It took a year to read the Bible, then almost 9 months to read the Apocrypha. Now, I'm going to try to offer reflections on the Narrative Lectionary. But, I won't be posting daily--at least, for a while.

Monday, May 31, 2010

The New Life in Christ, a Reflection on Romans 12:9-16b

Rejoice in hope. Be patient in suffering. Persevere in prayer.

We are reminded that being a Christian does not insulate us agains suffering, financial difficulty, persecution, or tragedy. Being a Christian shows us a way to face life's tribulations.

Paul's sermon here is not so much "How to become a Christian," as it is "What to do now that you're a Christian." He stresses, as he has done before, that Christians love each other, really love each other. Give money if they need money. Don't seek revenge against those who may have earned it. Live peaceably (I'm relieved to say that he adds, "as much as possible.)

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Song of Hannah, a Reflection on 1 Samuel 2:1-10

Hannah's story has elements of both Mary's and Elizabeth's. Like Elizabeth, she becomes pregnant after having been barren for a long time. Hannah dedicates her son Samuel to service of the Lord.

Like Mary, Hannah celebrates the birth of her son by means of a song, and a song with similar elements.

The overwhelming importance of God.
God's preference for the weak over the strong.
God's care for the lowly.

Psalm 113 echoes the themes:
Who is like the Lord our God, who is seated on high,
who looks far down on the heavens and the earth?
He raises the poor from the dust, and lifts the needy from the ash heap,'to make them sit with princes, with the princes of his people.
He gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children.
Praise the Lord!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Visitation of Mary, a Reflection on Luke 1:39-56

On the church calendar, May 31 is designated as the day to commemorate the Visitation of Mary. Methodists rarely celebrate this visit of Mary to her cousin Elizabeth on this date but rather incorporate it into our Advent schedules.

But, others do celebrate it, and this year, I think I will too.

Lessons (pointed out by Fred Craddock in Preaching through the Christian Year C) include:
Two examples of how God can accomplish something impossible--or at least unexpected. Who would have expected an elderly woman long considered barren or an unmarried woman to get pregnant (the second one may not seem so strange to us, but it was unlikely at the time). Elizabeth's story is much like Sarah's (see Geneses 18:14), but what God accomplishes through Mary's son is unprecedented.

The two women are named, unlike most women in the gospels. offers Images of the Visitation ranging from a 14th century Giotto to contemporary ones.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Through the Holy Spirit, a Reflection on Romans 5:1-5

Although we can doubt that Paul was giving the doctrine of the Trinity much thought as he wrote this passage to the Romans, we can still use it to help us understand that doctrine.

Looking for them, we can read about God, about Christ, and about the Holy Spirit in these verses. We usually are focusing on the "justified by faith" part--as opposed to being justified in any other less satisfactory way. This week we focus on how that happens--that our justification by (or our faith in?) God comes through Christ. Christ models for us suffering and the product of suffering. Further, the means of that process occurs because the Holy Spirit pours God's love into our hearts.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Prayer for Oil-Soaked Gulf

The GBOD website offers a prayer for an oil-soaked gulf written by Safiyah Fosua

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

(Repeat from December 2008)

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

From the beginning, a reflection on Proverbs 8:22-31

Trinity Sunday--a time set aside for us to reflect on that belief that sets Christianity apart from Judaism or Islam.

Moreover, it's a time for us to reflect on the Holy Spirit. Most of what we say and believe about our Christian faith is about God the Father and Jesus Christ. We don't often address our prayers to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit doesn't appear often in our hymns.

The lectionary has chosen this passage for the first reading on Trinity Sunday.

Wisdom was created by God and was present with God as the earth and all its components were created. I looked back at Genesis 1 because of the similarities to that telling about creation:
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters....

A footnote explains that the word translated as "wind" is ruakh ("air" in Hebrew) may also be translated as "wind" or "breath" and that the KJV and RSV translated it as "spirit."

Since I grew up on the RSV and certainly was influenced as well by the KJV, I still think "spirit," particularly on Trinity Sunday, but I'm willing to consider wisdom.

So, I turned again as I often do to Preaching the Old Testament by Ronald J. Allen & Clark M. Williamson:

"The Wisdom literature assumes that the world itself reveals the character and purposes of God. The idea that Woman Wisdom was an agent of creation is one way of explaining how the divine intentions become implanted in the world: wisdom put them there. Now, people can discover God's design for the good life by paying attention to what we learn from life itself."

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Availability of Wisdom, a Reflection on Proverbs 8:1-4

This passage opens with the question, "Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice?"

I get it that this is a rhetorical question; yet, I find myself pondering it as if I need to gather evidence for a yes answer. Is wisdom calling? Or, should I be asking whether I'm listening.

This proverb reminds us that wisdom is all around us as we travel-on the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads. And wisdom is with us at the end of that trip to town--beside the gates and at the entrance of the portals.

Wisdom has a message for us, a message we need to heed. Wisdom can tell us what we need to know in order to live our lives the way God intended for them to be lived.

Compare the description of wisdom, her presence and her message to the gospel passage for this Sunday, "I still have many things to say to you.....When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth..."

Note, but no commentary: Wisdom is perceived as feminine in the Old Testament, but in the New Testament, the Spirit is masculine. Go figure.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Come, Let Us Pray: St. Augustine

The Virtual Abbey is offering a new series, Favorite Prayers. Today, we are helped prepare for Trinity Sunday by this prayer from St. Augustine:

Breathe in me O Holy Spirit that my thoughts may all be holy;
Act in me O Holy Spirit that my works, too, may be holy;
Draw my heart O Holy Spirit that I love but what is holy;
Strengthen me O Holy Spirit to defend what is holy;
Guard me then O Holy Spirit that I always may be holy.

Always and Ever, a reflection on John 16:12-15

The gospel reading for Trinity Sunday reminds us that Holy Spirit continues to speak to us.

Jesus was reassuring his disciples that even after he left them, the Spirit would continue to be their guide. This reassurance is meant for us, as well. We can continue to hear.

Jesus spoke to specific people, living in a particular geographic area, subject to the laws and customs of their time. Because of the Holy Spirit, we are able to hear the truth that will guide us--as different as we are from the original disciples, as different as our governments and environments are.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Children of God, a Reflection on Romans 8:14-17

Who belongs? Who qualifies to be one of us? Who is guarding the borders?

Those are modern questions about modern geographic borders.

And they are historic questions as new as they are old.

Paul told the Romans that all who are led by the Spirit of God are God's children. All?

How do we know? Paul told the Romans that the Spirit tells us so. We are children of God and so are they.

Somewhat disconcerting is the reminder that being in the family does not mean only a showering of familial benefits. Paul adds that since we are sibling of Christ, we will suffer with them. OTOH, since we are siblings, we'll also be glorified with him.

He told the Romans. The Spirit is still doing the reminding. We can receive the witness of the Spirit, even us, even today, and them, too.

Repeat from last year:
Paul reminds us that we are children of God. God's Spirit is within us. The idea did not originate with Paul. Israel spoke of God's Spirit dwelling within their community (Exodus 25:8). Paul recognizes that the Spirit lives within Gentiles as well.

Trinity Sunday is a good time to look at the people around you and consider what it means for you that God's Spirit is within each of them. And it's a good time to consider what it means for your congregation that God's Spirit is dwelling within your church body. What kind of witness are you viewing? What kind of witness are you showing?

(again, I'm thankful to Allen & Williamson's Preaching the Letters.)

Saturday, May 22, 2010

How Manifold Are Your Works, a Reflection on Psalm 104:24-34, 35b

Repeat from last year:
Don't fall into the error of modalism--that at different points of history, God appeared in different forms. That is, God was Father during the Old Testament times, then became the visible Son, then at Pentecost became manifest as the Spirit.

The lectionary choice of Psalm 104 for Pentecost Sunday reminds us that God as Spirit was present at creation. Verses 24 through 28 cite examples of what God as created--the earth, ships, Leviathan.

These created things need the Spirit:

When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust.
When you send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the ground (29-30).

We have been through Lent and through Eastertide. In the church calendar, we are now entering what is called Ordinary Time. We, in the Scriptures and in our lives, have seen and will seen pain and blessings. Verses 33-34 will be a good prayer for us this week and weeks to come:
I will sing to the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praise to my God while I have being.
May my meditation be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the Lord.
Bless the Lord, O my soul.
Praise the Lord!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

What do Strangers Have to Say to Us? a Reflection on Acts 2:14-21

Repeat from last year:
Here is part of the poem, "Pentecost," offered by Jan L. Richardson:
and I am not persuaded
that if we look alike
God will love us more.

I believe God loves the languages
of those struggling to speak
the words embedded in our flesh
of every shape and hue.

And I believe God blesses
every space where we are welcomed
to speak with tongues of fire
and hear with hearts aflame.

I found the poem in her book, In Wisdom's Path: Discovering the Sacred in Every Season.

Her thoughts have forced me to rethink the Pentecost message. Have I been too restrictive in my definition of language?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Offertory Prayers June 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

June 6, 2010 -- Second Sunday after Pentecost
God of Elijah, the stories of your time-worn prophet continue to be relevant in our modern times. We are all in need of embracing the truthfulness of your word. The impoverished widow gave out of obedience to you. Her action was a sign of your direction in her life. As we commend this offering to your care, remind us that our act of giving represents our sincere faith commitment to you. Bless these gifts so that they may inspire others to be in a covenant relationship with you. In your name, we pray. Amen. (1 Kings 17:8-16)

June 13, 2010 -- Third Sunday after Pentecost
Loving God, the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross is difficult for us to comprehend fully. You first gave freely and without regret. You offered each of us this gift of salvation. You simply ask for our repentance of sins and our abiding faith. Your example compels us to be sacrificial in our giving and generous in our hearts. We dedicate these gifts to your service with thanksgiving for the peace you offer through your saving grace. Amen. (Luke 7:36-8:3)

June 20, 2010 -- Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
Healing Father, use these gifts to mend the hearts of those who have been possessed by earthly demons. You have the ability to mend our insecurities, our greed, our self-indulgence, our prejudice, and our fear. You alone can nurture our souls. May these worshipful moments renew our desire to follow you and to reject the forces of evil. In the name of your son, Jesus Christ, who restores and reconciles all who believe in him, we pray. Amen. (Luke 8:26-39)

June 27, 2010 - Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
Everlasting God, you never ask us to wait when we cry out in despair. You are ever-present. You provide counsel in our bleakest moments. You share joy in our celebratory times. We confess that sometimes we are reluctant in our relationship with you. We do not desire to be the would-be followers of Jesus, like Luke describes. Help us to be committed totally to you in the days ahead. We rededicate ourselves to you and share a portion of our financial earnings with you. We pray in Jesus' name. Amen. (Luke 9:51-62)

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

Worship Helps for Pentencost

The GBOD provides Worship helps for Pentecost.

Reactions to the Pentecost Surprise, a Reflection on Acts 2:1-13

The Holy Spirit appeared suddenly, loudly, and effectively. The reaction was mixed. Some were bewildered, amazed, astonished.

Even when they found themselves able to understand in their own languages what the recipients were saying, the first witnesses either didn't know what was happening or made up a reason that seemed reasonable--they must be drunk.

Miracles or any exciting phenomena do not necessarily generate faith.

Peter responded to the lack of understanding and the rude remark by preaching a sermon.

Nonbelievers will not agree with our explanations. At least right away. After all, why should they? Allowing experience to explain phenomena is not unexpected.

Be careful with those sermons. They don't always help the unbeliever. At least right away.

I'm wondering what fraction of the people listening to a sermon on any Sunday are unbelievers. I'm wondering what they think about what they see happening that we explain has come through the Lord.
(Repeat from last year)

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Continuity, a Reflection on John 14:12-19, 25-27

When they had asked him to show the the Father, Jesus told them they had already been able to see the Father. He added "Even if you don't believe my words, you've got my works to convince you."

Believe what you have heard me say. Or, believe what I have said. Or, let what you have seen me accomplish be proof.

Then he extends this pattern to include them: Those who believe in me will also be able to do the works that I do.

He's leaving them. But, the world will not lose what he has been able to do. The ability that Jesus has demonstrated to help them out will continue after the physical separation.

"In a little while, the world won't be able to see me any more, but you will."

"The Father will send an Advocate for you, the Holy Spirit."

Jesus outlines the work of the Advocate: to teach them and to remind them of everything that Jesus had said to them.

Jesus had spoken the words of the Father. The Holy Spirit will continue to speak to them--and to us.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Show us, a Reflection on John 14:8-11

After he had told them that he was going, they understandably were dubious about their ability to continue without him (14:5).

Philip needed to have some proof. Jesus responds by asking him if he hadn't been paying attention. "Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. The words I speak are the Father's words."

By the words he had spoken, Jesus has revealed God to them.

He then adds "Even if you have trouble believing the words I say, just look at the works I have done. What I have done is evidence that I am in the Father and the Father is in me."

By the deeds he had performed, Jesus has revealed God to them.

In the small group that I am part of, the leader asks at the beginning of each meeting, "Where have you seen God?"

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Surely I am coming soon, a Reflection on Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21

Jesus promised, "I am coming soon," and added "I'm going to repay everyone according to their work" (12). Christians of his time needed reassurance during their suffering and encouragement during their temptations.

Well, so do we.

We look around and see people being greedy, selfish, uncaring, and could even find some comfort in the notion that they will be paid back some day. At least, we do as long as we can avoid looking in mirrors.

Instead of being glad or afraid of the promise of retribution, it would be better for us to live already in the way Christ has shown us.

Let us hang on to the assurance that anyone who wishes may take the water of life as a gift (17).

Bible readers continue to argue between merit (12) or free gift (17).

How we settle that argument may well determine whether we are looking forward with trepidation or joy to the promise, "Surely I am coming soon."

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Rejoice in the Lord, a Reflection on Psalm 97

The lectionary has chosen Psalm 97 as a response to the reading from Acts for the seventh Sunday of Easter. In that passage, the jailer is a convert to Christianity. He had asked, "What must I do to be saved?" Paul and Silas, prisoners, responded by telling him and his household about the Lord.

From Acts, "The entire household rejoiced...." From the Psalm, "Let the earth rejoice...."

In both cases, the appropriate response to the presence, the recognition of the presence of the Lord is to rejoice.

And in both cases, the rejoicer is not a long-time insider. Verse 6 of the psalm includes "all the peoples behold his glory."

In Acts, an earthquake had made possible the escape of Paul and Silas, but they remained in jail so as to keep the jailer from being held responsible for their escape. The ones who had been given rescue in turn chose to rescue their jailer. Verse 10 of the psalm reminds us "The Lord loves those who hate evil; he guards the lives of the faithful; he rescues them from the hand of the wicked."

Paul and Silas were faithful and they were rescued. In the jailer's case, rescue came before faithfulness. For all of them and for us, it is appropriate to sing:
Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous, and give thanks to his holy name!

Friday, May 14, 2010

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).

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Memphis Conference Disaster Recovery

Memphis Conference Disaster Recovery sets up call numbers for persons asking for assistance in storm cleanup and rebuilding.

The Memphis Conference is organizing relief efforts for all persons affected by the May 1, 2010 flooding and tornadoes in West Tennessee.
Five United Methodist disaster relief teams are in place to offer early response, recovery and rebuilding to persons and communities affected by the recent disaster.

Teams, directed by Bill Carr, Disaster Recovery Coordinator for the Memphis Conference, have been working at multiple locations around West Tennessee since the storms ravaged homes and communities.

To continue to provide assistance to West Tennessee residents affected by the disaster, two call centers have been established, one at the Memphis Conference office in Jackson and one at Millington First United Methodist Church in Millington.
Beginning Thursday, May 13, volunteers and staff are manning phones from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday to receive calls for assistance. The numbers are 877-345-8480 (toll-free) for residents throughout West Tennessee, except Millington area residents who should call 901-872-4414.

All but three counties, Weakley, Henry and Lake, in West Tennessee have been declared natural disaster areas and are eligible for help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), according to Bill Carr.

Carr is organizing the conference's disaster relief teams, churches and other volunteers to respond to the needs of any individuals requesting help. "We will help everyone we can as quickly as we can," he said.

For those persons interested in joining the response and recovery effort, please call 877-345-8480 or if in the Millington area, call 901-872-4414.

Donations for recovery efforts may be sent to Memphis Conference Treasurer, PO Box 10667, Jackson, TN 38308-0111 clearly marked for MAC 2010 Flood and Tornado Recovery.

(See information below shared by James R. Allen, Treasurer/Director of Administrative Services, Tennessee Conference.)

Federal Tax Relief is now available for all Tennessee Flood Victims:
For people living in the Tennessee counties that have been declared a disaster area, see this article from Bradly, Arant, Boult Cummings law firm. . It reads to me as if an individual can file an amended 2009 tax return and get a tax deduction of the amount of their uninsured flood related property losses in excess of $500.Different rules apply if you take the deduction on your 2010 return - losses in excess of 10% of your adjusted gross income plus $100.
Important point: Keep records NOW of your losses, you can figure out later, after you know what your insurance will cover (if any), whether you can deduct your losses from your 2009 or 2010 taxes. - from James R. Allen, Treasurer/Director, Administrative Services, Tennessee Conference.

Reflection on Acts 1:1-11

If you had been living in that time and place where the itinerant healer and preacher was crucified, would you have been able to foresee that his teachings would be remembered 2,000 years later? How likely would it have seemed to you that from a small bunch of scared followers, a world-wide religion would develop?

How did it happen?

A clue is in this passage from Acts. After his resurrection, Jesus appeared to the disciples he had chosen to be his apostles. He told them that they were going to be empowered by the Holy Spirit to be witnesses to the ends of the earth."

They were. And they did.

from Psalm 47:
Sing praises to God, sing praises;
sing praises to our King, sing praises

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Ascension, a Reflection on Luke 24:44-53

Excerpt from last year:
And then to this group of disciples who have been huddled together in fear and, even in the joy of recognition, have been disbelieving, he now commissions them, "You are witnesses that the Scriptures have been fulfilled."
Commission--I am sending upon you what my Father promised. Stay here in this city until that power comes.

While they are waiting, they gather in the temple.

I'm thinking that many of us Christians have gotten stuck in that period between Ascension and Pentecost. We have known the presence of Christ. We have heard and believed the promised made to us. We're expecting something great to come among us. We are gathered together in great joy to continue our worship of the Lord. We love church and we love the Lord and we love each other. But....

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Freeing the Jailor, a Reflection on Acts 16:16-34

After baptizing Lydia and her household, Paul continues his evangelism in Philippi. He performs an exorcism on a slave girl. The consequent loss of her ability to tell fortunes so upsets her owners that they have Paul and Silas arrested.

Being a Christian, doing Christian things does not impute immunity. They go to prison.

Being a Christian, doing Christian things is not restricted to a church building. They witness to a jailer who then seeks baptism.

Notice that they stop and speak to the jailer rather than take the opportunity to escape. The prison doors are open, but they choose to comfort and protect their jailer.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Prayers and Hymns for Ascension

Worship Aids for Ascension

Prayer for Unity, a Reflection on John 17:20-26

In his farewell prayer, Jesus asks that we may all be one.

He's preparing to give up his life and what he wants is for us to be not only each for him but each for each other.

This unity will both enable and demonstrate the love that God has.

God's love is not restricted or small; it is intended for the world.

Here's what Gail O'Day and Susan Hylen say in their commentary on John:

The words and work of believers are to be shaped by Jesus' life and death. As the one God sent, Jesus prays for those whom he likewise sends into the world. The relationship of the Father and Son shapes the relationship of believers to one another, and to God and Jesus.

Tangent: I'm trying to imagine what Christianity would look like if we, as in this prayer, were to become completely one. I don't think this is an argument against denominationalism any more than against congregationalism, but I think I had better think about it.

The unity of Christians would be instructive, Jesus says. The world is watching, is the modern phrase. And since they are watching, what do we think they see? How is your congregation demonstrating the love we receive?

Choice: Ascension or 7th Sunday

A couple of alternative are feasible for lectionary-following congregations this week. Some will celebrate the Ascension Thursday. Others will wait until Sunday.

On my theory of more Bible rather than less, I have included in this week's daily lectionary readings for Ascension (Acts 1:1-11; Psalm 47 or Psalm 110; Ephesians 1:15-23; Luke 24:44-53) and for the 7th Sunday after Easter( Acts 16:16-34; Psalm 97; Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21).

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Reflection on Revelation 22:1-5

"Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life," chapter 22 begins.

The river flows from the throne of God and the Lamb--that's the source. And it flows right through the middle of the street of the city. What begins with God sustains the world.

On either side of the river is the tree of life.

This tree has leaves for the healing of the nations. The word "nations" means that the healing is not just for us insiders, but that is for them too.

I found an April 1999 Interpretation that had survived at least three moves. In it, Gail A. Ricciuti writes about Revelation 21:22-22:5 in the section, Between Text and Sermon.

I hope you also can find a copy and read her entire article. Here's an excerpt:

The end of things will come not by a cosmic catastrophe but a revealing, not from the worst we can imagine, but from the best we dare to hope. The psalmist records that it was by the rivers of Babylon we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion (Psalm 137:1). But whereas the rivers of Babylon represented exile, John's river-vision is of a homecoming....

Rome's power proves no match for the Power embodied in the River flowing from the throne of the God-Lamb, and the Tree rooted by those waters. The ultimate triumph of God is best imagined, paradoxically, in the organic, ecological realm, which proves at last enduring and indestructible in a way that all the the earthly powers were not. The final assurance we are given that God will preside over the end of history as over the beginning of creation, and really preside over it so much as dwell within it....

The final denouement is not a threat but an invitation to us, as inheritors of a blessed future, to begin to build on earth the reality toward which our hope reaches out!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

A New Way of Life, a Reflection on Revelation 21:10, 22-27

Think about the city you are living in now. Are there designated places to go to worship? Think about your neighborhood. Does it have walls around it, a gate to let in pre-approved people? Some cities and some neighborhoods are like this.

And then there's the new city described in the book of Revelation.

No temple. We won't need some special, set-aside place to go to worship God. God will be present to us wherever we are.

No shut gates. We won't need a barrier to keep out folks not like us. People from all nations will come in, and bring with them gifts to benefit our lives.

Further, we won't even need street lights, because the glory of God the Almighty will provide all the light we need through the Lamb as our lamp. (Also see Isaiah 60:19-20; Zechariah 14:7.) My own imagination limits my ability to understand this one other than metaphorically.)

Instead of a special place to worship God, the whole city is infused, illuminated, and open.

Yet, not completely accessible. (Also see Isaiah 35:8-9).

Friday, May 7, 2010

Blessings a Reflection on Psalm 67

When reading or hearing other people's prayers, I sometimes find myself wondering: How honestly can I pray this prayer? Do I really want God to grant this particular petition?

My reservations may be based on whether I think God would want to do what we are asking or they may be based on whether I myself really want it.

This psalm, for example. I'm OK with the prayer asking for God's grace and presence. I'm OK with everybody knowing and praising God.

But, what if the way that God shines on them over there is through my actions? Just how is God's way made known anyway? Am I supposed to be demonstrating it? Whereas I can be sincerely grateful that the earth has yielded its increase, that I am fully aware that God has blessed us, can I also be as sincere and aware of my part in ensuring that these blessings are extended to all the ends of the earth?

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Lydia, a Reflection on Acts 16:13-15

They had been traveling through what we now call northern Greece for several days. Looking for a place of prayer (the text might mean what we call a synagogue), they went outside the city. They found a group of women gathered for prayer.

One of the women was Lydia, a businesswoman. We are told she is a worshipper of God.

We read, "The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul." She and her household responded by becoming baptized. She then invited Paul and the other travelers to stay in her home.

Paul responded to a vision. Lydia responded to a vision.

In his trip to a new place, Paul accepts an offer of hospitality from a woman.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Gospel goes to Europe, a Reflection on Acts 16:9-12

"During the night Paul had a vision, " Come over to Macedonia and help us."

Throughout the Bible, God has come to designated people through a vision--Abraham, Jacob, Samuel, Daniel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and others. They usually responded (I'm saying "usually" but I think "always" might be true, but I don't want to look it up right now.

Paul immediately responds to the vision. He and his companions set sail immediately.

So begins the entry of the gospel story into Europe. I'm pausing here to imagine what Christianity would have been like if Paul had ignored this vision or, more importantly, what Europe would have been like.

We still are called to take the story into new places--let's be metaphorical here. Think about the Macedonias in our world, ones that don't require a long boatride, places with people who aren't like us, people we don't know, people who need the help of the church.

Tangent: Even after reading commentaries, I don't know what the significance of the change from 3rd person to 1st person means. Other 1st person sections in the narrative are 20:5-15; 21:1-18; 27:12-28:16).

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

A Methodist View on Immigration

UMW march for immigrant rights

Peace, a Reflection on John 14:27-29

If I could say it better, I would. But, I can't. So I'm quoting Gail O'Day and Susan Hylen's commentary on John:
In the Old Testament, "peace" was a conventional leave-taking. That meaning is surely appropriate here, but again Jesus' words also have another meaning. The "peace" Jesus gives carries the weight of the Old Testament understanding of God's profound and abiding presence (see Isa 52:7; 54:10; Ezek 37:26-28; Zech 9:10).

This peace is now available in Jesus. This is not the world's peace, nor does it imply that everything shall go smoothly for Jesus' followers, who are instructed not to be afraid....Jesus' peace is a gift for disciples who live in a troubling world.

Pain and loss may always be present with us, but they are never the last word.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Then and Still Now, a Reflection on John 14:23-26

In chapter 13, they share their last supper together. Jesus tells them that he is leaving them. In chapter 18, he is arrested and put on trial.

Between these events, John's gospel records for us what we may call his farewell discourse. They ask him questions about matters they are concerned about, and Jesus imparts consolations, warnings, and instructions.

He addresses their concerns, but he is also speaking to us about our concerns, our experiences, our needs, and our obligations.

This is a Bible thing to do. Look back at Deuteronomy 6:5; 10:12; 11:1-8, 13. Moses is saying good by and telling them what to do after he is gone. Faithful people of generations after those wilderness wanderers continued to heed Moses' words. It's not just crossing over the river and you're home--it's living in that home the way God intended. Always was. Still is. Always will be.

In the passage from John that we are looking at today, Jesus emphasizes and entwines love and obedience. "Those who love me will keep my word" and "Whoever does not love me does not keep my word." He's said this before; e.g., 13:34-35; 14:15.

Also entwined with love is presence. In verse 22, one of his followers had asked why Jesus had revealed himself to only the few of them rather than more generally. In verse 23, we have his response, "Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them."

Our showing love to each other enables us to recognize the love we are receiving.

We today are still able to hear the words of Christ through the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit of God--our Advocate and Teacher-- continues to remind us of all that Jesus said to them and so continues to say to us.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Don't Keep It to Yourself, a Reflection on Revelation 21:5-6

"God is coming here to live with you and to take care of you," the vision imparted to him.

The good news was not his to keep alone. After he had been told about the new earth, about the end of turmoil, and the assurance of God's presence and care, John is then given the command to tell about it.

God said to this long ago witness, "Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true. It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life."

We hear the good news, we become part of the good news, we share what we know, what we have been told, what has been done for us. We share by telling and by doing. Through us, God can continue to give water to the thirsty--both literally and metaphorically.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

The Home of God, a Reflection on Revelation 21:1-4

The reading from John's Gospel this week quoted Jesus' words to his loyal disciples, "Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him." He then instructed them to love one another--"That's how somebody will know that you are one of my disciples, by the love you have for one another."

The reading from Acts reminds us that the Christian love we have and demonstrate is not restricted to a very small group. The Holy Spirit can fall on people that we might not have thought appropriate for that gift. We are left to ponder whether the Holy Spirit is still doing that, left to ponder whether we should voice Peter's words, "If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?"

Psalm 148 is more explicit in its inclusivity. Everybody, everything praise the Lord. Nature, sun, moon, stars, fire, hail, snow, all animals, all people--all praise the Lord.

Themes from these readings extend into the passage from Revelation. John envisions a new heaven and a new earth. Things are now different from the way they were; moreover, they are different because God has said so. Furthermore, in this new way of things, God will continue to be in our midst. God will continue to care for us.

Every day, several times a day, we face temptations to bow to the demands of the society around us. We, of course, care about assuring and protecting our own security. But, if we are Christians, since we are Christians, we have to take up residency in this new earth, one with tribes from every nation, everybody speaking different languages. We are all there together, all worshipping God.

Where once heaven and earth seemed so far apart, so separate, now, in Christ, we see heaven coming down to us. Where once we thought of God as far away, so separate, now, we experience God's presence right here, right now.