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.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Choose Life, a Reflection on Deuteronomy 30:15-20

Moses was speaking to a people who had been through the wilderness together and were now at the brink of entering the promised land. He preached to them about what their new lives could be like.

"God has given you instruction on how to live a life full of blessings. Now, choose to live that way. If you don't choose to walk in the way that God intends, you will miss out on those blessings."

Rather than being a burden, the law is seen as a vehicle.

Shelley Cochran, in the Pastor's Underground Guide to the Revised Common Lectionary, Year C, brings up a point that I had missed:
Jesus, however, says things are not quite that simple. Following him can lead to a cross. In fact, the consequences of following him can sometimes be so difficult that Jesus urges people to think twice before they choose to do so.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Offertory Prayers September 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

September 5, 2010 -- Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
O Lord, our Rock and Redeemer, the cost of discipleship seems just and reasonable as we bow our heads in prayer. Yet when we think about the economic pressures in our lives -- the mortgage, car payments, school supplies, health care, college tuition, and credit card debt -- giving money is a challenge. Strengthen the connection between your call to discipleship and our giving habits. We strive to grow in generosity so that our giving is a reflection of our desire to be in a covenant relationship with you. In your holy name, we pray. Amen. (Luke 14:25-33)

September 12, 2010 -- Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Redeeming God, we know what it is like to be wandering in the wilderness like lost sheep. We remember your hands, like those of a caring shepherd, guiding us back to our home in you. We seek to help others experience this same spiritual nurture. So we provide these financial gifts to be multiplied with other offerings. We are confident that these funds will inspire new ministries and reach the lost. We offer these gifts in the name of the Lamb of God, Jesus the Living Christ. Amen. (Luke 15:1-10)

September 19, 2010 -- Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
Faithful One, you have entrusted us with so many gifts that are more important than worldly possessions. You have called us to be stewards of all that you have created. We strive to fulfill your call to be generous stewards by openly sharing the bounty you have placed under our care. We know that we visibly demonstrate our commitment to your work in this world by giving these tithes and offerings. In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen. (Luke 16:1-13)

September 26, 2010 -- Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Patient God, our ears listen attentively, yet our understanding is lacking. Our eyes look wide open, yet we fail to see the human suffering that is squarely in front of us. Our hands stretch outward, yet remain listless. Our voice encourages others, yet remains silent to those in despair. Every day, we are faced with opportunities to respond. Forgive us. Awaken us. Encourage us. Call us again to respond by offering your salvation and your abundant life to others every day. We humbly place these gifts before you. Amen. (Luke 16:19-31)

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

The Cost of Discipleship, a reflection on Luke 14:25-33

Those of us who are used to thinking of the term "Family Values" to be synonymous with Christian Values may have struggled with this particular passage. Is Jesus really telling us that we have to hate our families and to leave them behind if we want to join the church? Not a message I see being lived out by the churches I am familiar with.

Just about as troubling is the requirement to halt needed work like foundation building or to begin projects without considering what resources are necessary.

So, once again I am grateful to Ronald Allen & Clark Williamson who wrote a lectionary commentary called Preaching the Gospel without Blaming the Jews.

Early Christians would have found these commands difficult as well since rabbinic Judaism has no instructions to hate family. To help us to interpret what Jesus is saying to us, Allen & Williamson suggest we need to put the passage in context. Jesus had just told a parable about a man who invited a lot of people to dinner and they were too busy with their own lives to show up.
The banquet is the kingdom. The excuses represent the kinds of ties that people have--to real estate, to work, and to family--ties that keep us from giving our ultimate commitment to the work of God in the world. .... Jesus' teaching about hating our loved ones is not recommending that we feel hatred for them....It is about choices, decisions.

More from Allen & Williamson:
The language is hyperbolic. We are to have a relative love for the relative and an ultimate love ... for God and God's kingdom.... We are to assess critically whether we can finish what we start, whether we can stay the course of discipleship. Can we make the commitment to peace, justice, economic sufficiency for all, and respect for the well-being of the stranger that commitment to the kingdom and following Jesus entail?

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Pleasing God, a Reflection on Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16

"Let mutual love continue," this week's passage from Hebrews begins. I'm assuming that the word "continue" connotes that this congregation already has achieved mutual care. The next instruction is "Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers..." They can love each other, and they are also required to love some new people, people they aren't used to, people that may not automatically know what they're supposed to do in each circumstance.

How are we supposed to interpret this prescription? Who should be included in the category "stranger"? How would we show hospitality to someone in our country that we did not invite in?

The letter continues with its instructions: Remember those in prison. And not just remember, empathize. Are we allowed to limit this just to people who are imprisoned for certain beliefs rather than have to think about the other prisoners, those who we think really should be put somewhere out of sight.

Then the message comes home--literally. "You married people, stay faithful."

And, in this time of economic difficulty, what do we do with the command to keep our lives free from love of money?

To summarize, care for strangers, prisoners, spouses, but don't obsess so much about money. After all, God is with us and will help us through it all.

Thomas Long in his commentary on Hebrews, says about verses 15-16:
We do not make, of course, the same sacrifice that Jesus offer; his was "once for all" (10:10). Our sacrifices are praising God, confessing God, name in public, doing works of mercy, and sharing what we have with others--in other words, right out there in public view we are to worship, evangelize, empathetically serve the needy and exercise generosity to others. Such "sacrifices are pleasing to God", which is one of the marks of faith.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

God appeals to a stubborn people, a Reflection on Psalm 81:1, 10-16

The psalm begins with a command to sing joyously to God then lists some reasons why we should.

Verses 10-16 are in the voice of God, saying what I, God, did, and what you, the not-always-grateful people did next. God had rescued the people from slavery in Egypt and provided them with the necessary food to keep them going on their journey. And God provided them with something else necessary for their journey--instruction in a way of life.

What response what we expect from people who had received such gifts? What God got was a people who refused to listen, who refused to obey. God's response to that recalcitrance was to just let them do what they wanted to do.

But God is not abandoning these abandoning people. "If only they would listen," God says.

Off on a tangent part: The psalm ends with this verse: I would feed you with the finest of the wheat and with honey from the rock I would satisfy you. I immediately was reminded of the singing group Sweet Honey in the Rock. Take some time today to listen to them.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Accusations, a Reflection on Jeremiah 2:4-13

Jeremiah is speaking to a particular people at a particular time. The New Interpreter's Study Bible describes the setting:
The book tries to come to terms with and move beyond destruction wrought by Babylon's three invasions of Judah and its chief city...The exilic period was a time of immense theological disruption for Judah. Not only was the fabric of daily life in the community destroyed, but the symbolic world that supported life collapsed as well. Serious questions emerged from this turmoil. Did the nation's political and military collapse mean that God had forgotten the chosen people?....

And Jeremiah is speaking to us, too. We may not have the Babylon army at our borders, but we do have our fears about our security in the future and our regrets about our failures in the past.

We can hear the questions posed by the Lord to those people and hear them asked of us, as well. The Lord asks, "What did your ancestors think that I did so wrong that they turned away from me? How could they have forgotten what I had done for them? I brought them out of slavery, led them through the wilderness, and delivered them into a land of plenty. In return, you have forgotten me."

Through the voice of Jeremiah, the Lord accuses them of a shocking substitute--they willingly gave up allegiance to the real God for a false substitute.

"How smart is this? It would be like giving up a spring that of flowing fresh water in exchange for a cracked cistern that would leak stale water.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Blessings of the Righteous, a Reflection on Psalm 112

This week's gospel lesson from Luke encourages us to be humble, not to presume that we are of high status. The lesson from Proverbs also cautions us not to assume status. In Sirach, we read about the Lord overthrowing unthroning the powerful and enthroning the humble in their place, how those who cling to pride are plucked up, laid waste to, and removed.

Psalm 112 is the lectionary response to the readings from Sirach or Proverbs. Rather than warn against presumption, it describes the blessings that accrue to the righteous.

Following the Lord's commandments will make you happy, your descendants rich. I read the first three verses and wondered if I had entered into Prosperity Gospel land. Wondering how this psalm was related to the pride v. humility message, I kept reading.

Verses 4 through 9 describe the lives and actions of the righteous: they are merciful and generous.

People secure in the Lord don't have to be afraid.

When righteous people favor distribution to the poor, the wicked get angry. But, those angry people--or as I would rather interpret it, the anger of those people--melts away.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Seating Choice, a Reflection on Proverbs 25:6-7

Each week during what we call Ordinary Time, the lectionary offers two alternate Old Testament (I just don't find that designation insulting) readings. The one this week that is paired with the Gospel lesson is from Proverbs,
Do not put yourself forward in the king's presence or stand in the place of the great; for it is better to be told, "Come up here," than to be put lower in the presence of a noble."

This advice dealt with more than etiquette. It, like other proverbs, was intended to help young people learn how to advance at court, and how to avoid embarrassing oneself on the way up.

When Jesus was speaking to the guests at the wedding banquet, the advice he gave was very similar, but he also spelled out the negative consequences, "When you're invited to a wedding banquet, don't seat yourself at the place of honor because somebody more distinguished may show up later and you'll be asked to move."

In his allusion to the proverbs, an allusion that his first hearers would have recognized, Jesus is reminding them that we do not have control over our perceived status, that we do not have the ability in ourselves to make ourselves exalted. But, we do have the ability to debase ourselves from time to time.

In the Proverbs, the actual king, and in Luke, the metaphorical host decide who gets what place at the table.

In his commentary of the Luke passage in the August 24, 2010, issue of the Christian Century, Patrick Wilson writes:
Who is this host who speaks so graciously to us and calls us friend? Who can it be other than Christ himself? We do not have to scramble for a place at his table. Our names are on the invitation list. A place is prepared, and when we hold back, uncertain that we really belong, too timid to believe we are truly welcome, he says, "Friend, come up higher."
Everyone is welcome here. You don't have to puff yourself up or pretend. Your value is not determined by calculations. You don't have to get and grab and grasp and grapple for a place. You are welcome here.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Sin of Pride, a reflection on Sirach 10:12-18

Since not everyone has a Bible that includes the Apocrypha, here is today's lectionary passage:

The beginning of human pride is to forsake the Lord;
the heart has withdrawn from its Maker.
For the beginning of pride is sin,
and the one who clings to it pours out abominations.
Therefore the Lord brings upon them unheard-of calamities,
and destroys them completely.
The Lord overthrows the thrones of rulers,
and enthrones the lowly in their place.
The Lord plucks up the roots of the nations,
and plants the humble in their place.
The Lord lays waste the lands of the nations,
and destroys them to the foundations of the earth.
He removes some of them and destroys them,
and erases the memory of them from the earth.
Pride was not created for human beings,
or violent anger for those born of women.

About the time we begin to think that we deserve some praise or reward because of our many valuable accomplishments, we are at the point of losing sight of who really does the accomplishments. The pride we have in ourselves will crowd out our recognition of what the Lord has done for us. And, we will be faced with the consequences of our neglect and forgetfulness.

To help with your own recognition of the Lord's place and yours, please look at Prayers for a Privileged People written by Walter Brueggemann.

The publisher Abingdon Press describes this collection of prayers:
In Prayers for a Privileged People, this much-published author sculpts—as carefully as if with chisel—prayers on behalf of those who are people of privilege and entitlement—the haves—at an urgent moment in our society. The privileged face, on the one hand, the seduction of denial or, on the other, the temptation of despair. These prayers of wisdom and prophetic power remind us that when things go wrong , when we are afraid , and when we feel prodded by those who lack voice, there is a conversation we can have—a conversation situated amid the promises and commands of God.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Offertory Prayer for August 29, 2010 - Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Generous God, we humbly offer these gifts in response to your Living Word. You remind us that extending radical hospitality has all to do with your love and nothing to do with our social status. If we loved those outcast in our society like we have been loved by you, our world would be a place of true acceptance and abounding joy. May it be so today! In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen. (Luke 14:1, 7-14)

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

Church Metrics, a Reflection on Luke 14:1, 7-14

I've been reading several web postings about the best way to measure church performance. Should we report membership or attendance? Or, should we focus on age-distribution? And so on.

Then this morning I read this passage from Luke and am thinking about suggesting a different metric. How many poor people did you invite to share a meal with you at your church? Could a crippled person easily get into your building? Could a blind person find the sanctuary, the Sunday School room, the bathroom?

As we answer these questions, let us remember what else Jesus said that day: You will be blessed because they cannot repay you.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

What Cannot be Shaken, a Reflection on Hebrews 12:25-29

"You have not come to something that can be touched," the preacher had said, "a blazing fire, darkness, gloom, and a tempest." He continued on, describing how terrifying that mountain was then contrasted that experience with the approach to the new mountain.

There, at this new mountain, are assembled a congregation before God who is the judge of all and Jesus, the mediator.

And, since Jesus is there, also present is the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

We are cautioned not to refuse the one who is speaking.

Remember. Pay attention. Listen.

Refusal to listen has consequences.

Life here on earth is temporary, but the life promised to us is unshakable.

Thomas Long, in his commentary, Hebrews, part of the Interpretation series, says:
Zion and Sinai are an eternity apart; one is the mountain of the new covenant and other the old. It is true that, like Sinai, Zion has fire and shaking, but under the new covenant these experiences are transformed. Under the old order, fires and earthquakes are destroyers, burning up everything in their paths and shaking down all once-stable structures. Under the new covenant, though, God shakes heaven and earth like an antique collector shakes the dust off an old marble statue: to get rid of everything that hides and defaces the beauty that was intended by the sculptor. In Zion, God shakes not to destroy but to preserve....

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Mount Zion, a Reflection on Hebrews 12:18-24

The preacher is describing what the community ruled by God is like. He uses the metaphor of two mountains. He describes the first as a place where some things can be seen and heard and touched. The other mountain, Mount Zion, is not like this.

Another important difference is that people had been terrified to approach the first mountain. At Mount Zion is a city whose residents are having a celebration.

From Eugene Boring and Fred Craddock's People's New Testament Commentary:
The judge is the God of all and therefore, the believers can anticipate fairness, impartiality, and vindication....The righteous dead have completed their pilgrimage, to be joined by the faithful readers....That the blood of Jesus speaks a better word than that of Abel is not a contrast but a comparison; reference to Abel recalls 11:4, which refers to his acceptable sacrifice of an animal (Geneses 4:4).

Friday, August 20, 2010

A Prayer for Rescue, a Reflection on Psalm 71:1-6

Repeat from January:
When Jeremiah was very young, the Lord appointed him to be a prophet to the nations. "Don't be afraid," the Lord told him, "I am with you and I am with you to deliver you."

When Jesus reminded his listeners of prophets' practice of aiding foreigners, his listeners were incensed. He escaped from their wrath.

The lectionary choice for a psalm to reply to the Jeremiah reading is the first six verses of Psalm 71.

The psalmist is asking the Lord for refuge, deliverance, rescue.

He is asking for help because he needs help and he can remember who has been his help in the past.

A modern discussion centers on why does God allow evil to exist. The question does not arise for this psalmist. Evil does exist, people can be unjust and cruel. And God is the one who can protect him from the wicked.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Call of the Unready, a Reflection on Jeremiah 1:4-10

Repeat from earlier this year:
I remember hearing one time--although I don't remember where or from whom--that baptism is our call. I'm thinking about that as I ponder today's passage from the prophet Jeremiah.

First point, the word of the Lord came to him. We are given no indication that Jeremiah was seeking the role as prophet.
Second and related point, Jeremiah was not an adult when the Lord sought him out.

God came to the unprepared, unconfident Jeremiah and assured him that he would be capable of doing the work to which he had been called, "I'll tell who needs my words, and I'll provide those words for you."

And, I'm wondering how seriously we who have been baptized take the call made to us.

For instance, who are these "nations" in verse 5? Who is included in this "all" in verse 7? The link the lectionary makes to Luke 4 is helpful (sometimes, another word for disturbing?).

First point, repeated: God does the work. Read verses 9-10. The Lord says, "I have given you the words. I have appointed you to speak to people you may not approve of or who have customs you don't understand, or don't look like you."

The message includes destruction and restoration.

To uproot and pull down. To destroy and overthrow.

But not just that, also to build and to plant.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

God's work, a reflection on Psalm 103:1-8

I'm wondering now if that critic in the synagogue in this week's gospel lesson (Luke 13:10-17) had read this psalm recently. And I can wonder if I have read it, absorbed its message often enough myself.

The psalm begins "Bless the Lord, O my soul." The psalmist would not have been aware of our attempts to separate body and soul--the Hebrew word connotes the entire self. We might give ourselves the reminder, "Pay attention, devote your thinking and doing and feeling, recognize and be grateful to the giver of all that you have and will need."

The psalmist lists specific benefits given by the Lord: forgiveness, healing, redemption.

He needs to remember these gifts. And he needs to remember that the Lord will continue to satisfy his needs and to restore his strength.

But, it's not just about him. In verse 6, the psalmist reminds himself that the Lord is not focused on only this one individual: "The Lord works vindication and justice for all who are oppressed."

It is right for me to pray prayers of thanksgiving, and it is right for me to remember that the Lord cares for more than just me.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Sabbath Directions, a Reflection on Isaiah 58:9b-14

On the sabbath and in the synagogue and in front of witnesses, Jesus healed the crippled woman. When confronted, Jesus responded that the woman needed help.

Centuries before, Isaiah also had words for hypocrites:
If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil(9b)

Jesus may have remembered Isaiah's reminder of what people who want to please God are supposed to be doing with their time:
offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted (10a)

Jesus's word to the religious leader about what is appropriate on the sabbath echo Isaiah's teaching:
If you refrain from trampling the sabbath, from pursuing your own interests on my holy day; if you call the sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs; then you shall take delight in the Lord. (13-14a)

Sabbath-keeping is caring for what God cares about.

But in this redirection, this caring, let us remember that the holy day of the Lord is intended to be a delight for us.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Fulfilling a commandment by breaking it, a Reflection on Luke 13:10-17

The religious leader was indignant that this person would openly violate an essential requirement. The accused, the one we call Lord, pointed out the hypocrisy.

Notice that Jesus isn't saying that the sabbath is unimportant. Rather, he's pointing out its important adds to the significance of healing the woman who has been crippled for almost two decades. As Sharon Ringe puts it in her commentary on Luke: "The core question is not whether to keep the sabbath, but rather how to keep it, and specifically, how keeping the day "holy" to God...."

Also note that the woman did not approach Jesus asking him for help. Rather, he saw her, called her over, healed her.

Which religious rules are we keeping but in the wrong way? Do we wait for people to come to us for help, or are we watching for opportunities to give help?

Further note the woman's reaction. As soon as she was healed, she began praising God. Do we remember to be grateful to the source of our gifts?

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Running the Race, a Reflection on Hebrews 11:29-12:2

What has been possible by faith--
making it out of Egypt and into the promised land
settling the land and protected it from enemies

Many suffered, many did not reach the goal

We remember them, how they lived their lives and what they accomplished by faith. Their lives and accomplishments are an example for us. They had a goal and were willing to make sacrifices.

And we have Jesus as our example. He strived and suffered, and he has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.

Thomas Long in his commentary Hebrews in the Interpretation series characterizes the author's message:
The Preacher knows that it is late in the day, and that we have already run several sprints and dashes. We are winded and tired, but this is the race that counts, so we are to strip off anything that would slow us down--all the weighty encumbrances and shackling sins and run our portion of the race with endurance. The trail has already been blazed; the path of the race has already been forged by Jesus. He is the lead runner, and he shows us where to go, since he is the "pioneer," the one who sets the course. He also shows us how to run, since he is the one who runs the race with flawless form, the "perfecter of our faith." Indeed, it is Christ who makes it possible for us to run at all.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Offertory Prayer for August 15, 2010

God of All, we are so thankful for this opportunity to give. Our joy is tempered by the knowledge that so many of your children suffer in war-ravaged countries and impoverished cities. Multiply these gifts so that those oppressed by injustice may experience your care. Awaken us so that our need to act faithfully against all injustice is reflected in how we speak and how we serve. In your holy name, we pray. Amen. (Psalm 82)

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.

Restore Us, a Reflection on Psalm 80:1-2, 8-19

We continue with the metaphor of God as the farmer and God's people as the vineyard, "You plucked up a vine from Egypt...cleared a place for it; it took deep root...." The vine thrived so much that even mountains could be shaded by it. Then God became angered and knocked down the wall protecting the vine. Every passerby--animal or human--could pluck the fruit off the vine.

In the passage from Isaiah, God is lamenting, "What more could I have done to ensure a better yield? I hoped for justice and equity but saw injustice and iniquity instead."

In Psalm 80, the people are addressing God in a time of their suffering:
O God, of hosts, restore us; show Your favor that we may be delivered.

In the plea for help, they remind God, "You were the one who planted us here." Of course, God knows that, but, of course, sometimes we need to remind ourselves.

"Help us," they ask, "and next time we will not turn away from you." May we continue to pray this promise but may we also live in away that keeps that promise.

Friday, August 13, 2010

An Unfruitful Vineyard, Reflection on Isaiah 5:1-7

Repeat from earlier year:
Isaiah tells the people of Israel this parable: The owner of the land, with great effort, plants vines on a very fertile hill. He got grapes, but not the kind of grapes he had worked for. He vows to make a new start, to tear down the wall that protects the vines, to quit tending them, not to prune or hoe, and he will quit watering them.

Isaiah is trying to get them to think about how much sense the landowner's reaction makes. "Apply this parable to your own lives. God gave you this land and cared for your needs. God expected great things from you. God expected to you to yield justice and righteousness. That's not what you did."

Lectio Divina: Isaiah 5:1-2

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Standards of Judgment, a Reflection on Psalm 82

Repeat from last month:
One troubling aspect in this psalm is that God will judge our actions.

Something else troubling is the actions that we are going to be accountable for. God is going to judge whether we
give justice to the weak and the orphan
maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute
rescue the weak and the needy
deliver them from the hand of the wicked.

We need to review this checklist as we determine how our church congregation should be involved with our neighborhoods and we need to review it as we determine what each of us personally is called to do.

How far does this Bible stuff go? Should we also think about this list as we make decisions on who to vote for?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Bibliography for Book of Hebrews

If you want to read more about the Book of Hebrews, Gary Shearer, the Reference Librarian of Pacific Union College Library has compiled a bibliograhy.

False and True Prophets, a Reflection on Jeremiah 23:23-29

In this week's gospel lesson, Jesus speaks prophetically giving warnings. His audience would not later be able to use ignorance of consequences as an excuse. After all, as Jesus reminded them, they were already accomplished sign readers.

Jeremiah was preaching to an earlier generation. He accused them of behaving as if God did not pay attention to their misdeeds. Furthermore, they had been listening to the wrong voices.

His words remain applicable to us. We still have to sift through the various points-of-view expressed by the many persons claiming to know what God wants us to do. We, like those ancient Judaeans, must strive to distinguish between false and true prophets. We must continue to wrestle with who is conveying the word of God to us and how we can know.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Interpretable Signs, a Reflection on Luke 12:54-56

Why do we have so much trouble discerning what it is that we are supposed to do? It's not because we are incapable of recognizing clues.

Jesus demonstrated this truth by reminding them that they knew that clouds in the west meant impending rain (from the Mediterranean Sea) and wind from the south (from the Negev desert) meant the temperatures were going to rise. They had the capability to recognize and interpret weather signs.

And they had the capability to recognize and interpret other signs, as well. Only a hypocrite would pretend that he didn't have enough information to know what was just in the circumstances.

Sharon Ringe in her commentary on Luke, points out that:
The social and economic contest for the saying is the rampant debt that was destroying families and communities throughout Palestine. If disputes about debts reached the Roman legal system, one of two verdicts would greet the debtor Either the debtor would be forced into indentured service to work off the debt, or the debtor would be throw into prison until family members managed to scrape together the needed money to pay off the debt (usually by selling off any remaining lands.) It was a system that allowed the rich to get richer, and that spelled the ruin of the poor....In order to avoid playing into such blatant injustice, the only soltuion would be to settle cases before they went to court. Whatever the actual patterns of debt and credit, justice required that the system be brought to an end....

Monday, August 9, 2010

We'll Have Conflict, a Reflection on Luke 12:49-53

Perhaps I shouldn't continue to be surprised that church people often don't get along with each other, that they squabble, engage in backbiting and, often frontbiting. The arguments may be over which Sunday School class gets which classroom, what kind of music or musical instruments are allowed at the morning worship service, and, even theological disputes at times.

After all, didn't Jesus warn us?

Well, okay, he probably wasn't talking about the kinds of disputes I have noticed, but he did say that peace was not the ultimate good. He didn't intend to paper over disagreement over essential matters or to ignore what was wrong.

In my own lifetime, church congregations have been split over civil rights and the Vietnam War. Many churches today have internal disputes about ordination of women and inclusion of gays and lesbians.

He did not come to bring peace. He lived a life that brought him to crucifixion. Taking him seriously, taking his message seriously, taking the decisions he made seriously will disrupt our lives. We don't join the church for the same reason we would join some kind of social club. We join the church to continue his work in the world. And sometimes, that work is scary.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Inward reality and outward force, a Reflection on Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16

We read about our predecessors to learn about ourselves. Their experiences serve as examples and as reminders for us. Hebrews gives us the opportunity to think about faith.

Thomas G. Long has written a commentary on Hebrews as part of the Interpretation series. He stresses that faith not only has an inward reality but that it also has an outward force:

Faith required a deep trust in the One who was sending him.

Abraham obeyed God, setting out for a destination without having to first know exactly where it was or what it was going to take to get there.

The journey of faith was dislocating.

And even when things did not seem to be turning out as Abraham had hoped, he continued to anticipate what had been promised.

For survival on the faith journey they were utterly dependent upon God for provisions along the way.

We who have descended from him continue to travel towards a promised home, continue to travel through a land that is foreign to us, continue to travel toward a city prepared for us. (Yes, we get it that the writer of Hebrews is being metaphorical here).

Long sums up:
Though the path was often mysterious and the travelers sometimes wondered where they would get the energy to go on, this journey's destination was never in doubt.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Offertory Prayer for August 8, 2010 -- Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

Faithful Father, you ask us to place you first in all that we do. You call us to surrender completely to your will and to be obedient to your word. However, letting go is such a great barrier to overcome. We fool ourselves into the premise of being in control. Lift this barrier! Increase our heart's desire to freely provide for others in our giving and our serving. In the name of your servant son, Jesus, the Christ, we bless these offerings to your glory. Amen. (Luke 12:32-40)

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.
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.

Sacrifices, a Reflection on Psalm 50:1-8, 22-23

Psalm 50 begins like a description of a trial. God the Lord summons us to judgment (1). And God is the judge (2-5).

The psalm then reminds us what true worship is--not an occasional public display but rather a consistent practice of thanksgiving (8).

What we do in worship is useful as a reminder of what we are supposed to be doing all the rest of the time.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Choices, a Reflection on Isaiah 1:1, 10-20

Isaiah presents the case against Judah. He uses the epithets Sodom and Gomorrah. It helps to understand this passage if we realize that their sin was inhospitality rather than what seems more convenient to us to be against.

"Don't be like Sodom and Gomorrah," Isaiah tells them that the Lord is saying. "They pretended to worship me, but they neglected to do any true worship. What I require is not parading around in public but rather taking care of those who need care."

What good is our worship if we ignore God's concerns?

The Lord has specific suggestions: rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.

We shouldn't comfort ourselves by saying that we don't sacrifice bulls in our sanctuaries anymore. These warnings are still relevant. What are our churches concerned about? How much time and money are we spending on ourselves and much effort are we putting into seeking what God considers justice?

The Lord gave and gives options: No matter how sinful you have been, you can repent and change. Building a world in which all have justice will result in a world in which you will benefit. Building a world in which many suffer will result in your having to live there too--a place of need and threat and fear.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Our Hope, a reflection on Psalm 33:12-22

12Happy is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people whom he has chosen as his heritage.

13The Lord looks down from heaven; he sees all humankind.

14From where he sits enthroned he watches all the inhabitants of the earth—

15he who fashions the hearts of them all, and observes all their deeds.

16A king is not saved by his great army; a warrior is not delivered by his great strength.

17The war horse is a vain hope for victory, and by its great might it cannot save.

18Truly the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love,

19to deliver their soul from death, and to keep them alive in famine.

The first readers of verse 12 of course were Jews and they would have sung this psalm as an affirmation that God had picked Israel out of all the nations to be the special people. How do we Christians today read it? Don't we really think that God likes us best of all the rest?

As I read verses 13-15, I am reminded of the conflict in the early church (see Paul's letter to the Galatians for example) when those of them who had always been faithful, practicing Jews began to concede that non-Jews could also be good Christians. Back to us--can we read verse 13 as a reminder and an affirmation that God cares for more people than just us?

And what do we care about? Where do we place our faith? our trust? Verses 16-17 are reminders that we have often tried to substitute things that we have control over for the unmatchable power of God.

Yet, this psalm allows us to admit that God's people are not free from fear or pain--see verse 19 with its explicit reference to death and famine.

Thus, it is with an open realization that the world has dangers and that we can't control those dangers no matter how powerful we are, that we rely on the care of the Lord.

20Our soul waits for the Lord; he is our help and shield.

21Our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name.

22Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, even as we hope in you.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Faith, a Reflection on Genesis 15:1-6

Looking back at the reflection for this reading for the Second Sunday of Lent this year:
When in doubt, he says so, a reflection on Genesis 15:1-6
The passage begins, "After these things..." I looked back to see what these things had been. They include the rescue by Abraham (He's still called Abram at this point) of his nephew Lot who had been captured by an army in their sack of Sodom. The kings in the area, including Melchizedek who was also a priest, had blessed Abraham in recognition of his defeat of their shared enemies. The king of Sodom had tried to reward Abraham but he refused taking anything that would make him seem a beneficiary of those powers (14).

Abraham is there because the Lord had told him to move to this place (12:1-3). When they had arrived in Canaan, the Lord had informed Abraham that although the land currently belonged to the Canaanites, in the future it would belong to Abraham's descendants (12:4-7). Before there were any descendants, though, Abraham allowed his wife, Sarah (whose name has not yet been changed from Sarai), to be taken into the Pharaoh's harem. The Lord intervened, and Abraham got his wife back (12:10-20).

But still no children by Sarah.

In a vision, the word of the Lord came to Abraham. First, the Lord reassures Abraham then tells him he will be rewarded very well. Protection right now and, later, rewards to come.

Abraham does not respond immediately with awe and gratitude. Rather, he reminds the Lord that the previous promise of descendants had not even begun to be fulfilled.

Can Abraham believe the shield part if he doesn't believe the rest of the promise? Remember, he has moved his family a large distance because he had believed what the Lord had told him.

When Abraham doubts, he expresses those doubts openly and directly.

The word of the Lord comes to Abraham. "Look at the sky and count the stars. There are too many to count. That's how many descendants you are going to have."

We are told that Abraham believed the Lord.

Side points: The commentary to verse 6 in the New Interpreter's Study Bible points out that the word translated as "believe" also means "trust" and that the New Testament authors interpreted this verse in contrasting ways:

The apostle Paul, in his explanation of God's inclusion of the Gentiles into the kingdom of God, later interpreted this verse to mean that faith apart from the works of the Law, is the ultimate basis for salvation. By contrast, the Letter of James interprets this verse to mean that works must accompany faith.

Percy C. Ainsworth wrote about "The Habit of Faith" in Weavings. Here's an excerpt:
Faith does more than hold our hand in darkness; it leads us into the light. It is the secret of coherence and harmony. It does not make experience merely bearable; it makes it luminous and instructive. It takes the separate or the tangled strands of human experience and weaves them into one strong cable of help and hope.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Preparing for a Banquet, a Reflection on Luke 12:35-40

"Do not worry," Jesus had said. Then he tells them what to do instead: Get ready.

Don't worry doesn't mean don't care.

Jesus has just told them that God is the source of their gifts (12:22-34), that God's kingdom is what they should strive for (31) and what will be given to them (32).

Continuing with the image of kingdom then, Jesus discusses their role--they are to God the king as earthly servants are to earthly masters.

What worthy servants do is be ready at any moment for any need of the master. If the master tells you exactly what time he's going to show up, then you could take off work until that time came. But, if you don't know when he's going to get home, then you have to stay ready.

But, something unexpected occurs in Jesus' parable: when the master gets there, he will serve the meal to the servants.

Staying ready to open the door, keeping those lamps lit--only insiders can do that. (I've been reading Allen & Williamson's Preaching the Gospel again.)

Lectio Divina: Luke 12:37; Psalm 33:20

Monday, August 2, 2010

It's My Money, a Reflection on Luke 12:32-34

"Do not be afraid," Jesus tells them. I looked at the preceding verses in Luke and found some specifics in what not to afraid of--what you will eat or wear or how long you will live. Just glancing at the headlines in this morning paper or the letters to the editor remind me that we, despite Jesus' words, still worry a lot. We worry about somebody else getting our share of things, encroachments on our lives in some ways, and our physical security. "Do not be afraid," Jesus tells us.

He goes on, "Sell your possessions, and give alms." Not worrying is hard enough, but giving up that very thing that I was worrying about not being enough?

Jesus reminds us that what we are worried about is what we worry about. If my concern is my own security, then I will protect that security against all encroachment--real or not. But, what if my concern could somehow be how God's will would be acted out on earth, how God's love and care could be extended and expressed through me efforts--wouldn't that change my actions and thoughts and prayers? Can I trust God?

The notes to the Wesley Study Bible remind us that Methodists have a history of being concerned about the deleterious effects of riches--or worrying about having and keeping riches:
Both Jesus and Wesley had much to say about wealth and poverty. Wesley feared that riches were a sign of self-indulgence and frequently warned his Methodists to practice generosity rather than self-indulgence (see Sermons 87: "The Danger of Riches"; 108: "On Riches"; 126: "On the Danger of Increasing Riches")....

Lectio Divina: Psalm 33:12-13

Sunday, August 1, 2010

A New Life, a Reflection on Colossians 3:1-11

I'm thinking about the verb tense in verse 1, "So, if you have been raised...." Have been, not will be. Where we are now is what Paul is talking about, not what we will need to do once we get to heaven.

Your old life is over, as Paul puts it: you have died. And dying with you are those ways that are not compatible with a life in Christ:
wanting the wrong thing; for example, fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry).
doing the wrong things; for example, anger wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language

Something else that is gone with that old life is distinctions between us. How are we supposed to read this? When Paul said Barbarian, Scythian, and so on, are we supposed to read ethnic categorizations? For slave and free, are we supposed to read no hierarchical distinctions? What would our lives be like, how would we behave, if we truly lived out the Christian way?

Lectionary Divina: Colossians 3:11; Psalm 107:43