter
Loving God, as your Holy Word reveals, your gift of grace is offered to all of your children. You wait expectantly to hear our response.In this hushed moment, we respond by offering financial gifts. We respond by praising your name in prayer. We respond by singing, "Glory be to God!" Amen.
Acts 11:1-18

May 9, 2010 -- Sixth Sunday of Easter
Gracious God, you are a loving parent imparting wisdom to those who love and follow you. As Jesus demonstrated to his disciples, you offer the immeasurable peace of an eternal home. We praise your name in the comfort of this peace and place these tithes and offerings before you. Multiply these gifts so that those seeking to establish peace in this world will feel your guiding hand. We pray in the name of the Prince of Peace. Amen.
John 14:23-29

May 16, 2010 -- Seventh Sunday of Easter
Lord Almighty, you are the supreme ruler of the Earth! You can make nations bow down to your will. You shine your luminescent light on the righteous and spread gladness of heart to those who are good. You have the omnipotent power to move majestic mountains and to calm the stormy seas. You rescue us from wickedness when we praise and worship your works. We acknowledge the strength of your spirit in our lives by giving these tithes and offerings. May you enrich these gifts with your blessing. In the name of Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.
Psalm 97

May 23, 2010 - Day of Pentecost
God of Amazement and Wonder, you have been preparing the way for us throughout time. You sent people like the prophet Joel and Peter to guide our spiritual journey. On this day of Pentecost, we celebrate the power of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes confused, but often in awe, we watch the everyday miracles experienced all around us. All things are possible with you, O God. We trust that this offering will foster the miracles and the possibilities that you have in store for this church community. We await with hearts already filled in amazement and wonder at your ways. Come Holy Spirit, come! Amen.
Acts 2: 1-21

May 30, 2010 - First Sunday after Pentecost

God of Hope, we humbly present these gifts in recognition of the grace that you offer us each and every day. You have endowed us with great bounty. Today, we give a portion of this bounty to you as a generous expression of our gratitude. We are compelled though biblical teaching to share generously in ways that have an impact on the greater mission of the church. We exalt your Holy Name as we participate in this sacrificial act of offering ourselves to you. We pray through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Romans 5: 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

Monday, April 26, 2010

How to tell if someone is a Christian, a Reflection on John 13:31-35

They had gathered for a meal, one that we know was their last meal together. Jesus insisted on washing their feet. At the meal, Jesus told them that one of them would betray him. When he identified Judas as the betrayer, Judas immediately went out into the dark (13:1-30).

Jesus speaks to the ones who remain.
"Now the Son of Man has been glorified and God has been glorified in him." Glorified, that is, made visible. It is now apparent that in Jesus, God is made visible to the world. Note the now.

"I am going to with you only a little longer. Where I am going you cannot come."
"I am giving you a new commandment: Love one another as I have loved you." Of course, this commandment was not new in the sense that they had never heard it before. See Leviticus 19:18 and Deuteronomy 6:4. What is new is that they will understand this commandment in terms of what Jesus does and what they will be willing to do.

He then told them the test by which Christians would be known--that they loved each other. Go back and read again: Now the Son of Man has been glorified and God has been glorified in him. By the love that Christians show each other, we can not only tell that they are Christians, we can see the glory of God.

Note: I am quoting generously from the commentary by Gail O'Day and Susan Hylen,

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The lamb will be the shepherd, a Reflection on Revelation 7:16-17

John's vision--a great multitude, one too great to count, a multitude made up of people from every tribe and nation. and they are all worshipping God (7:9-11).

In the vision, one of the elders addresses John directly, promising him that God will shelter the worshippers (13-15).
They will hunger no more,
and thirst no more;
the sun will not strike them,
nor any scorching heat;

The Lamb (5:1-8) will be the shepherd.

The shepherd like the one described in Psalm 23. Also, read Ezekiel 34:11-30 in which God appoints a shepherd to oversee his sheep.

How far off is this promise? Do we have to die to collect on it? Or, is this vision of something that will happen to us on this earth--is happening to us on this earth?

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Salvation for Martyrs, a Reflection on Revelation 7:11-15

One of the elders In this great multitude of creatures addressed John asking him "Who are these, robed in white? Where did they come from?"

John turned the question back to the questioner, "You're the one who knows."

The elder responded, "These are they who have come out of the great tribulation ordeal."

They didn't escape ordeal--which would be my first choice, but they did get through it.

Using 6:9-11, white robes are given to those who are slaughtered on earth for the word of God. Thus, we read this to be a description of martyrs who are victorious in heaven who, like Jesus, have given up their lives on earth.

John's words are intended to reassure people undergoing persecution on earth. How helpful are they to those of us who really don't suffer much because of our allegiance to the Lord? What is the message for us?

Friday, April 23, 2010

A multitude before the throne, a Reflection on Revelation 7:9-10

In last week's reading from Revelation, the vision was of universal recognition -- by every creature whether on, in, under, or above the earth. They were all singing.

To get to this week's reading, we skipped over chapter 6--four horsemen of the apocalypse, opening of the first six seals.

John's vision is of a multitude too great to count, a multitude made up of every nation..


Yes, every. Salvation doesn't depend on which borders surround our place of birth. Rather, salvation belongs to God on the throne and to the Lamb. Therefore, everyone joins in praise and worship.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Dwelling, Reflection on Psalm 23

Repeat from May, 2009
Gary Sims, when he used to write the Reflections each week for First United Methodist, Albuquerque, asked these questions:
Do you dwell in the house of the Lord?
If not, when are you planning to move in?
Will it be after you take care of a few things in your life?
Do you have an agenda or plan that you want to follow before turning your life over to God?
Are you putting God's goodness and mercy on hold?
Are you counting your blessings to see if your cup is overflowing?
Are you looking for a bigger cup?
Do you see that now is the time to move into God's house so that these promises of life can begin?

another repeat:
Psalm 23 has often received a contemporary treatment

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Tabitha, a Disciple, a Reflection on Acts 9:36-43

In a time and place with no social security, no medicare or medicaid, people who had lost the breadwinner in the family were in real trouble. Yet, faithful Christians stepped in to help.

One of the care givers was Tabitha, a widow. A widow in that time was thought of as someone who wouldn't have had the means to support herself. Yet, this widow was devoted to good works and acts of charity. Luke calls her a disciple, a reminder for us that not all disciples have as their main job preaching.

She died. The other widows were distraught.

Peter, the former fisherman who preaches and heals openly, prayed, then commanded her to get up. She did.

The Christian church of today is still charged with performing acts of charity. We still have faithful disciples who show the love of Christ to those in need.

And we still find ourselves in despair when we lose someone who has been doing most of the work. And God still can fill the need.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

In my Father's name, a Reflection on John 10:27-30

When they asked him to tell them plainly whether he was the Messiah, he said that he had told them but they hadn't believed. Then rather than claim that he is the expected messiah, he shifts to identifying himself as the son of God:
"The work that I do in my Father's name...."
"What my Father has given me...."
"The Father and I are one."

They hadn't believed either what he had told them or even the works that they had witnessed. Only believers can believe.

Membership in this flock is permanent, once in is always in--"I give them eternal life....No one will snatch them out of my hand."

How do they get to be believers? How do they get to be his sheep?

We can read verse 29 as saying that the sheep have been given to this shepherd by God. We could pause here to re-engage in the argument between arminianism and calvinism, but I'd rather postpone it.

Instead, I'm quoting Fred Craddock in Preaching through the Christian Year C:
Christian faith lives by and witnesses to both statements: all if of God, and yet whosoever will.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Not convinced, a Reflection on John 10:22-26

We Christians are now in the period we call Eastertide--those weeks between resurrection and Pentecost.

We have been focusing on the recognition of the resurrected Jesus by those closest to him. This Sunday, the gospel reading returns to events in his final journey to Jerusalem.

He is in the temple. It's Hanukkah, a time for remembering the rededication of the temple after the Maccabeans' successful revolt about two hundred years earlier.

They would have heard about him--including how he had healed many and fed many. But they weren't sure who he was. Some believed he was the promised Messiah. Others did not.

"How long will you keep us in suspense," they asked him that day. "If you are the Messiah, say so."

He responded to them, "I've told you before, but my saying it didn't make you believe. You saw the work that I could not, but the evidence of your own eyes didn't make you believe."

They weren't the last witnesses who weren't able to believe. To paraphrase Chrysostom, it takes a sheep to recognize a shepherd.

If hearing and seeing don't do it for us, what will?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

In the Choir, a Reflection on Revelation 5:11-14

Look back at chapter 4. A door in heaven has opened so that John can see and hear.

In chapter 5, he sees one sitting on a throne with a scroll with seven seals. The lamb took the scroll.

Myriads and myriads and thousands and thousands of angels are singing, "Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered...."

But not just angels are singing.

Every creature in heaven but not just in heaven. Every creature that lives on earth and under it and every creature that lives in the sea--they are all singing.

They are singing to the One on the throne and to the Lamb.

God created us all. The lamb was sacrificed for us all. We all respond with praise.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Sing praises to the Lord, a Reflection on Psalm 30

In the bible I'm using today, Psalm 30 has two superscriptions (what I would have called headings if I didn't also read commentaries). It is either a thanksgiving for recovery from grave illness or it is a song at the dedication of the temple. Or, it is both.

Since the lectionary has paired this psalm with the reading from Acts, we can imagine the man whose sight has been restored would express his gratitude. And I can imagine myself or others expressing such gratitude to the Lord for recovery.

It begins with the recognition that the Lord has performed the rescue.
O Lord my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me.

It then directs the congregation to also give thanks.
Sing praises to the Lord, O you his faithful ones, and give thanks to his holy name.

It ends with the recognition that expression of gratitude is to be made openly and publicly:
You have turned my mourning into dancing;
you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
so that my soul may praise you and not be silent.
O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever.

As a person can be grateful for being healed from some personal sickness, a nation can be grateful for its restoration after a great disaster.
The notes in the Jewish Study Bible suggest that the psalm could have been used when the temple was rebuilt after exile, 515 BCE, or at its rededication after the victory of Judas Maccabaeus, 164 BCE. This psalm continues to be read on Hanukkah as well as part of the introductory liturgy for the daily, Sabbath, and festival morning services.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Ananias goes to Saul who listens, a Reflection on Acts 9:7-20

Jesus spoke to Ananias in a vision: Go tell Saul to tell about me to both Gentiles and Jews.

Ananias was surprised at the choice of Saul because of his efforts at ridding Judaism of Christ followers. But, he expressed no surprise at the message only the messenger. After all, Jesus himself had reached out to many persons who were not faithful jews--or any kind of Jew--for example, sinners, collaborators, and foreigners.

Jesus is still reaching out. It is ironic that he would choose Saul for the mission. Saul, who had been trying to rid the Jews of those who were adherents to Christ, is now going to be asked to go to people who aren't even Jews.

Ananias was afraid and had reason to be; yet, he does what the Lord tells him to do--approach this man who has been persecuting people like him.

He did what Jesus had told him to do. Immediately Saul's sight was restored. He got up, was baptized, ate some food, got stronger, and begin to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying "He is the Son of God."

Thursday, April 15, 2010

On the Way, a Reflection on Acts 9:1-6

"Meanwhile," the passage begins; so, I looked back to see what has been happening. Saul had witnessed the execution of Stephen in Jerusalem. Persecution of Christians in Jerusalem became so fearsome that many fled the city. Saul was part of the effort to remove what they considered to be a dangerous threat to their religion. Scaring the Christians out of Jerusalem did not silence them. They preached wherever they were. Evangelism in Samaria was so successful that Peter and John made a trip there then returned to Jerusalem. Philip obeyed a call from the Lord to go south. There he baptized and preached.

Saul, aware of the increase in adherents to Christ, set out to find them and bring them back to Jerusalem.

His journey was interrupted. He saw a light and heard a voice, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?"

He asked "Who are you, Lord?" and was answered, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what to do."

Saul had thought he was persecuting heretics; now, he is struck with the realization that the Jesus that they were claiming had been resurrected was now speaking even to him. And engaging him.

Although we are accustomed to thinking of this event as the conversion of Paul, many commentators prefer to term it as the call. After all, Saul/Paul does not quit being a faithful Jew. The split between Jews who are Christians and who are not will come later.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Feed My Sheep, a Reflection on John 21:12-19

Appearance of Jesus. Then abundance.

They share a meal.

When they finish this meal, Jesus asks Peter the question that Christians continue to face, "Do you love me more than these?"

[Tangent--is he asking if Peter loves him more than the others do or is he asking if Peter loves him more than he loves the others? I'm going with the second reading--I suppose because that seems to be the way most commentators do & my Greek is no longer up to connotations.]

Earlier in John's gospel, Peter had denied two times even knowing Jesus (18:15-17, 25-27; but John did include the saying by Jesus that Peter would deny him three times (13:36-38). Now, Peter affirms his love three times.

When Jesus foretold his denial, Peter had insisted that he would lay down his life for Jesus. Now that Peter has a much clearer idea of what following Jesus could entail he once again declares his allegiance. He was confident at first. Then he wavered. Now he once again is certain.

What Jesus asks of Peter is to feed his sheep. Peter is not the last follower to be asked to do this.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Cast the Net, a Reflection on John 21:5-11

Even after Jesus speaks to them, they don't know it's him. Yet, they do what he says to do. I'm not sure what John intended for us to get out of that.

In any case, when they do what Jesus tells them to do, things work out well for them. Let's me careful about using this juxtaposition to prove that the prosperity gospel is true after all. Yet, as many commentators point out, it is a good story for us to remember during Eastertide. They had no hope. Jesus appeared. They listened to him. Abundance.

They had not recognized Jesus when they saw him or when he spoke. But, now with their net overflowing with fish, they are able finally to know that he is with them.

Allen & Williamson, in their Preaching the Gospel, point out that:
The Beloved Disciple, the important authority figure for John's community, recognizes Jesus; he who had believed without seeing Jesus (20:8), now sees Jesus, whereas Peter, who had believed because he saw Jesus, does not this time recognize him.

Peter responds immediately by jumping in the sea and swimming toward Jesus who is standing on shore. Or, almost immediately--he does get dressed first. I think the fishing naked is significant, but I have no theories about why.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Going Fishing, a Reflection on John 21:1-4

The disciples believed--they had seen the risen Jesus for themselves.

How does belief change people?

These disciples, among the closest to Jesus, go back to their regular lives. They had been fishermen, and now they are fishing again.

We heard the Easter story on Sunday. We heard it read from the Bible, spoken from the pulpit, and sung by the choir.

What was Monday like for us? How does our belief change us? Certainly we go back to whatever is our fishing. But, has something changed for us? Have we changed in some way?

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Directions for Hallelujah Reflection on Psalm 150

The Book of Psalms ends with six psalms of praise. Psalm 150 is the last of these, the last in the book, and so helps us reflect on the entire book, all of the songs the ancient people sang and that we still--well, not sing so much--use to guide the words we use to address God.

This psalm begins and ends with the word Hallelujah--The NRSV translates if for us, praise God. We didn't use this word in public worship during Lent but not after Easter we should go back to saying it in church and living it in the rest of our lives.

Psalm 150 gives directions for us in praising God. It tells us where, why, how, and who.

Where: in church and everywhere else, as well.

Why: in recognition of what God has done and can do.

How: with trumpet, lute, harp, tambourine, dance, strings, pipe, cymbals (I'm assuming the organ in the church can substitute for all these except for dance--what are we going to do about the dance part? maybe the organist would agree to help out with this as well?)

Who: everybody who breathes

[Under the heading "Quibbles with Commentaries" I read verse 1 as directing us to praise the Lord wherever we are, both in the sanctuary and out of it. The New Interpreter's Study Bible, on the other hand, reads this verse to mean that God's sanctuary is not in the earthly temple but in the heavens.]

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Faithful Witness, a Reflection on Revelation 1:4b-8

This letter was written to churches at a time of stress and turmoil, a time when they needed to reminded not to be so afraid.

Christians continue to read this letter and still being afraid at times, still may receive comfort from it.

During this season of Eastertide, we working out the impact of the resurrection on our life--and of that new life on the world. This section of Revelation can help us in that work. First, we are reminded that Christ is the faithful witness and that Christ is the ruler of the kings of earth.

What do we do with this reminder? How are our daily struggles affected?

The world we live in needs a lot of work and a lot of that work is either tiresome or scary. Furthermore, a lot of us--or a lot in each of us--is not exactly outstandingly good material for doing outstandingly good stuff.

Looking again at this letter, well, neither were the first Christians all exactly paragons. But, we are reminded that Christ loves us and has freed us from our sins.

As we fear or just fret, we are comforted or encouraged to action by the assertion that the Lord God was with us in the beginning, continues to be with us, and will be with us in the future.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Give Thanks a Reflection on Psalm 118:14-29

We also read portions of Psalm 118 on Palm Sunday. Luke's gospel may not have mentioned palms, but we did have branches at least in the psalm.

On Palm Sunday, we read this psalm that describes the reaction to the people when the king returned victorious from battle. We read them now in the week after Easter again grateful to God for the victory of our king.

The Lord is my strength and might; he has become my salvation.

We acclaim the victory, yes, but we also recognize what impact that victory has on us--how we are to live now.

I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the Lord.

We wouldn't need victory if we didn't already know rejection, but our lives have both. In Eastertide, we don't have to pretend that our lives haven't had and don't have grave difficulties. But, in Eastertide, as well as the rest of the year, we can remember and be thankful what the Lord has done and continues to do for us.

You are my God, and I will give thanks to you; you are my God, I will extol you. O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Obedience to God, a Reflection on Acts 5:27-32

On Easter we remembered and celebrated the resurrection of Jesus Christ. That was Easter.

Now is what the church calls Eastertide. We are still remembering the resurrection. We are still celebrating it. And we are also assessing what the impact of the resurrection has on our own lives.

Acts takes us back to the very early church, the period immediately after ascension and pentecost.

The believers were caring for each other--to the extent of sharing their possessions (Acts 4:32-35) and caring for many, many others. They performed great numbers of healings (5:12-16).

And they preached. And the preaching upset the authorities. When called to account, their response was "We must obey God rather than any human authority."

Peter and the other apostles summarize the message that inspired them and continues to inspire us as we move through Eastertide:
God raised up Jesus.
God exalted him so that he might give repentance and forgiveness.
We are witnesses to these things.

But they weren't the last witnesses. The Holy Spirit continues to move through the church.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

So that you may believe, Reflection on John 20:24-31

The risen Christ had appeared to Mary, but the disciples had still been to afraid to leave their locked room. Jesus came to where they were. Belief that will overcome fear is not automatic.

Repeat from last year
The disciples who had seen Jesus believed, but Thomas hadn't been there the day Jesus had shown up. "I need to see for myself. I've got to put my finger on the spot where the nails were," he told them.

A week later, Jesus appeared to Thomas. "Touch me. Do not doubt but believe."

Thomas believed. Read the passage carefully. We are not told that Thomas, despite what he had thought earlier, had to touch Jesus in order to believe.

Keep reading. Look at verse 31. John's gospel is written so that we can believe. Thomas and the other first generation Christians saw Jesus and believed. They knew the presence of God through the seeing of Jesus. We later Christians are able to know the presence of God through their witness.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Imperfect Church, Reflection on John 20:22-23

Will Willimon describes what can happen to a frightened church when they receive the Holy Spirit. Read his sermon You Call This a Church?.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Through locked doors, Reflection on John 20:19-21

Repeat from last year:

Mary had told them that she has seen the risen Jesus, but they are afraid anyway.

A sermon was not enough to liberate them from their fears.

Jesus came to them, anyway.

We may still not be willing to start our lives anew. Jesus may come to us, anyway.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Easter, a reflection on John 20:1-18

She has a short conversation with him but is able to recognize him only when he speaks her name.

Jesus tells her to go tell. She obeys. She is the first witness to the resurrection.

Yet, as we read in the next verse, the disciples are so afraid that they lock themselves in. What do we believe? What does belief do for us?

Mary finally did recognize Jesus and did do what he told her. Yet, she was not immediately able to convince the disciples.

I remember a story that someone told me years ago. Although I can't remember the source, I want to repeat it anyway:

When the National Zoo in Washington D.C. moved to a spacious new area, the rhinoceros was confused. It now had a wide-open living space, but it had lived in a cage too long. Even though it now had more room, it quickly made a boundary the exact dimensions of its old cage. it wore an oval path in the grass that corresponded to the old iron bars.

The resurrected Christ can appear in our ordinary lives. We may be able to recognize his presence. Or, like the rhinoceros, we may restrict ourselves to our old path. I ask again, what does belief do for us?

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Readings for Easter Vigil

Genesis 1:1-2:4a; Psalm 136:1-9, 23-26
Genesis 7:1-5, 11-18; 8:6-18; 9:8-13; Psalm 46
Genesis 22:1-18; Psalm 16
Exodus 14:10-31; 15:20-21;
Isaiah 55:1-11; Isaiah 12:2-6;
Proverbs 8:1-8, 19-21; 9:4b-6; Psalm 19
Ezekiel 36:24-28; Psalm 42
Ezekiel 37:1-14; Psalm 143
Zephaniah 3:14-20; Psalm 98
Romans 6:3-11; Psalm 114
Matthew 28:1-10

Holy Saturday, a reflection on Matthew 27:57-66

Jesus died, yes, really died. That's our focus on the Saturday that lies between the crucifixion on Friday and resurrection on Sunday morning. Jesus died.

Matthew gives us detail so that we can understand and believe. Fred Craddock in Preaching through the Christian Year C lists the questions that Matthew's account is answering: What happened to the body? Who prepared it? Where was it entombed? He reminds us of more evidence that Matthew gives: the body was put in a tomb, the tomb was sealed with a large stone, two women witnessed this, Roman guards kept watch.

We can't accept resurrection unless we accept death.

Since I am rereading Ann Weems' Kneeling in Jerusalem again this year in Lent, I am again posting these two poems appropriate for the Saturday vigil:

No Dances

There are no dances for dark days.
There is no music to bellow the pain.
The best we can do is to remain
still and silent
and try to remember the face of God...

and how to kneel

and how to pray.

Saturday Silence

The shadows shift and fly.
the air trembles,
thick with silence,
until, finally,
the footsteps are heard
and the noise
of the voice of God
is upon us.
The Holy One
is not afraid
to walk
on unholy ground.
The Holy Work is done,
and the world awaits
the dawn of light.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Good Friday

Here's a repeat from Good Friday, 2009:
Lesson learned
Readings for Good Friday: Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Psalm 22; Hebrews 10:16-25; John 18:1-19:42

In an essay about Good Friday, Virginia Stem Owens talks about how beautiful the spring trees are in her native Texas. But, one year, she found herself offended by them:
...I was driving to work in College Station on Good Friday through a miasma of dogwood and redbud and not feeling good about it at all. It was a sparkling, resplendent day. Thickets of wild plum thew up their dark arms in dreamy clouds of white. Primroses, tenderly pink and gold, filled up the ditches along the road.
I was not pleased. This was not a penitential landscape. Good Friday is not the time for beauty.
I drove along, vaguely offended by the fields of flowers in full cry and the hillsides spangled with Easter white. This is the week, I thought, the Savior of the world dies. This is the day when all that is good and true goes down to suffer death at the hands of the arrogant, those swollen with the pride of power. And what is the world doing? What is the earth, its own life threatened by those same enemies doing? Did it care? Was it grieving? No. It was shouldering aside the clouds and the husks of its dead self in order to break into life....
All week I had been reading the penitential Psalms and examining my sins. .... But now it was Good Friday. What did you do after you'd confessed all your sins and cleaned out all your closets? I took one last look around the bare cell of my heart for some forgotten fault, at the same time being careful to avoid the danger of manufacturing contrition for its own sake....
But what else was there to do on Good Friday? Already, on this spring morning, as I was descending the hills toward the river, Jesus was beginning his climb to Golgotha. What else was there to do? For the women who followed him, "Looking on arar off" (Mark 15:40KJV), for those standing beneath the cross, what was there left to do?
Nothing. Quite obviously just nothing....Because Good Friday is the day when you can do nothing. Bewailing and lamenting your manifold sins does not in itself make up for them. Scouring your soul in a frenzy of spring cleaning only sterilizes it; it does not give it life. On Good Friday, finally, we are all mourners and mockers alike.....Good Friday is the day when we can do nothing at all.
Our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness. His blood and his righteousness.
I passed the intersection at carlos with its one blinking, yellow light and crossed the bridge over the pipeling that carries the coal slurry to the plant a few miles further on. From there the road bent northward to cross the river.
As I broke out of the ines and into the fertile bottomand, the spring again assaulted me. The land below, emerging from the tendrils of morning fog, was a tangle of luxuriant fertility.
Clouds of pink and white, effulgent enough to inebriate the soberest soul, lured one's live of vision into the darkest trees. Acres of bluebonnets streaked up the red clay banks of the river. The earth, on this Good Friday, cast forth its life, heedless of the sacrifice that sustained it. Its callous, regardless life, sucked from the source it can never repay, never replenish. Continually drawing on the death of its Savior to live. Just like me.

Read the entire essay and many others in Epiphanies, edited by Eugene Peterson and Emilie Griffin, published by Baker Books.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Maundy Thursday, a Reflection on John 13:1-17, 31b-35

Here's an excerpt from 2009:
Preparation. Sacrifice. Redemption. Memory.
They're preparing to share the Passover meal.

The passage from Exodus reminds of the directions for the first Passover. The Lord had told them that on the night before they were to escape slavery in Egypt, the entire congregation of Israel was to assemble in order to slaughter lambs for a meal. Each household would have a lamb and include neighbors whose household was too small for its own lamb.

And the passage reminds of what is remembered as they continue to gather--their rescue. After the supper, a plague had come through Egypt striking down the first-borns. Only Israel had been saved.

Jesus knows that on this Passover, his hour has come. He knows of his upcoming death and of the betrayal by one close to him.

On this last Passover, with the memory of what happened on the first one and what has happened to his people since, Jesus chooses to wash the feet of his disciples.

Peter considers this unseemly, but Jesus insists, "You'll understand later."

We, the church, are living in the later. I'm wondering which is harder to understand--that I am to allow Jesus to stoop down and perform the work of a lowly servant, or, that Jesus is asking me to emulate him, that I'm expected to stoop down and perform servant work.

Jesus tells them how his disciples will be recognized. They will be the ones who have love for one another.