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, March 31, 2014

Reflection on readings for March 31

Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,
who alone does wondrous things.
Blessed be the glorious name forever;
may the glory of the Lord fill the whole earth.
Amen and Amen.
(adapted from Psalm 72:18-19)

Deuteronomy 16:1-17:20
Religious observations include Passover, a remembrance of their deliverance from Egypt; the Festival of Weeks and the the Festival of Booths, to thank the Lord and to share with employees, family, immigrants, and those in need.

Elected officials are told to render equitable decisions, not to distort justice, not to accept bribes.

Luke 9:7-27

Psalm 72:1-20
We can read this psalm in its historical context. A few kings had praise-worthy reigns. Most did not. Psalm 72 is a prayer that the new king will be one of those who carries out the role the way the Lord would have intended for a king to do.

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

I have done so myself. Several years ago, a member of the local church I was serving asked me to attend and say grace for a breakfast and for a mayoral candidate. Even though as a minister, I was not willing to make an endorsement in an election, I was and am willing to pray for leaders and prospective leaders. I read portions of this psalm before giving the blessing to the meal, including verses 1 through 4 and 12 through 14; that is, the ones that ask that God give the king justice and righteousness. Note what righteousness means--defending the cause of the poor, giving deliverance to the needy, and crushing the oppressor.

Let us pray for a world, a country, a state, a city, in which the poor and needy are cared for and oppression crushed.

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

Proverbs 12:8-9

Prayer for Today: Choose a prayer from Joan Stott's website The Timeless Psalms.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Reflection on readings for March 30

O God, do not be far from me;
O my God, make haste to help me!
(Psalm 71:12)

Deuteronomy 13:1-14:23
13 Alternatives to God can be presented to us in appealing ways. Don't go astray. Stick to God. I'm doing all right with this then I get to the troubling part--religious intolerance. A possible interpretation for us is to ask ourselves: What god do we base our decisions on; e.g. does the need to build up our personal wealth override responsibilities to the needy? Does satisfying our own jobs and hobbies and family take up so much time that we aren't able to spend time in mission for non-family. That is, I am choosing to interpret this chapter metaphorically: the false prophets I am called to eliminate are my own desires to take care of myself and my people only and to ignore the needs of everyone else.

14 New look at what tithe meant: Spend the money for on food, strong drink, or whatever you desire. Keep reading, though. Every three years you're suppose to share it with priests, immigrants, orphans, and widows.

Luke 8:40-9:6
The woman had suffered for twelve years from a condition that would have rendered her barren. In the crowd, she reached out and touched the fringe of his garment and was healed. She immediately declared to the crowds what Jesus had done for her. In her commentary on Luke, Sharon Ringe points out that the word translated "declared" conveys the meaning of "proclaimed," that is, she has become a preacher, and is the person who for the first time in Luke's gospel, "makes the connection between Jesus' work as a healer and the larger project that defines his life and ministry (4:18-19). "

Psalm 71:1-24
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.

Proverbs 12:5-7

Prayer for Today: Choose a prayer from Joan Stott's website The Timeless Psalms.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Reflection on readings for March 29

Be pleased, O God, to deliver me.
O Lord, make haste to help me!
(Psalm 70)

Deuteronomy 11:11-12:32
Blessings and curses.

Luke 8:22-39
A man who needed help sought out Jesus. Jesus helped him. Wouldn't you think the reaction of the crowd would have been positive. Instead, they were afraid. So afraid, that they asked Jesus to leave.

But, the man who had been healed wanted to go with Jesus. Instead, Jesus told him to go home and tell people what had been done for him. He did.

Sometimes, people see what Jesus can do and get scared. Sometimes, they get grateful.

We the church as the body of Christ continue his healing ministry. An example in Memphis is the Church Health Center. Those of us who have seen the miracles that Jesus can do shouldn't react with fear; rather, we should rejoice that his work is still ongoing.

Psalm 70:1-5
Read the reflection from the Reverend Rob Marshall.

Proverbs 12:4

Prayer for Today: O Lord our God, again we ask you to help us to live the lives you intend for us. Amen.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Reflection on readings for March 28

Let your salvation, O God, protect me.
I will praise your name;
I will magnify you with thanksgiving.
(taken from Psalm 69:29a-30)

Deuteronomy 9:1-10:22
Moses reminded them that they weren't getting this land on the basis of how righteously they had behaved. After all, they had been rebellious throughout the journey. While Moses was on the mountain receiving the ten commandments, the people had made an image of a calf, a worship substitute. Moses had interceded for them.

The Lord had listened to Moses and allowed the people to continue on toward their new home.

Now that you've been forgiven yet again, remember this time and every time in the future, "So now, O Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you? Only to love your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul, and to keep the commandments of the Lord your God and his decrees that I am commanding you today, for your own well-being."

Moses then listed some specific actions that they were to take, including caring for people who didn't have resources to provide for themselves and loving immigrants.

How high on our priority list are those actions?

Luke 8:4-21
Ask yourself what kind of soil preparation you do so that the seeds will grow abundantly. Then, ask what you are doing with the crop.

Psalm 69:19-36

Proverbs 12:2-3

Prayer for Today: O Lord, remind us as many times as necessary of your commands to us are intended to be helpful to our lives. As we journey, open us to the needs of others around us. Remind us that we are your trustees. Amen.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Reflection on readings for March 27

Save me, O God,
for the waters have come up to my neck.
O God, you know my folly;
the wrongs I have done are not hidden from you.
(Psalm 69:1, 5)

Deuteronomy 7:1-8:20
Words of wisdom from the older generation to the younger one: When you enter the new land, don't assimilate; rather, keep the commandments that God has given you. For us moderns, we also have concerns about the various distractions that our younger people face.

Please note that they were instructed to attack the objects of what they considered false worship not the worshippers.

God had chosen them not because they were more important than other people. God is faithful to those who keep God's commandments. (Those of us who have read ahead know that God is also faithful to the rest of us.)

Luke 7:36-8:3
He has accepted a dinner invitation from somebody respectable. Somebody not respectable shows up. I wish I could think of some appropriate sermon illustration to insert here. I must know a lot of them, but none are coming. But if I could it would be start like this:

(Fill in the name) Methodist (or some other denomination) Church was having its Sunday morning service when in walked (here's where I need the great example of an illustrative sinner) .....

She doesn't belong to the establishment, but she sure does know Jesus and his importance. She has brought a jar of something expensive and anoints him with it. She washes his feet--try to remember the last time you even thought about doing this even for someone you knew--and dries them with her hair.

The reaction of the host--How can he be a prophet? He doesn't even recognize what kind of woman he is letting touch him in public.

In his time--and in ours, Jesus sure could upset the respectable. And, in his time and in ours, he can attract the sinners.

Psalm 69:1-18

Proverbs 12:1

Prayer for Today: O Lord, our God, remind us of what you have already entrusted to us. Strengthen us to be able to follow your commands. Give us wisdom of how to tell what we know to people who have not yet learned your ways. Amen.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Reflections on readings for March 26

Blessed by the Lord,
who daily bears us up;
God is our salvation.
(Psalm 68:19)

Deuteronomy 5:1-6:25
What they have heard before, they need to hear again. Moses recites for them the ten commandments and reminds them that the Lord also had given other statutes and ordinances. He then cautions them: These are intended to benefit you. Remember them and teach them to your children.

Luke 6:11-35
Allen & Williamson in Preaching the Gospels list many scriptures that underlie the Jewish tradition of providing for widows and others on the margins of life: Leviticus 22:13; Deuteronomy 10:18; 14:29; 24:17-22; 25:5-10; 26:12; 27:19; Psalm 68:5; 94:1-7; 146;7; Isaiah 1:16-17, 21025; 10:2; Jeremiah 49:1.

They also remind us that Elijah in 1 Kings 17:8-24 and Elisha in 2 Kings 4:18-32 compassionately restore life to the sons of widows.

Read some of the passages that A & W have suggested. For example, "You shall love the aliens and provide food and clothing for them."  And, "Set aside some of your earnings to feed aliens, orphans, and widows." Over and over, we are told what to do, and over and over, we often act as if what we have worked for is ours to keep solely for ourselves.

Through the church, God can continue to look favorably on the people. Through the church, those who need sustenance and support can receive it.

Jesus continues this tradition of caring for the powerless. He restores a widow's son. The onlookers  have seen a miracle. A man's life has been restored. A woman's security has been restored.

The first reaction of the witnesses is fear.

But, it is not their only reaction. We are told that they glorified God.They spoke immediately, and they continued to speak. They spoke to each other and the word they spoke spread widely.

Take-away: pay attention, acknowledge, share.

Psalm 68:19-35

Proverbs 11:29-31

Prayer for Today: O Lord, our God, the one Lord alone, engender within us the love for you with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our might. Remind us of what you have commanded us to do, how we are to live. Open us to the needs of others. Amen.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Reflection on readings for March 25

Sing to God,
sing praises to God's name.
(Psalm 68:4a)

Deuteronomy 4:1-49
Moses' parting speech ties together the free gift of land and the conditions of commandment for receiving the land (Breuggemann). Remember the statutes and ordinances that God has given that will enable you to be God's people. That's good for you and good for people who will see the effects of your obedience.

God is without physical form; don't make an idol.

No other God has done what God has done: spoken from fire, displayed power, spoken to you, rescued you.

Luke 6:39-7:10
Background (4:14-40): In Luke, after leaving the wilderness, then being rejected in his hometown Nazareth, Jesus went to Capernaum, a city of Galilee. There he taught in the synagogue where he also healed a man who had the spirit of an unclean demon. Jesus then went to Simon's house and healed his mother-in-law. By the end of that day, many persons with various kinds of diseases were brought to Jesus. He healed them. When the expelled demons shouted, "You are the Son of God!" Jesus rebuked them and told than to to say anything else. Yet, he continued to heal and preach publicly.

A Roman official, a centurion, in Capernaum has a highly valued slave who is dying. Having heard of the healings already done by Jesus, the centurion asks some of the synagogue authorities to ask Jesus to come to heal his slave.

The elders go to Jesus with an earnest appeal, "You should help the centurion because he has been a help to us."

Questions that arise for me: Why would a centurion want to build a synagogue? Why did the elders think that particular argument would win Jesus' acceptance? In our own time, who are the non-Christians that desire Christ's help and who would they think to ask for intercession?

When he heard that Jesus was coming, the centurion sent a message through friends (I don't know whether they were also Jews), "You don't have to come all the way to my house. I don't deserve that much effort. Besides, you have the power to heal my servant from a distance. You just have to say the word. I know about authority because I have it. If I tell a slave to go, he goes, if I say to come, he comes, and if I say to do this, he does."

Although I wonder if there something subtle in his reminder that he has a lot of power, Jesus offers the interpretation to his remarks as evidence of great faith.

When the Jewish elders returned to the centurion's house, they found the slave in good health.

Question: How is Christ working through the church to heal?

Psalm 68:1-18

Proverbs 11:28

Prayer for Today: O Lord, our God, in times of despair, remind us of what you can do and what you have already done for us. Remind us of your expectations for us, and help us to live them out. Amen.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Reflection on readings for March 24

God, be gracious to us and bless us
Make your face to shine upon us,
that your way may be known upon earth,
your saving power among all nations,
Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise you.
(adapted from Psalm 67:1-3)

Deuteronomy 2:1-3:29
Now that the older generation had died off, the Lord told them they had been in the wilderness long enough. Head north. As you go through the territories of Esau, Moab, and Lot, don't get in a battle with them; I gave them that land. Breuggemann, in the Abington Old Testament Commentary, points out that YHWH had given land to more than one people.

The passage through the land ruled by Sihon and Og was not peaceful, but the Lord allowed Israel to defeat the inhabitants and take their possessions. The conquered land was parceled out equitably among the tribes.

Moses entreated the Lord to let him cross over the Jordan. As now, the older generation may find it hard to turn over leadership. When Moses had realized that he was not to be in charge anymore. he then encouraged the people to support their new leader, Joshua. In our time, we also see leaders turning over their responsibilities to new people and being gracious about it.

Luke 6:12-38
Jesus gives a sermon before a great multitude of people who have come to hear him and to be healed. (This section from Luke is similar to what we call the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7).

Jesus counterposes blessings with woes. Read them and consider the typical value system. Jesus says that the poor will receive the kingdom of God, those who are hungry now will be filled, those who weep now will laugh, and those who are reviled because of their service to the Son of Man will receive a great reward in heaven. On the other hand, those who are rich now or well-fed or laughing or well-regarded have already received all the good they are going to get, only woes are left for them. Other scriptures include similar reversals; e.g., Deuteronomy 11:26-29; Luke 1:46-55.

Sharon Ringe in her commentary on Luke reminds us:
In each case, the blessing makes a statement of fact: one is blessed because of a future that is a sure part of God's reign. There is no note on threat or challenge in these blessings: Nowhere do they say, "Do this in order to guarantee a specific result." They announce a truth about the divine agenda rather than a mandate for human morality. In a similar way the list of woes is not one of behaviors to be avoided or changed in order to avert disaster. Instead it states facts....They are not being punished for their actions; rather, they have enjoyed the blessings, and now the turn passes to others.

Psalm 67:1-7
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?

Proverbs 11:27

Prayer for Today: Choose a prayer from Joan Stott's website The Timeless Psalms.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Reflection on readings for March 23

Make a joyful noise to God, all the earth;
sing the glory of God's name;
give to God glorious praise.
(Psalm 66:1)

Numbers 36
The Lord had made a ruling about what would happen to family property if daughters married outside the clan (27:1-11) Some of the people affected by the Lord's command point out its unfavorable effect on their lives. Moses revises the earlier command.

Women with no brothers can inherit the land but have to marry within the clan.

Freedom is limited. What are our modern ways of ensuring rights of ownership versus equality of wealth?

Observations from the Theological Bible Commentary on Book of Numbers: God draws lines between Israel and other nations, then between priests/Levites and other tribes, then between Aaronites and other Levites, then between males and females. Gradually the circles of insiders permitted to stand close to God's holiness becomes smaller and smaller. But, God often refuses to stay within the boundaries. God is on the side of Moses when he is criticized for having a foreign wife; on the side of Balaam, a foreign seer; on the side of the daughters of Zelophehad when they're about to lose their property. Also, God moves from the center of the camp (10:21) to its front (10:33), even ahead of the camp (9:21-22), outside the camp (Ex 33:7-11); Num 12:4).

Deuteronomy 1
Scholars now assert that much of the book of Deuteronomy was produced in the 7th century and subsequently updated in the 6th the century, the period of exile. The book of  Deuteronomy tells us what Moses told that second generation of Israelites who were preparing to enter the promised land.

As we read Deuteronomy, we should notice these different audiences: those listening to Moses, those who were currently inhabiting that promised land, and those who were then in exile needing an explanation.

As they read, and we read today, this book, we hear Moses telling them and us to listen to what God wants us to do and to do it--and the consequences for not doing it.

Also, note that Deuteronomy revises narrative and law, demonstrating that time and circumstances matter, that laws change accordingly, and that stories are told differently. (Theological Bible Commentary, Gail O'Day and David Petersen).

Luke 5:29-6:11
Jesus approached an unapproachable and said "Follow me." This new follower invited Jesus to a banquet including a lot of people that the religious authorities didn't approve of. "Why is he associating with sinners?" the asked. Jesus responded, "I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance."

The religiously scrupulous  asked Jesus why he didn't behave the way he thought a religiously scrupulous person should.  Jesus responded with two common-sense parables. Sharon Ringe in her commentary on Luke explains them: Both the old and the new garments, and both the new wine and the old wineskins are valuable. Don't put down religious practices of other groups, but Jesus' presence supersedes old traditions. Sometimes, we have to leave behind the safe.

On the sabbath, Jesus healed a man. He was demonstrating the true meaning of the law.

How do we distinguish between what powerful people think is godly and what God thinks?

Psalm 66:1-20
This psalm begins with a call to the whole earth to praise God, to acknowledge what God has done and has the power to do. An example of God's praise-deserving deeds is cited--providing a dry path through the sea for the Hebrews escaping slavery in Egypt and then continuing watchfulness and protection.

Past escape and even ongoing watch by God does not keep us from getting into trouble. Delivered from oppression into their own land, they faced temptation, had difficulties, underwent times of great trial.

And, as earlier in their history, God brought them through their difficulties.

We can imagine those exiles in Babylon reading the letter from Jeremiah and responding with singing this psalm. We can also imagine singing it in our own lives when we face our own particular difficulties in our own particular locations. As God has brought others out of their confinement, we can look forward to being brought out to a spacious place.

This psalm calls on all the earth to give God praise. I don't read Hebrew but I do read people who do, and they tell me that the command is in the plural. We Southerners might read "Y'all make a joyful noise to God, all y'all" (1) and "Y'all come see what awesome things God has done" (5) "Say it, say it loud. Say it where everybody can hear it" (9)

Off on an tangent: The psalm begins with the command for all the earth to make a joyful noise, to sing. All? joyful? I'm thinking even the portion of us in a sanctuary on Sunday morning aren't all singing, and that all of them don't sound particularly joyful.

How do we tell what God has done? Do we usually notice? Where and when is our praise heard? (9)

Proverbs 11:24-26

Prayer for Today: Choose a prayer from Joan Stott's website The Timeless Psalms

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Reflection on readings for March 22

O you who answer prayer!
To you all flesh shall come.
When deeds of iniquity overwhelm us,
you forgive our transgressions.
(Psalm 65:1-3)

Numbers 33:40-35:34
As they are camped by the Jordan, the Lord tells Moses that they are to drive out the inhabitants of Canaan, a  reminder that God owns the land.  Not only does God give them possession on the land but also directs them as to who gets how much and where. The amount of land each tribe gets is dependent on how many people are in that tribe. Who gets which piece of land is to be determined by lots.

Each of the tribes are to give up some of their towns to Levites, clergy but not full priests, tribe but not counted as one of the twelve.

Cities of refuge: The unintentional slayer is protected from blood vengeance but also confined to exile for involvement, however unintended, in the death of another human being. The new generation finds a way to provide compromise when faced with challenging new realities.

Luke 5:12-28
Today's reading from Luke tells us about two men who are healed by Jesus. The first is a leper. Because of his disease, he would have been considered unclean, that is, untouchable, excluded from contact with anyone. The other is a man who is paralyzed, unable to walk.

The first man approaches Jesus directly, asks for help. The second man is unable to approach Jesus; so, his friends help him.

Two other points: 1) What are we to glean from their method of getting help--cutting a hole in somebody else's roof? 2) What is it in those religious leaders that cause them to be so negative about the work that Jesus is doing? What upsets us religious folk today?

Psalm 65:1-13
The psalm begins with an acknowledgment of the debt we owe God, "Praise is due to you, O God, in Zion; and to you shall vows be performed."

Not just us, but everyone, "To you all flesh shall come," and "you are the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas."

This psalm notes specific gifts. One is forgiveness, "When deeds of iniquity overwhelm us, you forgive our transgressions."

And God sends rain, "You visit the earth and water it, you greatly enrich it; the river of God is full of water; you provide the people with grain, for so you have prepared it."

I'm struck by the combining of these two, examining parallels between them. What happens to a life without forgiveness, if we become sunk in despair over our past sins, what barrenness of purpose, of existence, would it be? But, God's forgiveness, as abundant as the roaring sea, can make it possible for us to live lives of abundance, providing us with overflowing bounty that we can share as the watered fields provide grain for us.

Proverbs 11:23

Prayer for Today: Choose a prayer from Joan Stott's website The Timeless Psalms

Friday, March 21, 2014

Reflection on readings for March 21

Let the righteous rejoice in the Lord
    and take refuge in him.
Let all the upright in heart glory.
(Psalm 64:10)

Numbers 32:1-33:39
Crisis then compromise. It's time to cross the Jordan. The Reubenites and Gadites don't see how it is in their interest to enter into the risks of war. Their present location suits them fine. Moses uses history, threat, and compromise to convince them to join the other tribes in their struggle.

We still see conflict between vested interest and willingness to take risk. How important is someone else's security and well-being to those of us who already have it pretty comfortable? How important to us is what a former leader tells us about the history of our community?

Aaron, brother of Moses, priest, a leader in the first generation, dies.

Luke 4:31-5:11
After his escape in Nazareth, he traveled, healing and preaching in synagogues. Response was positive. On the other hand, the religious leaders react negatively to Jesus' teaching--both to content and to effect.

Many people came out to see him. So many people that he needed help in order to continue to carry out his work

He asked Simon, (whose mother-in-law had been one of the persons he had healed) to take him out in the boat a little way from shore so he could speak to that crowd that had gathered.

One lesson--Jesus needs us to help him do his work.

After he had finished speaking, and they were still in the boat out in the lake, Jesus told Simon, "Take the boat out to the deep water so you can go back to fishing" Peter said that he could and would move the boat but that the fish weren't biting that day.

Another lesson--even people who have witnessed miracles up close don't always believe that Jesus can help them with their current need.

Related lesson--even people who don't believe at a particular moment can still follow the commands of Jesus.

Simon obeyed Jesus. He took Jesus out in his boat so he could preach. Despite his disbelief that it would do any good, he tried fishing. They caught so many fish that their nets almost broke. They caught so many fish that their boats began to sink.

The great result when he had expected nothing frightens Simon. He begs Jesus to leave him alone, that he is not worthy to be with him. Jesus disagrees. He can provide fish where professional fishermen can't find them. He tells Simon and his partners, James and John, that now they will be fishing not for fish but for people.

They walk away from their boats--their livelihood, their regular lives, and follow Jesus.

Further note: the first hearers of Luke's gospel may have been familiar with Ezekiel 47:1-10. We should be, too. A stream of water from the temple gushes like a river, like deep water. In this sea, the water will become wholesome. Every living creature will be able to live wherever this stream goes. The fish will be abundant.

Psalm 64:1-10

Proverbs 11:22

Prayer for Today: Lord, build our trust in you so that we can continue to do your work. Amen.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Reflection on readings for March 20

O God, you are my God,
I seek you,
my soul thirst for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land
    where there is no water.
So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
beholding your power and glory.
(Psalm 63:1-12)

Numbers 30:1-31:54
Vows: When a man makes a vow, he shall not break it. The rules for women's vows are different. Different  because their status in their society is different. Distinguish the deeper principle--the overriding concern is that humans be faithful in the obligations they take open themselves in service to God.

War: Three historic Christian positions toward war: pacifism, crusade, and just war. Of these three, the book of Numbers is closest to the crusade although there is some support for pacifism (20:14-21; 6:22-27; 31:1; 14:39-45). Throughout the Bible is a strain that asserts divine judgment against nations that worship false gods. Holding this view would mean that fearing to invade would imply a lack of faith in God. Also in the Bible is a strain that interprets war as a necessary evil, a way of maintaining the community.

Tension--allowing enemy women to be kept alive but needing to maintain separation.

Luke 4:1-30
I'm reading Sharon Ringe's commentary on Luke and recommend it. An insight I got because of my predilection to watching a certain kind of TV show is the image that Jesus is on trial and the devil is the prosecuting attorney. (This metaphor may work for me ). As Ringe puts it, the Holy Spirit leads Jesus into the situation in which the devil questions him. The questions and Jesus' answers are "all drawn from biblical models and responses."

More from Ringe: What could be wrong with turning stones into bread? Nothing really is wrong with it, Jesus rejects the challenge not because it is wrong, but because it is inadequate: "One does not live by bread alone.".... and Why not accept political authority? The tradition links political compromise with betrayal of the commandment to worship only God.

Allen & Williamson, on the other hand, see the devil not as a prosecuting attorney but as the embodiment of temptation to resistance to God, that is, the temptation to give up on God's being able to restore things. They interpret Jesus' response to the first test as resisting the temptation to turn to things necessary for life rather than to God.

The Holy Spirit had descended upon him when he was baptized (3:23). He was led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness where he was tested by the devil. Having overcome each of the temptations set before him, Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit returned to Galilee (4:1-14).

When he was in his hometown, he went to the synagogue as he was accustomed to do. There, he read passages from the scroll.

Jesus said, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor," an echo of Isaiah 61:1.

Luke tells us that Jesus said that the Lord had sent him to proclaim release to the captives and to let the oppressed go free. This call echoes Isaiah's reminder that the Lord is not that impressed with acts of piety but prefers that the nation would loose the bonds of injustice, undo the thongs of the yoke, let the oppressed go free...(58:6).

He returned the scroll to the attendant and sat down. Everybody stared at him.

The people in the synagogue that day had heard the prophecies of Isaiah many times. They would also have been aware of the times that they had failed to care for the poor and the oppressed. And, there in Nazareth, at the time they were living, they themselves would have thought of themselves as oppressed, captive to the powerful Rome.

And he said to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."

Think about the terms "today" and "fulfilled."

He had read to them from the prophet Isaiah, "The Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and to let the oppressed go free." Then said to them, "Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your presence."

Their first reaction is a mixed one. Although they like what he says, they aren't sure why he has said them. They seem to be reluctant to accept that someone that they know could accomplish great things.

Jesus responds by saying that no prophet is accepted in his own hometown.

He then reminds them that both Elijah and Elisha had gone far from home to accomplish miracles. "Many widows in Israel were hungry yet Elijah helped a foreigner. Many lepers were in Israel, but Elisha healed a foreigner." Note they weren't just foreigners, they were not of the same religion as Elijah and Elisha.

We're left to ponder whether the people in Nazareth were blocking Jesus' work among them by their own refusal to accept him as anointed by the Lord--or, whether, Luke is reminding us that God is not restricted to helping hometown folks, that God's power extends beyond the circle of believers.

Religious people gathered in religious place. When they heard that God directed help to be given to people of a different religion, they got furious, even violent.

In Luke's gospel Jesus will continue to face criticism from insiders when he helps outsiders. How much have attitudes changed? How do we react in similar circumstances?

Note that although Jesus escaped from the violence intended against him that day, his way did lead to the cross. Also note that the cross was not the final end of his work.

Psalm 63:1-11
The psalmist says "my flesh faints for you." Someone who likes to eat when hungry or not and drink when thirsty or not can surely understand how important seeking God when put into these terms.

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

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

Proverbs 11:20-21

Prayer for Today: Choose a prayer from Joan Stott's website The Timeless Psalms

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Reflection on readings for March 19

For God alone 
    my soul waits in silence;
from God comes my salvation.
God alone is my rock
    and my salvation, my fortress;
I shall never be shaken.
(Psalm 62:1-2)

Numbers 28:16-29:40
Marking boundaries of time through the cycles of days, weeks, and the year. Sacrifices at appointed times mark points of transition that are seen as dangerous but manageable through ritual observance and sacrifice. Any crossing of a boundary, any point of transition from one state to another, is a point of special vigilance where chaos threatens to undo the order of the cosmos and of the community.

Luke 3:23-38
Look back at verses 1-7. What people were in the crowds? I suppose that I had always assumed that John was preaching to faithful Jews; then, I read this interesting insight into how Luke's gospel differs from the others:
One difference that might be overlooked seems rather to be significant. In 3:5-6, the quotation from Isaiah 40:3-5 is longer than in either Mark or Mathhew. The part found only in Luke, "all flesh shall see the salvation of God," reflects Luke's affirmation that God's holy, "chosen" people now includes Gentiles as well as Jews. This affirmation is mirrored in Luke's genealogy, which traces Jesus' ancestry back to Adam, and not only to the patriarch Abraham (Schaberg and Ringe, Women's Bible Commentary).
Psalm 62:1-12
"For God alone my soul waits," the psalmist says. [Off on tangent--the word translated as "my soul" carries the meaning of the first person pronoun.] The psalmist expands on the reason for waiting only for God: God protects me. God delivers me.

And we need this refuge, the psalmist reminds us, because nothing else is an adequate substitute. We can't count on important or unimportant people. Moreover (I'm thinking about coining a new word, lessover), extortion and robbery won't save us nor will being rich keep us secure.

For those of us who do not ascribe to the doctrine of works-righteousness, we may be discomfited by verse 12, "The Lord repays everybody according to their work."

Proverbs 11:18-19

Prayer for Today: Choose a prayer from Joan Stott's website The Timeless Psalms.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Reflection on readings for March 18

Hear my cry, O God;
listen to my prayer.
From the end of the earth I call to you,
when my heart is faint.
(Psalm 61:1-2)

Numbers 26:52-28:15
The new generation begins with a new census. The first census had been in preparation for battle, for fulfillment of the promise of nationhood. This census, although also for preparation for war, has inheritance as its major theme. Distribution of land to each clan is assigned according by number of people. Fairness is assured by assigning land by lot. Land is to be kept within the clan that first inherits it. Note that only male children can inherit land.

They know the law, and they challenge it, or at least, a rigid interpretation of it. They ask Moses to amend the law. God agrees that the women--in this circumstance--can inherit. Laws can be interpreted as situations change.

Will the new generation be any different from the earlier one?

Every church has a genealogy. The history of every congregation includes people, family, and clergy who have shaped its character. New leaders emerge, but their work is affected by the ideals and the shortcomings of their predecessors.

Luke 3:1-22

They were still living in the land promised to them at the time of Abraham, a place abandoned during a time of need, then, after a long exodus, a place to which they had returned. A place that they had once more lost and to where they had been able to return. They are there in that place, but they are ruled by the Romans, a people who held no allegiance to the Lord of the Jews.

Luke makes this specific. He names the emperor, the governor, and the Jewish accomodators and the priests.

God has not forgotten them nor abandoned them.

The word of God comes to a prophet in the wilderness.

Who's in charge of your life? Whose presence in your life governs the decisions you make?

Crowds had gone to wilderness to be baptized by John. They were expecting a messiah and many thought John was the one. John cleared up that misconception for them. It occurs to me that we moderns still may be confused about the source of our salvation--financial security, a fence with a locked gate, a more youthful visage, etc.).

John told them that the Messiah was going to make judgments.

It might be instructive for us to look at the verses just before this reading. The crowds fearful of the coming judgment have asked John what they should do to escape the wrath to come. John tells them to share, to be fair, to be honest, and not to be greedy.

As I read verse 17 and picture the Messiah coming with a winnowing fork, I fear the possibility of being one of the chaff that gets blown into the unquenchable fire. What I hope John means is that the Messiah can blow away those parts of me that are not generous or fair so that what is left is a person whose baptism has made a difference to her and to the world she lives in.

Psalm 61:1-8

Proverbs 11:16-17

Prayer for Today: Lord, help us to be the generation that will carry out your intentions. Cleanse us from all those actions that do not further your kingdom. Amen.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Reflection on readings for March 17

O grant us help against the foe,
for human help is worthless.
With God we shall do valiantly;
it is God who will tread down our foes.
(Psalm 60:l1-12)

Numbers 26:1-51
The new census. The new generation begins with a new census--Will the new generation be any different from the earlier one?

Every church has a geneology. The history of every congregation includes people, family, and clergy who have shaped its character. New leaders emerge, but their work is affected by the ideals and the shortcomings of their predecessors.

A new census is taken. The first census had been in preparation for battle, for fulfillment of the promise of nationhood. This census, although also for preparation for war, has inheritance as its major theme. Distribution of land by size of clan; of location, by lot.

Only male children can inherit land. land is to be kept within the clan that first inherits it.

Luke 2:36-52
Lesson to be learned from the Prophet Anna:  Here are some excuses that will not work:
I'm too old.
I'm not important.
I don't have family support.
I'm not able to get around very far.
At least, they didn't work for Anna. Why is it that we don't speak about what we know?

Psalm 60:1-12

Proverbs 11:15

Prayer for Today: O Lord, our God, open us to your presence in our lives. Instill within us the willingness and the courage to recognize that presence. Amen.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Reflection on readings for March 16

I will sing of your might;
I will sing aloud of your steadfast love in the morning
for you have been a fortress for me and a refuge in the day of my distress.
O my strength, I will sing praises to you,
for you, O God, are my fortress,
the God who shows me steadfast love.
(Psalm 59:16-17)

Numbers 24:1-25:18
Balak didn't give up. He once again told Balaam to curse the Israelites, the ones he considered invaders. Balaam said he would have to check with the Lord first. The Lord told Balaam, to give the a blessing. When Balak tried for the third time to curse the Isralites, Balaam balked. He wouldn't even try to look for omens. He knew what the Lord wanted him to do;, so, he did it. The spirt of God came upon him, and he uttered an oracle blessing them--and cursing anyone who cursed them.

Balak's fourth oracle pronounced that Israel would crush Moab and Edom.

Meanwhile, the Israelite men began to have sex with the Moab women. The Lord told Moses to execute them. Why is the Lord so angry--the sex with the Moabite women or the worship of Baal? Remember, Moses is married to a Midianite woman, the daughter of a priest.

Phineas is rewarded. Two deaths stop the plague--Was only Zimri guilty?

Luke 2:1-35
Augustus is emperor; Quirinius is govenor. The emperor decrees that all persons be registered; that is, the emperor is going to make sure that he gets taxes from everybody under his control.

Then there are some folks who can't issue decrees. The only things they control are somebody else's sheep. And it is to this kind of person that the angels go with their news. Not the emperor, not the governor, but the shepherds.

The shepherds.

Although shepherds had a positive image in the Old Testament--think of the 23rd Psalm for example--shepherds living and working at the time of Jesus' birth were not viewed positively. Rather, they were regarded as lower class, untrustworthy, migrant workers who used other people's grass to feed their sheep.

The shepherds were not expecting the news. They were at work, and, to their society at the time, not very well-thought-of work. Yet, the Lord sent a messenger to them with the good news.

The response of the shepherds was immediate. They went to Bethlehem at once to see for themselves. And when they had seen, they told what they had seen.

Think about who God trusted to receive and carry messages. Try to imagine a modern-day counterpart to first-century shepherds. Would you be interested in anything such people had to say to you? Is it hard for you to imagine God's telling them something before letting you know?

Psalm 59:1-17
Proverbs 11:14

Prayer for Today: O Lord, you have entrusted us with the good news. Support us in our effort to be worthy of your selection. Amen.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Reflection on readings for March 15

People will say, "Surely there is a reward for the righteous; 
surely there is a God who judges on earth."
(Psalm 58:11)

Numbers 22:21-23:30
As Balaam travels to Balak, God gets mad (the anger is unexplained). The angel of the Lord blocks Balaam's path. The donkey reacts by going into a field. Balaam reacts by striking the donkey. The angel prevents the donkey from getting back on the road. Balaam hits the donkey again The third time this happens, Balaam gets really mad. Think about this from the viewpoint of Balaam and of the donkey.

Irony: 1) Balaam has the power of divination but cannot see what a donkey is able to. 2) The donkey has done to Balaam what he himself had done to the royal emissaries--refused to obey. 3) Balaam had said he would do only what the Lord wanted. When the donkey did what God's messenger told him to do, he got beaten.

Luke 1:57-80

Zechariah was a priest serving in the temple in Jerusalem, but Jerusalem is ruled by the Roman government and its army. And the army had been there a long time.

Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth had lived a righteous and blameless life, but not one like they would have chosen for they had no children. They had been waiting for a long time. Then the Lord sent a messenger, Gabriel, to Zechariah to tell him that Elizabeth was going to have child.

Zechariah disputed the possibility of getting something that he had longed for so long. Gabriel responded, "Because you didn't believe these words, you are not going to be able to speak until the things I have promised you occur."

The baby is born. Elizabeth wants to name him after his father. Zechariah is allowed once more to speak. Filled with the Holy Spirit, he prophesied that a savior was to come and that a messenger had been sent to announce that news. He expressed gratitude to the Lord that the promises made to Israel were going to be realized, promises of rescue from enemies. Zechariah then reminded them what forgiven, rescued people were supposed to do with their freedom: serve God in every way on every day.

Psalm 58:1-11

Proverbs 11:12-13

Prayer for Today: Use Zechariah's Benedictus:
Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for you have looked favorably on your people and redeemed us.
You have raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of your servant David.
You have spoken through prophets that we would be saved from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us.
You have shown mercy to our ancestors and remembered your holy covenant,
the oath you swore to our ancestor Abraham,
to grant us rescue from our enemies
so that we might serve you without fear
in holiness and righteousness all our days.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Reflection on readings for March 14

Be exalted, O God,
above the heavens.
Let your glory be over all the earth.
(Psalm 57:11)

Numbers 21:1-22:20
Here are some people who have been rescued from a life of exclusion and degradation. They were slaves building someone else's pyramid, and now they're on their way to the Promised Land.

And they are complaining all the way. Not enough water. Not enough food. And they really miss Egypt.

Let us modern-day people pause for a minute here and review our own complaints on any typical day. How strange is it to desire whatever has become Egypt to us? to accept rule by that Egypt? During Lent, let us look back on what life was like and what life could be like.

Back to the wilderness wanderers: They complain to Moses about God. God punishes them. They repent. Moses intercedes for them with God. God relents and provides relief.

As they continue their journey, the King of the Amorites refuses to allow them to pass through his land.
Journey to Moab. They go to war against him and are victorious. Everything is working according to God's plan.

Balak, the ruler of the small kingdom of Moab, is frightened of the approaching Israelites: there's a lot of them and they have just won three battles.

Balak sends messengers to Balaam for help: Come curse these people. The elders of Moab and Midian take what is called "fees for divination" to Balaan.

Which are they asking him to do--curse of divine? What does he promise to do?

In either case, note that Balaam, a non-Israelite, maintains that he must first confer with the Lord. God visits Balaam. Balaam repeats Balak's message. God tells him not to curse the Isrealites. Balaam does what God says to do. The officials report the refusal to Balak.

Balak sends more officials to Balaam, a more prestigious group, and a promise of reward. Balak wants him to come to Moab and to curse the Israelites. Balaam says, "Money doesn't decide it for me. I can do only what God wants." That night, God tells Balaam to to to Balak; so, he does.

Luke 1:26-56
The elderly woman Elizabeth, long barren, becomes pregnant. Her young unmarried cousin, Mary, is told that she is going to have a baby. An unexpected message to unlikely recipients.

Mary is perplexed, “How can such a thing happen?”

Scriptures have many earlier references to unexpected births after a long wait; remember Sarah, Rachel, Hannah, and, perhaps, Samson's mother, other women long barren who were married to prominent men.

God can and does respond to Sarah's question, "Is anything impossible for God?"

Mary's story is different in a couple of ways. She is very young. She is not married to someone important.

God can and does choose unexpected recipients for good news.

Long before, the Lord had promised David that his descendants forever would have their own place and not be disturbed by their enemies (2 Samuel 7:1-16).

Gabriel comes to Mary who is living in the land that King David ruled but is now ruled by Caesar in Rome. "Mary, you're going to have a son who will live out that promise made to David."

Imagine how the early Christian communities explained this promise to Gentile converts. How do we explain it to today's communities that have not traditionally been part of our church?

Gabriel, the messenger sent by God, tells her that her child is to be the Son of God. He adds the news that her cousin Elizabeth is six-months pregnant. Her fear and her questioning turn into acceptance, “Here am I. Let it be with me as the Lord wishes.”

God chose Mary. Mary accepted God’s choice.

Why did God choose Mary to bear the Savior? Why didn’t God pick a woman from one of the more powerful prominent families? Why would God choose the backwater of the Empire to be the birthplace of the Savior? Why not Rome, say?

Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior. From now on, all generations will call me blessed because of what God has done for me.”

She then describes what God has already done. Notice how Mary’s song emphasizes differences: God has brought down the powerful and lifted up the lowly. God has fed the hungry and sent the rich away empty.

Questions: Who should be reassured by this song? Who should start worrying?

In verses 54-55, Mary reminds us that God has helped Israel according to the promises made to our ancestors. God’s promise is to Abraham and his descendents forever.

Question: How do these words sound to us Christians when we realize that both Jews and Muslims consider Abraham to be their ancestor, as well?

Psalm 57:1-11

Proverbs 11:9-11

Prayer for Today: Pray the prayer by Mary given to us by Luke that we now call the Magnificat.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Reflection on readings for March 13

In God I trust; 
I am not afraid.
What can a mere mortal do to me?
My vows to you I must perform, O God.
I will render thank offerings to you.
For you have delivered 
    my soul from death,
    and my feet from falling,
so that I may walk before God
   to the light of life.
(Psalm 56:11-13)

Numbers 19:1-20:29
Persons who touched a dead body were considered unclean; so, there needed to be a way to restore them to community. The Lord gave the instructions. A red heifer with no defects was slaughtered and burned. Its ashes were added to water to provide a means of purification.

Touching the dead body was necessary. It had to be done. They couldn't leave dead bodies in the place where they died.

We now have our own categories of behavior that exclude people from our society. Some of which are necessary and some unnecessary. Some are due to accidents of birth--immigrants for example. Some are due to some former illegal act--paroled prisoners. Some are deemed by neighborhoods as not socially acceptable--sometimes because they are too poor; in other neighborhoods, because they are too rich (think gentrification).

Who is no longer allowed to be part of our community? What ways do we use to restore the rights of an excluded person?

They continue on their journey. In Meribah, they complain about the lack of water. The Lord tells Moses to gather the people before the rock there and command that it yield water. When the people were assembled, Moses struck the rock and water came out abundantly. God told him to use speech; instead Moses strikes the rock. The Lord said that Moses and Aaron had not following directions correctly not would not be allowed to enter the promised land.

(BTW,  in Exodus 17:1-7, God had told Moses to strike the rock.)

Why must Moses join the generation condemned to die in the wilderness? Was the test for him whether he believed that God's word could accomplish what they needed? Or, has Moses quit being meek (see Number 12:10)? Does he think that he can save the people (Numbers 10:10)? Should we blame the people (Psalm 106:32-33)?

Luke 1:1-25
Jane D. Schaberg and Sharon Ringe warn that the Gospel of Luke is an extremely dangerous text. Many readers insist that because it contains a great deal of material about women that is found nowhere else in the Gospels that it must be promoting the status of women. But, this Gospel portrays women as models of subordinate service, excluded from the power center of the Christian movement and from significant responsibilities. Female characters are not leaders or prophets; they are prayerful, quiet, grateful, supportive of male leadership (Women's Bible Commentary).

The prologue states that the Gospel is an orderly account of the events of Jesus' life and its results. It is written to Theophilus, that is, a friend of God.

The first event described is about an elderly couple, Zechariah and his wife, Elizabeth, who is barren. One day when Zechariah is serving as priest in a temple, the angel Gabriel appears to him telling him that Elizabeth will bear a son.  Zechariah's reaction is fear and disbelief. Gabriel tells him "Since you didn't believe me, you won't be able to speak until after your son is born."

Psalm 56:1-13

Proverbs 11:8

Prayer for Today: O Lord, help us to listen to the stories of faith told to us and to understand what you are trying to tell us through them. Amen.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Reflection on readings for March 12

Give ear to my prayer, O God;
do not hide yourself from my supplication.
(Psalm 55:1)

Numbers 16:41-18:32
The whole congregation rebelled against Moses and Aaron saying they were responsible for the deaths of the dissenters. The Lord then laid a  plague on the people. Moses ordered Aaron to atone for the people. The plague was stopped.

The Lord outlined a way to stop the complaints by getting evidence of who the Lord had chosen to be in covenant with.

Ordination, what does it mean to be a leader? Whose authority is the leader protecting? What is the leader's goal?

Mark 16:1-20
When the sabbath was over, the three women who had witnessed the crucifixion brought spices to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus. On the way, they wondered who would roll away the heavy stone blocking entrance to the tomb. When they got there, they saw that the stone had already been rolled away. Entering the tomb, they were frightened when they saw a young man sitting there. He told them not to be afraid and for them to go tell the disciples that he would be in Galilee when they got there. They were too afraid to tell anybody.

Morna Hooker, in her commentary on Mark, points out the irony. Throughout this gospel, Jesus has been telling witnesses not to say anything about what they have just seen, and they disobey him. Now, when he says it is time to tell, the witnesses are too scared to say anything.

Some ancient authorities end the Gospel of Mark at this point. Others add verses telling that the women did, after all, tell the disciples. Still other authorities add other verses relating an appearance by Jesus to Mary Magdalene and that nobody believed that he was alive and that she had seen him. He also appeared to the eleven disciples and upbraided them for that unbelief.

Psalm 55:1-23

Proverbs 11:7

Prayer for Today: O God, give us the will and the courage to tell others about what you have done for us, how you have changed our lives, how you have given us support. Amen.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Reflection on readings for March 11

Hear my prayer, O God;
give ear to the words of my mouth.
(Psalm 54:2)

Numbers 15:17-16:40
The Lord spoke to Moses telling him the necessity for presenting offerings and the way to make atonement for failing to observe all commandments. Atonement was necessary whether the failure was intentional or unintentional.

Severe punishment was required for some offenses: Exile for high-handedness ignoring the law; death for working on the Sabbath.

Moses was again faced with revolt. Some of the men who had been chosen by the assembly as leaders confronted Moses: Why are you leader of all? Only you? These questions were similar to the ones that Aaron and Miriam had asked.

Moses was angry, but God does the punishing.

Mark 15:1-47
In Mark's gospel, the Jewish council violated several of their own laws. Luke's gospel deletes many of these violations. John's gospel leaves out the trial before the council. We're left to ponder the decisions each of the gospel writers made.

In the passage we're looking at today, Mark continues to show the Jewish leaders trying to silence Jesus. They press the crowd to call for Pilate to release a murderer rather than Jesus.

Mark tells us their motive was envy.

Pilate's motive was to satisfy the crowd.

We might well reflect on the motives that underlie our own decisions. What effect does envy have on what we do? Whom are we most ready to satisfy? Whose approval means the most to us?

The first reaction to the crucifixion of Jesus was mockery. Mockery by passers-by and by the chief priests and the scribes. "If he's the Messiah, why doesn't he do some Messiah-like thing?" Even the two bandits being crucified next to him taunted him.

Mark is making an important point. What does Messiah-behavior look like? What do we expect of a savior, of an anointed one chosen as our leader? What does it mean for us that our Christ has suffered and died? What does it mean for us that our Christ was rejected by religious experts and deserted by his closest followers?

And what does it mean for us that a centurion, an officer of the occupying Roman army, recognized that this man was God's Son?

What does it mean for us to remember that Jesus had women disciples? ones who were not hiding away at this frightening time but were witnesses to the crucifixion?

Psalm 54:1-7

Proverbs 11:5-6

Prayer for Today: O lord our God, with every action we take, stir within us the question of our motive. Are we driven by envy or the need to please onlookers? Are we willing to suffer in order to follow Christ? Amen.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Reflection on readings for March 10

God looks down from heaven on humankind
to see if there are any who are wise,
    who seek after God.
(Psalm 53:1)

Numbers 14:1-15:16
The people respond to the two very different reports that they had heard by believing the scary one. They loudly complain against Moses and Aaron who have brought them to die in this wilderness. Slavery in Egypt was better than this. Caleb's son, Joshua, tries to reassure them.

The people threaten. God responds. Moses intercedes by arguing that Israel is proof of God's strength.

God forgives but punishes, "None of you who I rescued from Egypt, those that complained against me, will see the land I have promised."

They repented, or they said that they had. Yet, they couldn't believe Moses. Separating themselves from him, making decisions he didn't agree with had bad results. Very troubling to Protestants--don't we believe we have direct access to God?

In chapter 15, the Lord describes the offering that will be appropriate when they enter the promised land.  Both native Israelites and any aliens living among them were to make offerings. The Lord said, "There shall be for both you and the resident alien a single statute. You and the alien shall be alike before the Lord. You and the alien who resides with you shall have the same law and the same ordinance."

They are to treat their immigrants very differently than the way the Egyptians had treated them.

Mark 14:53-72
As you read about Jesus on trial, consider the responses of two different persons: The high priest and the disciple.

The Sanhedrin consisted of 71 members who were charged with the responsibility of keeping their religious community safe--and sometimes safe meant accommodating the needs of the ruling authorities, the occupying force, the Romans. And, sometimes, safe meant protecting from internal heresy.

They have rules but don't follow them. Instead, they offer false testimony, and can't even agree on which falsities to swear to.

Frustrated, the High Priest addresses Jesus directly, "Are you the Messiah?"

Jesus responds, "I am."

The Council condemns Jesus as one deserving death.

Peter has been one of the disciples closest to Jesus. And he has failed him before. While he was supposed to be keeping watch at Gethsemane, he fell asleep three times.

Now, while Jesus is being condemned to death, Peter is nearby. One of the high priest's servants sees him and recognizes him, "You're with that guy that's on trial." Peter denies it. She tells some bystanders, and he denies it. Some of the bystanders say the same thing, and he once more denies it. Three times.

Peter broke down and wept.

The High Priest would not recognize that this man brought before him was the Anointed One of Israel. Did Peter? Do we? How do we demonstrate this recognition?

Psalm 51:1-19

Proverbs 11:4

Prayer for Today: Choose a prayer from Joan Stott's website,  The Timeless Psalms.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

almost blank

Deuteronomy 33:1-29
Luke 13:1-21
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 importance 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?

Psalm 78:65-72
Proverbs 12:25

Reflections on the readings for March 9

But I am like a green olive tree
    in the house of God.
I trust in the steadfast love of God
    forever and forever.
I will thank you forever,
    because of what you have done.
In the presence of the faithful
    I will proclaim your name,
    for it is good.
(Psalm 52:8-9)

Numbers 11:24-13:33
When two men who had not been through the established process began preaching, someone complained to Moses. Moses said he wished everyone would be a prophet of God.

Another problem arose. The Lord sent a huge amount of quails for them to gather and eat, but then becoming angry with them, sent a very great plague. Moses, Israel, and even God often seem on the verge of dropping the whole thing.

Aaron and Miriam, brother and sister of Moses, express dissatisfaction with his Cushite wife (I started to say foreign wife, but at this point in the story of Israel, they are all foreigners).  They further complain "Does the Lord speak only through Moses? How about us?" The Lord got mad, "I'm the one who decides who is a prophet."

Miriam became leprous (Again, remember that this term doesn't describe Hansen's Disease). Only Miriam, not Aaron.

Katherine Doob Sakenfeld, in Women's Bible Commentary, asks why if both Aaron and Miriam complain, why is only Miriam punished.  She suggests two reasons. First, Aaron is a priest so that skin disease would render him unclean and unable to function in his duties. Second, Miriam is a woman, and women aren't supposed to show disrespect for males.

Miriam was sent out of the camp for seven days, then was brought back and they again set out on their journey.

The Lord directed Moses to send a  representative from each of the tribes to spy out the land of Canaan, their promised home. Moses was more specific. He told them to see how productive the land was and how well it would be defended. They bring back evidence of great productivity. One of them, Caleb, was ready to begin the occupation. The others did not want to. They thought that the Canaanites would offer too much resistance.

We still see fear and pessimism in groups trying to start new ventures.

Mark 14:22-52
In Mark's Gospel, the last words that Jesus speaks to his disciples are, "Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Enough! The hour has come; the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand" (14:41-42).

When I was an accounting professor, I would warn my students that the persons likely to embezzle would be trusted employees--after all, they would be the ones most likely to have access.

This phenomenon is not new. Read Zechariah 13:1-7.

The men that Jesus chose as guards were three of his closest associates. They went to the sleep on the job. The one who sold him out to the Romans was also one of the twelve.

The work of the resurrected Christ continues. Who's sleeping on the job? Who is betraying the message?

Psalm 52:1-9
The psalm addresses the powerful, "Why do you boast of the mischief you have done against the godly? God will see that you pay for what you have done."

And those who have been harmed but remained faithful to God will see the downfall of the mighty ones: "See, the one who would not take refuge in God, but trusted in abundant riches, and sought refuge in wealth!"

Rich sure seems good to us much of the time, but the Psalms remind us that being rich is not satisfactory as a total goal. For one thing, it doesn't last. For another, seeking that goal at the expense of all others results in our loss of everything important.

Rather, than trust money, this Psalm reminds us to trust in God forever and forever and to thank God--publicly.

Proverbs 11:1-3

Prayer for Today: Choose a prayer from Joan Stott's website, The Timeless Psalms.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Reflections on readings for March 8

Have mercy on me, O God,
    according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
    blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
   and cleanse me from my sin
(Psalm 51:1-2)

Numbers 10:1-11:23
With the ark of the covenant of the Lord going before them by a three-days' journey, they left Sinai to move to the place the Lord had promised them.

They complained.

Think about the complaint. How does this generation view life in Egypt? Remember they are the parents of the generation that will enter the Promised Land. How do we prepare the next generation for their world when we really want to go back to our old one?

Moses also complains. God uses less than perfect leaders.

Moses, Israel, and even God often seem on the verge of dropping the whole thing.

Mark 14:1-21

Psalm 51:1-19
Psalm 51 is one of only seven penitential psalms. I'm wondering why only seven.

Although most of the psalms are communal prayers, this psalm is expressed as an individual cry: Have mercy on me, blot out my transgressions, wash me, and purify me.

And I can ask this of God because mercy is what God is like, because mercy befits God's faithfulness, because God is abundantly compassionate.

Sometimes, we need reminders that we are sinning. And, sometimes, we are so burdened by our sins that we need reminders that God is compassionate.

We can pray Psalm 51 when we recognize that we need forgiveness, that we want forgiveness:
Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.
And we can pray Psalm 51 when we want what forgiven people have--restoration
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence,
and do not take your holy spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and sustain in me a willing spirit.
Proverbs 10:31-32

Prayer for Today: Pray Psalm 51 or use the prayers from Joan Stott's website The Timeless Psalms.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Reflection on the readings for March 7

Call on me in the day of trouble;
I will deliver you,
and you shall glorify me.
(Psalm 50:15)

Numbers 8:1-9:23

Mark 13:14-37
Looking back at the beginning of chapter 13, we see that Jesus is talking privately to four of his disciples--Peter, James, John, and Andrew. They are sitting on the Mount of Olives looking at the temple. By the time that Mark wrote this gospel, the temple had been destroyed. His first audience would have recognized the allusions to the destruction of the first temple and their exile.

Jesus' words are meant for them, and they continue to be intended for us.

God had created a good world. We human beings had failed at our responsibilities. The old ways have to go. A new way is coming. God desires for us to live in a world transformed. Keep awake.

Psalm 50:1-23
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.

Proverbs 10:29-30

Prayer for Today: Choose a prayer from Joan Stott's website, The Timeless Psalms.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Reflection on readings for March 6

Hear this, all you peoples;
give ear, all inhabitants of the world,
both low and high,
rich and poor together.
Psalm 49:1-2)

Numbers 6:1-7:89

Mark 12:12:38-13:13
Today's passage is a good reminder to us of what Jesus thought was important.

He tells his listeners to beware of the scribes. In their time, they were more educated than most people, they devoted time to reading the Scriptures, and, consequently were capable of interpreting God's message to people who couldn't read as well or didn't have the time to devote to thinking about how to act Scripture's intention to their lives.

God's people have always and continue to benefit from articulate scholars. Yet, Jesus is warning his audience to beware of them.

He begins by pointing out that they wear obviously high class clothes and are greeted with respect.

That is, who society thinks are of higher value than the rest of us, who act and look like society should feel that way, are not necessarily the ones that are doing what God intends for us to do.

The specific examples of inappropriate behavior are (1) they misappropriate the assets of the powerless and (2) for appearance sake, they say long prayers.

And they knew better. They read the scriptures a lot. They must have seen the many references the  prophets had made about the poor, about orphans and widows; e.g., Isaiah 1:17, 23; Jeremiah 7:6; 22:3; Zechariah 7:10: Malachi 3:5.

Morna Hooker sums up Jesus' warning in her commentary that I recommend to you, The Gospel According to Saint Mark:
The answer can be suitably summed up by reference back to vv.28-34; those who parade their piety are merely guilty of silly ostentation, but those who oppress the defenceless are certainly failing not only to love God, but also to love their neighbor.

Psalm 49:1-20

Proverbs 10:27-28

Prayer for Today: O Lord, our God, remind us that all that we have comes from you, that you have entrusted us with assets and time. Remind us to use these in the way that you intend. Encourage us to act like Christians, like the way Christians should act. Amen.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Reflection on readings for March 5

Great is the Lord,
    and greatly to be praised.
We ponder your steadfast love,
    O God.
(Psalm 48:1a, 9a)

Numbers 4:1-5:31
If a man suspects his wife of adultery, he should bring her before a priest. The priest prepares a potion for her to drink. He tells her if she is innocent, nothing will happen, but, if she is guilty, the drink will cause her womb to empty. And the woman shall say, "Amen, Amen."

Note that the husband has no proof, but he takes her to a priest to undergo an ordeal. Guilty or innocent, she is being punished by being humiliated and risks miscarriage and sterility. On the other hand, she is not put to death (see Leviticus 20:10).

This ritual provides a way for the priest to remove the sentence and punishment of an accused adulteress; furthermore, he has a way to keep her from a lifetime of suspicion and innuendo.

The husband's suspicion, like any disruption of human relationships, is more than a family problem; it could affect the community. And a disruption in a community threatens the continuation of God's presence.

How do church congregations now deal with disruptions?

Mark 12:18-37
Jesus' harshest criticism is not against heretics but against hypocrites.

He's describing religious people who parade their piety around but certainly show no love for neighbor--poor neighbors, anyway.

He calls us to look at what the rich contribute and compares it to one poor widow who's giving all she has.

On what basis do we tend to make decisions about whom to admire?

Psalm 48:1-14

Proverbs 10:26

Prayer for Today: Lord, direct our attention and actions to your command to us to love you above all else. Because of that love, direct us to show that love by directing it outwards to those around us. Amen.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Reflection on readings for March 4

Clap your hands, all you peoples;
shout to God with loud songs of joy.
(Psalm 47:1)

Numbers 2:1-3:51
John Goldingay, in Old Testament Theology, Volume 1, describes how the assembling for the journey differs from the regulations for Passover. He sees signs of bureaucratication: not only in the counting but also in what he terms choreography, the arrangement of the tribes around the meeting tent. Each clan chooses a leader, and all clans have the same status--although the clan of Levi has different responsibilities.

Mark 11:27-12:17
Jesus had been teaching and healing and upsetting (pun intended) means for access to the place of worship.

The people in charge of the temple asked him, "Who gives you the authority to do these things? When they won't admit his source of authority, he tells them he's not going to tell them.

They are able to tell that the parable he tells about the tenants killing the son of the vineyard is about them. They want to arrest him but are too afraid of the crowds to do it right then and there. Instead, they ask him what they think is a trick question, "Is paying tax to Caesar lawful?" He points out that they are doing something unlawful by carrying coins--because they bear a graven image.

Remember this the next time someone call you a hypocrite because you aren't following the scriptures just the way the interpret them. But, the next time you call someone a hypocrite, think about how hard it is not to practice hypocrisy in every way everyday.

Psalm 47:1-9
The congregation is called to sing praises to the King, and the King is identified as God, the great king over all the earth, God, the king over the nations.
Clap your hands, all you peoples;
Shout to God with loud songs of joy (1).
Sing praises to God, sing praises;
Sing praises to our King, sing praises(6).
For God is king over the nations... (7).
Think about the "all the earth" and "king over the nations" assertions. People who have not formally entered into our community are being cared for by God.

Proverbs 10:24-25

Prayer for Today: God, help us to recognize your wisdom. Help us to respond appropriately. Amen.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Reflection on readings for March 3

God is in the midst of the city;
it shall not be moved;
God will help it when the morning dawns.
(Psalm 46:5)

Leviticus 27:14-Numbers 1:54
On this journey (understood as historical or metaphorical), the people remind themselves of what they owe the Lord, of what sins they have committed, of the desire to turn away from what's wrong. Note that they haven't yet learned to live in peace with neighbors, to agree always with family members, or recognize that women are also people. On the other hand, we moderns haven't completely mastered those lessons ourselves.

The book of Numbers is a theological reflection on community. By relating how Israel journeyed through the wilderness, it provides us a model of how people of God can live out their faith in the world they find themselves. As you begin reading Numbers, think about your own stories:

1) What stories have you heard about your birth? What was happening in your parents' lives at the time?

2) How have you been tested? What bad things have you had to overcome?

3) Have you moved from one home to another one that was very far away? Have you been without a home for some time?

4) Have there been times that you have recognized the providence of God in your life?

5)What is the goal for the rest of your life? Where do you want to end up?

Mark 11:1-26
Imagine living in a land that once had been yours but now is under the control of a powerful overseer; imagine that your own political and religious leaders answer to this other force. This was life for the Jews in the time of Jesus.

They looked backwards to help them see forwards.

When Mark told of Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem, he quoted from Psalms and from the prophets who had spoken to the people as they envisioned return from exile.
Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. (Zechariah 9:9)
Mark's readers have known what came next: He will defeat the enemy and the prisoners will be set free (Read Zechariah 9:10-17).

We still are reading the Gospel of Mark. And we still are being held captive. For some Christians, the captors are actual human overseers. For others, they are powerful forces. As individuals, we may be worried about loss of health or loss of a specific loved one. Or, as a community, we have shared concerns.

And today, we can think of the economic strictures around the globe.
How much have we lost?
How much do we fear?
What will tomorrow bring?
Psalm 46:1-11
Psalm 46 recognizes that life does have pain and disruptions. It speaks of disruptions in nature and among people. Mountains tumble into the sea because of earthquakes. Nations fall to attack by enemies.

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

Proverbs 10:23

Prayer for Today: O Lord, calm our fears; remind us that you are present with us. Help us to forgive others. Help us to behave in all ways so that we don't find ourselves asking them to forgive us.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Reflection on readings for March 2

I will cause your name to be celebrated in all generations;
therefore the peoples will praise you forever and forever.
(Psalm 45:17)

Leviticus 25:47-27:13
What goes around will come around.

Mark 10:32-52
James and John went to Jesus and asked them to do something for them. Tangent: The timing of this request by James and John seems strange to me. They had just heard him say that the Son of Man will be condemned to death. Were they not listening? Did they not get that Jesus was the Son of Man? Or, merely confusing editing by Mark?

I'm pausing here to think about what I usually pray for.

Let's go back to James and John. They asked Jesus for glory, to sit next to him. Jesus informed them they had no idea what they were asking. "Do you really want to be next to me? Are you prepared to do what I am going to have to do? Besides, it's not my choice anyway."

The other disciples were upset when they heard that James and John had sought preferential status. Jesus called them together and informed them of what it took to be great. "Greatness is not lording over everybody; for us, greatness takes a different approach. To be great, you have to be the servant. Take me for example. What I came for is not to have everybody take care of me, but, instead, to serve, even to give up my life."

Then, and even now, we have church leaders who display similar attitudes to James and John. They want to be in charge, and they want everybody to know who is in charge. They display little appetite for slavery to the needs of others.

I'm trying to imagine an advertising campaign for a church that would use some of the language that Jesus used with his disciples--that drinking the cup that he was going to drink or being baptized what he was going to be baptized. He had already told them three times about his upcoming death.

Arriving in Jericho, they see a beggar sitting by the wayside. He's blind--that is, he can't see with his eyes. But, he does recognize that Jesus is the Son of David and that he is the one who can restore his sight. Further, he can see that although a lot of people think his condition is hopeless, he can be healed by the man he asks for pity.

Jesus told him "Go; your faith has saved you."

Go. He's been blind, but now he can see what's ahead. Where is he going to go, now?

Think about where this faithful man went. He followed Jesus on the road. The road that leads to Jerusalem--arrest, crucifixion, and resurrection.

Had the disciples not been listening? Have we been?

Psalm 45:1-17
The first nine verses describe one who is loved and is honored. But, the praise is not restricted to one woman's new husband. We can read Psalm 45 as extending to the king--who, might be thought of in ancient times as assuming the responsibility of care and protection to his people, like a husband, say.

In any case, the king is this psalm has important characteristics that all persons in power should attempt to emulate: love of righteousness and hatred of wickedness.

Verses 10 through 15 are addresses to the bride of a king. Yet, we can read it as being directed to any bride, "Forget your people and your father's house." That is, we can read it that way, but it's really hard today to imagine that any bride should be asked to break off any family contact and instead submit to her husband's authority--even if the exchange would result in lots of gifts and extravagant clothes.

I find more palatable the interpretation that God calls people to leave the comfortable and familiar to go to the uncomfortable and unfamiliar. Think of foreign missions, but don't restrict mission work to other countries. After all, there's plenty of unfamiliar places within easy driving distance of where we go to church--or, pretty likely, within walking distance.

Verses 16 and 17 are addressed to the king: "In the place of ancestors, you ... shall have sons..." In the church we attend, we may hear, or say, "That's not the way we do it." Yet, it may be time to rethink the way we are used to and consider whether a new way might suit God better.

Proverbs 10:22

Prayer for Today: O God, guide our prayers. Turn our concern for our own wishes into concern for the needs of others. And as we recognize those needs, give us the courage to leave what is comfortable and familiar when we need to try something uncomfortable and unfamiliar. Amen.