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, June 30, 2014

Reflection on readings for June 30

Let us praise the name of the Lord.
Your name alone is exalted;
your glory is above earth and heaven.
(adapted from Psalm 148:13)

2 Kings 17:1-18:12
The powerful Assyria invaded Israel, took King Ahaz captive, and carried away much of the population, replacing them with foreigners. The writer of 2 Kings ascribes this tragedy to the sins of the people of Israel. "The Lord told you what to do, but you wouldn't obey."

In contrast to almost all the kings of Israel and of Judah, Hezekiah in his rule of Judah held fast to the Lord, destroyed false idols, and obeyed the commandments of the Lord.

Acts 20:1-38

Psalm 148:1-14

Here'a an excerpt from the Benedicite Aotearoa  in the New Zealand Book of Prayer:
10 All prophets and priests, all cleaners and clerks,
professors, shop workers, typists and teachers,
job-seekers, invalids, ' drivers • and ' doctors:
give to our ' God your ' thanks and ' praise.
11 All sweepers and diplomats, writers and artists,
grocers, carpenters, students and stock-agents,
seafarers, farmers, ' bakers • and ' mystics:
give to our ' God your ' thanks and ' praise.
12 All children and infants, all ' people • who ' play:
give to our ' God your ' thanks and ' praise.

Proverbs 18:6-7
A fool's lips bring strife,
and a fool's mouth invites a flogging.
The mouths of fools are their ruin,
and their lips a snare to themselves.

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

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Reflection on readings for June 29

Praise the Lord!
How good it is to sing praises 
    to our God;
for God is gracious, 
and a song of praise is fitting.
(adapted from Psalm 147:1)

2 Kings 15:1-16:20
Mixed results for Azariah and for Jotham, and Ahaz of Judah, but all bad for Zechariah, Menahem, and Pekah of Israel.

Acts 19:13-41
Seeing the response to Paul's work, some onlookers tried using the name of Jesus with bad results for them but good for Paul. For a while. A man who made his living by selling silver shrines of Artemis spoke to the artisans whose livelihood depended on these sales. He told them, "This Paul is hurting our business." A dangerous crowd formed. The town clerk calmed the situation by suggesting that they take the matter to court.

How upset do people become today if they think that a religion is interfering with their livelihood?

Psalm 147:1-21
Psalm 147 sings of the work that the Lord has done, the work that will continue to be done, and for whom this work is done: the outcasts, the brokenhearted, the downtrodden .

In return, we contemplate just what it is that the Lord wants for us to do, how to be. Well, it not just to be better than the people around us--richer or stronger or whatever: The Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love (11).

James Newsome, in Texts for Preaching B, writes:
Power and weakness! It may be observed that the story of humankind is, in large measure, the pursuit of the former and the avoidance of the latter. The person who has no power is one who exercises no control over his or her life. .... Into this terrible arena the psalmist issues a different understanding of the nature of power and weakness and of the relation between the two. There is but a single Power; all other power is illusory and transient. To participate in this Power is to admit one's own weakness, one's own dependence on the Creator and Sustainer of life. And paradoxically, it is only in the admission of one's own finitude and impotence that there emerges hope and joy. For the Power that sets the stars and brings the rains is irrevocably committed to the cause of justice and compassion....
Proverbs 18:4-5
The words of the mouth are deep waters;
the fountain of wisdom is a gushing stream.
It is not right to be partial to the guilty,
or to subvert the innocent in judgment.

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

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Reflection on readings for June 28

Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord, O my soul!
I will praise the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praises to my God all my life long.
(Psalm 146:1-2)

2 Kings 13:1-14:29
While Joash (also known as Jehoash) was ruling in Judah,  Jehoahaz begin his reign in Israel. [I am having trouble keeping these kings straight]. He was sinful. The Lord got angry. Things went bad for Israel. The king begged the Lord for help. The Lord helped by sending a savior.

In Israel, King Joash also did evil. He sought the help of Elisha but wasn't able to do what Elisha expected of him. Yet the Lord, remembering the covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, had compassion on Israel. Israel was able to regain some territory that had been lost to Aram.

After I had been wrestling with the confusion of the similar names, I looked them up in John Rogerson's Chronicle of the Old Testament Kings. He reports that "several factors point to the possibility that ...the biblical material has failed to register that Jehoram of Israel and Jehoram of Judah were one and the same person...."

The succeeding kings of Israel, Jeroboam II, and of Judah, Amaziah, had some accomplishments but some defaults.

Acts 18:23-19:12
Paul asked the new disciples whether they had received the Holy Spirit when they had become believers. Their answer was either truthful or clever or disappointing: "We didn't even know there was a Spirit."

Christian educators, do the people you serve even know there is a Spirit?

In many, many ways the Christian church has changed since the days of Paul. Yet, we do share some characteristics. For example, we still need to improve Christian education. While visiting Ephesus, Paul discovered that they lacked some theological grounding that he considered important. I'm trying to imagine some Paul showing up in any congregation today and asking seemingly simple questions that could well expose our, well, our not-knowing what Paul thought we should have already learned.

I don't know what to do with verse 6.

Psalm 146:1-10
Every once in a while I hear someone say to somebody who has just gotten something great, "That shows that God really loves you." And, sometimes, I read Psalm 146 and wonder.

This psalm begins by acclaiming praise for God and disdaining trust in powerful men. They won't last. God will.

According to this psalm, God cares about the oppressed, the hungry, prisoners, the blind, immigrants, orphans, and widows.

And this is what followers of God are called to do. God acts on earth through the people who are gathered to worship and to demonstrate God's power and love.

Psalm 146 provides a checklist for each church congregation: What have we done to ensure that prisoners can be released? What have we done to prevent blindness--have we opened a eye-clinic in a poor community, have we helped to distribute glasses to people who can't afford them? What are we doing about immigrants? What attention are we paying to people whose families aren't able to care for them, or to people without family?

Proverbs 18:2-3
A fool takes no pleasure in understanding,
but only in expressing personal opinion.
When wickedness comes, contempt comes also.
and with dishonor comes disgrace.

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

Friday, June 27, 2014

Reflection on readings for June 27

I will extol you, my God and King,
and bless your name forever and ever.
(Psalm 145:1)

2 Kings 10:32-12:21
In 10:29-30, the Lord promises a reward to Jehu because he has done what the Lord considered right, but after he returned to the regular king practices, the Lord starts trimming off parts of Israel.

After, Jehu's successor, Jehoahaz, died, his mother, Athaliah, assumed the reign of Judah. She tried to destroy all the royal relatives, but  one was hidden from her in the house of the Lord. Six years later,  the priest Jehoiada led the army in an attack against Athaliah and crowned the seven-year-old child Jehoash as king.

We are told that he did what was right as he was instructed by the priest. Yet, we are also told that the people continued to use the places and practices of other worship. Moreover, the priests didn't use the offerings of the people in the way that was intended. Eventually the king took the money that had been set aside for repairing the house of the Lord. His servants killed him.

Everybody who affects worship of the Lord is not sincere about it. Everyone who is in a position of trust is not always trustworthy. Despite our failings, the Lord remains Lord.

Acts 18:1-22

Psalm 145:1-21
Notice how this psalm begins with individual praise, "I will extol you....". But, this praise is not between just God and me: "One generation shall laud your work to another." Further, this praise is not just once in a while: "Every day I will bless you."

The next time you have to listen to someone disparage the one he calls "The Old Testament God," you might point out that, despite human intransigence that God kept loving them and caring for them. For example:
The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love (v.8)
This grace, mercy, and steadfast love is not restricted to just a few:
The Lord is good to all, and is compassion is over all that he has made (v.9).
Good to all--all who are falling, all who are bowed down. God's care includes basic necessities, like food, and also more than necessities.
We can be further reassured or perhaps not when we read that the Lord is just  in all his ways. We do read some qualification of God's qualities in verses 19 and 20.

We are part of a long line of worshippers who have praised God, learned about God's care, and told others:
My mouth will speak the praise of the Lord,
and all flesh will bless his holy name foever and ever (v21).
It's a reminder, one that we may well need, that we're living in God's kingdom and that we should be living according to God's intentions for us. The Lord's desire is for all to be fed and attended to. Those who care what the Lord wants will work toward these goals.

Proverbs 18:1
The one who lives alone is self-indulgent,
showing contempt for all who
    have sound judgment.

Prayer for Today: Lord, help us to remember the mercy you have already shown us. Help us to remember your gifts. We ask you to continue to pick us up when we fall, to lighten our burdens, to satisfy our needs. Lord, as we remember what you have already done and as we ask for you to do even more, remind us to tell others what you have done and can do. Amen.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Reflection on readings for June 26

Bow your heavens, O Lord,
and come down;
touch the mountains so that 
they smoke.
I will sing a new song to you,
    O God;
upon a ten-stringed harp,
    I will play to you....
(Psalm 144:5, 9)

2 Kings 9:14-10:31
Jehu, after having been secretly anointed by Elisha, led his supporters to where the wounded King Joram,  had returned. King Ahaziah of Judah was also visiting there. The two kings went out to meet Jehu on the property that had been taken from Naboth. Jehu slayed both kings and ordered the murder of Jezebel. Further bloodbath ensued. To please Jehu, seventy sons of Ahab were killed, as were the entire household--leaders, close friends, and priests.  Jehu then had worshipers of Baal killed and their temple destroyed.

The Lord tells Jehu that he had done well and that four generations would rule Israel. But, Jehu continued in the tradition of not following the law of the Lord the God of Israel with all his heart and instead continued to sin as Jeroboam had.

Our modern question is whether the Lord actually approved of the slaughter.

Acts 17:1-34
Paul stood in front of the Areopagus in Athens. I looked it up. The word means "Temple of Ares (god of war)" or "Mars" (another name for Ares) Hill." This building in Paul's time was the meeting place for the highest judicial and legislative council.

He begins by complimenting the Athenians on how religious they are. Or is he being a little snarky when he says that they worship even an unknown god?

He continues "Although you may not know the god you worship, I can tell you about the God who made the world, everything in it, a God not confined to any building, a God who does not need anything but instead provides everything."

Paul then tells them that God is the source and director of all people, and that while we may be looking for God, God is not far from us.

The one-God part may have been difficult for the Athenians to grasp. We moderns on the other hand may not be able to admit how many temples of unknown gods we spend time in and money on. We think our jobs are important, as are our leisure activities. Like the ancients, we also search for meaning or affirmation or security, physical or psychological, and, of course, amusement.

And like them, God is not far from us--even when we are looking in the wrong direction. God has created us--all of us--and continues to provide us life.

Paul had been raised as a Jew and had lived among Jews. So, A god not made by human hands would have been a basic, long-accepted truth for him--but not so for the Athenians. As would the existence of God not lots of gods.

Paul is talking to people who would not have been brought up on the Scriptures that had formed and nurtured his understanding.

They may not have known about God, but God knows about them. "We are God's offspring," he tells them. It's hard for some of us to go this far. Although like Paul, we may believe that God created them since God created everything, we still aren't quite ready to accept that non-Christians are also God's children.

Paul then talks about the future, what is necessary for them and for all of us to do--Repent. We might be able to plead ignorance if we really had not been told something, but once we have been told, ignorance is no longer a valid excuse or even explanation. Paul tells them, "The day is coming when God will appoint a man to judge the world in righteousness."

What we do does matter. We will be judged. And since we will be judged righteously, that's the way we should be behaving.

"You can be assured of this," Paul tells them, "because he has raised this judge from the dead."

Also see John Holbert's commentary, Interreligious Dialogue or Interreligious Monologue?

Psalm 144:1-15

Proverbs 17:27-28
One who spares words is knowledgeable;
one who is cool in spirit has understanding.
Even fools who keep silent are considered wise;
when they close their lips, they are deemed intelligent.

Prayer for Today: God, turn us away from relying on earthly successes to recognize our dependence on you. Help our belief. Amen.

Prayer for Today:

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Reflection on readings for June 25

Hear my prayer, O Lord;
give ear to my supplications in your faithfulness;
answer me in your righteousness
(Psalm 143:1)

2 Kings 8:1-9:13
Restoration for one widow because Gehazi, one of Elisha's servants, intercedes with the king. [Tangent: is this the same Gehazi whose greed prompted Elisha to give him leprosy (5:15-27)]

Elisha directs one of his company of young prophets to anoint Jehu as king then flee. The prophet told Jehu that the Lord wanted to end the rule and lives of Ahab and Jezebel.

Acts 16:16-40
After baptizing Lydia and her household, Paul continues his evangelism in Philippi. He performs an exorcism on a slave girl. The consequent loss of her ability to tell fortunes so upsets her owner that he reports to the authorities that Paul and Cyrus are advocating customs unlawful for Romans to observe.

Being a Christian, doing Christian things does not impute immunity. They go to prison and are subjected to flogging. They pray and sing hymns.

Suddenly a violent earthquake shakes the prison, throwing open all the doors and unfastening everyone's chains.

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

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

Psalm 143:1-12

Proverbs 17:26
To impose  a fine on the innocent is not right,
or to flog the noble for their integrity.

Prayer for Today: O Lord our God, when we are in your sanctuary we can feel your presence, can experience warmth and joy.  Remind us in our lives today that  the choice to be a Christian extends beyond what happens to us in formal worship. Being a Christian may prompt us to choose to do the unpopular. Amen.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Reflection on readings for June 24

With my voice I cry to the Lord;
with my voice I make
supplication to the Lord.
(Psalm 142:1)

2 Kings 6:1-7:20
Threat of war. Elisha advises the king to feed the enemy troops. Peace breaks out--but only for a while.

Acts 15:36-16:15
Two Christian leaders disagree and split up.

Traveling through Macedonia, Paul and Cyrus come to the Roman colony Philippi. One sabbath when they are looking for a place of prayer they come across Lydia, a wealthy woman, a dealer in purple cloth. She is so impressed with their prayers that she and her whole household are baptized.

Psalm 142:1-7

Proverbs 17:24-25
The discerning person looks to wisdom,
but the eyes of a fool to the ends of the earth.
Foolish children are a grief to their father
and bitterness to her who bore them.

Prayer for Today: At those times when you are in distress because you are being mistreated, use the words of Psalm 142 as your prayer.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Reflection on readings for June 23

I call upon you, O Lord;
come quickly to me;
give ear to my voice 
    when I call to you.
(Psalm 141:1)

2 Kings 4:18-5:27
The son of the Shunammite widow falls ill and dies. She goes to Elisha demanding that he go with her to her home. Coming into her house, he lays hands on the dead boy and prays. The son awakes.

When he gets back to Gilgal, Elisha  ensures the the hungry no longer have to eat contaminated food and sees that  hungry people are fed.

Note the steps:
A single person is compassionate enough to give up some of his resources.
He doesn't give a whole lot, only twenty loaves of bread and some grain.
He gives them first to Elisha's servant who doesn't think they are sufficient for the task.
Elisha does.
He quotes what God wants.
A hundred people are fed, and they have leftovers.

Next, Elisha is called to help an army commander of Aram (Syria). Consider the contrasts:
Aram (Syria), strong/Israel, weak;  Naaman, army commander/nameless captive servant girl; Naaman's victory in war/Naaman's inability to heal himself; foreigner who knows something/important citizen who needs to know something.

Naaman, in hopes that his servant knows what she is talking about, goes to his king for permission to make the trip to Israel. The king, being a king, assumes that all power in Israel resides in the king of Israel. Being a king, he thinks he knows what kings want; so, he sends a letter and a lot of expensive gifts.

Naaman takes the letter and the gifts directly to the king of Israel. The king is nonplussed. And distrustful and fearful.

Why does the king of Israel react in this way?

Elisha, on the other hand, hears, understands, and acts.

Kings need a prophet.

Naaman, as powerful and successful as he had been, needed help. He was willing to listen to a captive girl, a servant. But, he and his king, thought that the person she had recommended, if he was as good as she said, must be working for the king of his country.

Who wouldn't think that? Where do we turn for help?

The prophet Elisha doesn't even bother to come out of his house to meet his powerful guest. Rather, he sends an emissary. "Go wash in the Jordan, and your flesh will be clean." Naaman reacts as if he has been told to go jump in the lake. He stalks off.

Why was he willing to listen to his servant but is insulted when Elisha sends a servant to convey instructions?

Is there any message in this passage that leads us to examine our own chauvinism?

One of my favorite authors is Walter Breuggemann. I not only buy his books; I also read them. Here's a portion of what he had to say about Naaman's acceptance of Elisha's odd medical prescription (Texts for Preaching, A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV-Year B):
The story ends in an act of submissive obedience of the commander to the plan of the prophet (v. 14). The commander acts "according to the word of the man of God" and engages in ritual washing, which is beneath his station. The result is the one he had hoped for but doubted possible! He is made whole! He is made clean! He is made ritually acceptable....The narrative stands as odd testimony that power for life is indeed offered and available. That power for life is not given in expected or even socially approved forms. It comes in primitive ways that live close to the gifts of the earth.Thus all the pretense of the Syrian leader with his entourage, his goods brought for gifts (for bribery or negotiation), turn out to be irrelevant.
Healing is an offer that is free, but only through the word and acts of this uncredentialed prophet.

Questions that arise:
Is there a modern-day analogy for "ritual washing"?

Does the place of the water matter, or would the healing have been just as effective if Elisha had sent him to some other river? That is, think about who really does the healing.

Do you agree with Bruggemann on the power of life coming from "primitive ways that live close to the gifts of the earth"?

Why did servants know what to do and a king did not?

What does it mean that two different servants were willing to give Naaman advice?

What does it mean that he was willing to follow their advice?

Acts 15:1-35
The council of Jerusalem wrestles with the question of whether someone could be a Christian unless he was first a Jew.  The Pharisees said non-Jews were not welcomed. After much debate and testimony by Barnabas and Paul, they agreed to accept non-Jews.

Psalm 141:1-10

Proverbs 17:23
The wicked accept a concealed bribe
to pervert the ways of justice.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, open us to your voice today. Give us the wisdom and the courage to follow your directions for us. Give us the wisdom and the courage to discern when you would have us follow a path that we aren't used to. Amen.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Reflection on readings for June 22

I say to the Lord,
"You are my God;
give ear, O Lord,
to the voice of my supplications."
(Psalm 140:6)

2 Kings 3:1-4:17
At first the prophet Elisha doesn't want to do anything to help the king of Israel (remember the conflicts between his mentor Elijah and King Ahab). Yet, the current king of Israel, Jehoram, is able to convince him to work with him, King Jehoshaphat of Judah, and their current ally, the king of Edom, in opposition to the king of Moab who has refused to deliver wool to Israel.

Elisha calls for a musician. As the music is played, the power of the Lord comes upon Elisha and sends convincing signs.

War begins. Israel triumphs at first, but withdraws when the king of Moab does something that seems very wrong to us.

Elisha is then called upon by a widow to protect her from a creditor who wants to take her two children as slaves. When he asks her if she anything of value, she responds that she has only a jar of oil. Through his intervention, so much oil appears that she has to borrow vessels from her neighbors. Elisha tells her "Sell the oil to pay your debts so you and your children can live on the rest."

Elisha next helps a wealthy widow.

Acts 14:8-28
Paul and Barnabus preach a message about the one God, Creator of all. Things go badly. In Lystra (Turkey), they heal a man who had been crippled from birth. The residents are joyous; they think their gods (Greek ones) have come to them in human form. Not so for Paul's and Barnabus' religious traditionalists. They excite the crowd to stone Paul, leaving him for dead. But, when the disciples surrounded him he got up. The next day he and Barnabas went to the neighboring Derbe where they made many disciples, then came back to Lystra then to Iconium and Antioch.

Psalm 140
The psalmist gives us words to pray when we are attacked by enemies--the violent and the snarky. Note that the psalmist is not opposed to all violence. Also note that the Psalmist affirms the knowledge that the Lord maintains the cause of the needy and executes justice for the poor.

Are we more willing to let the Lord handle the violence than for us to do that for ourselves? Are we more willing to let the Lord handle the cause of the needy without our help?

Proverbs 17:22
A cheerful heart is a good medicine,
but a downcast spirit dries up the bones.

Prayer for Today: Lord, help us to sort out what part you would have us pay in resolving injustice. Amen.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Reflection on readings for June 21

O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from far away.
(Psalm 139:1-2)

2 Kings 1:1-2:25
Elisha said, "I'm not ready to let you go. Stay here with me."

How hard is it for a disciple to move on and to let go?
The other prophets tried to help Elisha. Elijah tried to help him. Yet, Elisha is still not ready to let Elijah go.

The way he puts it is to repeat, "I won't abandon you."

What really is his objection?

Even when he is told that the Lord has ordained this move, Elisha objects. He continues to delay the departure. They travel from Bethel to Jericho to the Jordan. Breuggemann points out that they are moving into the wilderness.

Think about an earlier crossing of the Jordan--Moses couldn't go, but Joshua led the people across.

Elisha is bereaved.
Elisha asked for a double share of Elijah's spirit. Elijah reminded him that the Spirit is God's to share. Let us continue to pray for God's spirit to light on us as we face loss and challenge.

The other prophets tried to help Elisha. Elijah tried to help him. Yet, Elisha is still not ready to let Elijah go.

The way he puts it is to repeat, "I won't abandon you."

What really is his objection?

Acts 13:42-14:7

Psalm 139:1-24
My first appointment as a pastor was to a three-point charge in rural Scott and Smith Counties in central Mississippi. Each of the three churches had its own cemetery, and I was called to preside at many funerals.

Not uncommon was the situation that the deceased was not a church-goer but the mourners were.

I often relied on this psalm for the core of the funeral homily.

Read again verses 1-6: God knows where we are. God is paying attention. God is caring for us.

"No matter where we go, God knows where we are. No matter where we are, God is with us there."

Not everyone comes to realize the presence of God. But, the Psalmist does and offers words that we can use to express the knowledge and gratitude for God's presence.

Verses 13-18 emphasize the intimacy we have with God. And the response that is appropriate:
I acclaim You. I may not be able to figure out what you are thinking, but I know that I am with you.

"You know everything about me," the psalmist says. "You know where I'm going and when. You know what I'm going to say before I say it."

The psalmist admits, and we admit when we pray this psalm, that the Lord knows everything about us whenever or wherever we are. The Lord knows what we are going to say before we say it.

Do we read these verses as reassurance, or are they unsettling to us? How comfortable is it for us to admit that God already knows what we have been doing today--and every day? For Arminians, are we bothered by the predestination element in verses 7 and 16?

Proverbs 17:19-21
One who loves transgression loves strife;
one who builds a high threshold invites broken bones.
The crooked of mind do not prosper,
and the perverse of tongue fall into calamity.
The one who begets a fool gets trouble;
the parent of a fool has no joy.

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

Friday, June 20, 2014

Reflection on readings for June 20

On the day I called, you answered me,
you increased my strength of soul.
(Psalm 138:3)

1 Kings 22:1-53
When King Ahab of Israel asks King Jehoshaphat of Judah agrees to assist Israel in its resistance to Aram, he replies "My people are your people, my horses are your horses. But, Jehoshaphat requires that both kings first ask the prophets what the Lord wants them to do. When 400 prophets agree to the battle, Jehoshaphat asks if there is another prophet they can consult.

The king knew of one more, Micaiah, but warned that he always prophesied disaster. When summoned, Micaiah said that the Lord had put a lying spirit in the mouths of the other prophets and that Israel was going to have a disaster. They put him in prison and went to battle.

Ahab tells the king of Israel that he wants to disguise himself and go into battle with the army and that Jehoshaphat should wear the royal attire and be the leader of the army. The king of Aram told his army to fight only against Israel. They attacked Jehoshaphat thinking he was Ahab but turned back when they realized he wasn't. Ironically, King Ahab is killed by an archer who didn't know his true identity.

As Elijah had prophesied, the dogs licked up his blood.  His son Ahaziah succeeded him as king of Israel and, like his father and mother, did what was evil in the sight of the Lord.

Acts 13:16-41

Psalm 138:1-8
In times of comfort, remember what God has already done. Be grateful. In times of danger or despair, remember what God has already done and what God can do.

Proverbs 17:17-18
A friend loves at all times,
and kinsfolk are born to share adversity.
It is senseless to give a pledge,
to become surety for a neighbor.

Prayer for Today: Pray Psalm 138.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Reflection on the readings for June 19

We give thanks to you, O God
for your steadfast love endures forever.
You alone do great wonders,
for your steadfast love endures forever.
(adapted from Psalm 136:2-4)

1 Kings 20:1-21:29
King Ahab wants the farm that belongs to Naboth. Naboth refuses to sell. Ahab's wife, Queen Jezebel, is determined to get the land for her husband.

The original distribution of land (see Numbers 34) was intended to make sure that each and every person got a fair share, a fair chance to prosper in the new land. Even if somebody had to give up the land because of financial problems, they would get it back (see Leviticus 25:23-34).

Jezebel doesn't get the fairness part. What's important to her is that her family gets what her family wants--after all, she is married to the king.

Following her instruction, the ruling authorities in the city accuse Naboth of cursing God and the king. Naboth is found guilty and is stoned to death.

Sad irony. Naboth is accused of cursing God. By finding him guilty of this false accusation, they themselves by their action have violated the wishes of God. They, rather than Naboth, have cursed God.

Ahab would have been familiar with the requirements about ancestral inheritance. Yet, he really wanted that particular piece of land. He really wanted it, and his wife made sure that he got it.

He would have known what he was supposed to do and what he was supposed not to do. But his knowing didn't stop what happened to Naboth.

The Lord acted to give Ahab a reminder of what he should have already known. The Lord sent the prophet Elijah to go to the king. Tell him "I will bring disaster on you."

God's commands had been directed to ensure fairness and well-being for everyone. By violating the rights of Naboth, they have violated the commands of God. In their Preaching the Old Testament, Allen & Williamson ask "Is there ever any limit to how much of the world's riches the wealthy can commandeer for themselves while others live on the street?"

Harming the weak is violating the commands of God, then and now.

Acts 12:24-13:15

Psalm 137:1-9
In exile, all they can do when we think about their loss is sit and cry. They couldn't forget what they had lost, and they didn't want to.

We may not be facing a Babylonian army coming in and destroying city and temple and taking us away. But, many of us have faced severely disruptive losses in the last few years of economic turmoil. For several years, investment accounts were devastated and many home values dropped below the mortgage balance. The economy may be recovering, but many of us may be facing other kinds of losses, deaths of loved ones, divorces, physical dislocations.

And, in our losses, we may find it difficult to adapt to the new life required by our changing situation. I'm trying to imagine how much worse a bad situation would be if I had to face tormentors like the ones in Psalm 137.

Yet, this psalm although not ignoring pain, also expresses a refusal to forget that what is lost.

Here's how Walter Brueggemann, in Theology of the Old Testament/Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy, describes the practice of grief:
In the meantime, Israel is not to grow silent about its deserved plight. Israel in exile is a community that grieves and protests. Indeed, in exile the ancient social practice of lament and complaint becomes a crucial theological activity for Israel. The practice of grief is an exercise in truth-telling. It is, as evidence in Psalm 137 and Lamentations, an exercise in massive sadness that acknowledges, with no denial or deception, where and how Israel is. But the grief is not resignation, for in the end, Israel is incapable of resignation.
As in many laments, Psalm 137 includes a desire for vengeance. Yet, the psalmist is not swearing to repay the predator. Rather, he is trusting the Lord to take care of it. Or, I can accept the notes in the Jewish Study Bible that says the rocks in verses 8-9 should be read as a pun on Petra, the Rock, a fortress city--that is, the fortress protecting Edom becomes what will punish Edom.
Proverbs 17:16
Why should fools have a price in hand to buy wisdom, when they have no mind to learn?

Prayer for Today:  God, as we listen to assertions and complaints, help us to discern the truth. Strengthen us against the fear of the powerful and the popular. O Lord, open our ears to hear your word for us today. Strengthen our courage to follow your will. Amen.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Reflection on readings for June 18

O give thanks to the Lord.
You are good.
Your steadfast love endures forever.
(adapted from Psalm 136:1)

1 Kings 19:1-21
Elijah has performed great acts and, as a consequence, has angered the queen. She has issued a death sentence. He's fleeing for his life.

And he gives up. He prays to the Lord, "I've had enough. I'm ready to die," and he lies down ready for his prayer to be answered.

Instead, the Lord sends a messenger to him who provides him with food and also encouragement.

The Lord gives him more work to do: Anoint a king to replace Ahab. Anoint a prophet to continue your work.

Elijah continues his journey. He finds Elisha, the one the Lord has designated to be his successor.

Elisha is at work plowing when Elijah approaches him. He's ready to go but wants to say goodbye to his parents first. Commentators disagree on whether the text tells us that Elijah let him do this or not. In either case, Elisha slaughtered the oxen providing a meal to feed the people. Then he set out with Elijah.

Acts 12:1-23
Some of the religious authorities found the new church to be so threatening that King Herod resorted to violence. When that seemed to please his supporters, he then had Peter put in prison. The Lord sent an angel to release Peter who then left Judea and went to Caesarea. Herod was very angry but soon died.

Psalm 136:1-20

Proverbs 17:14-15
The beginning of strife is like letting out water;
so stop before the quarrel breaks out.
One who justifies the wicked and
    one who condemns the righteous
are both alike an abomination to the Lord.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, keep us mindful that your steadfast love endures forever. In times of despair, send us encouragement. In times when others are in despair, send us to show your steadfast love to them. Amen.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Reflection on readings for June 17

Praise the Lord!
Praise the name of the Lord;
give praise, O servants of the Lord
(Psalm 135:1)

1 Kings 18:1-46
Ahab is king.  After marrying Jezebel, he worshipped Baal (the rain god), built an altar in the house of Baal he built and also a sacred pole." Ahab did more to provoke the anger of the Lord, the God of Israel, than had all the kings of Israel  who were before him" (1 Kings 16:29-34).

The prophet Elijah, whose name means Yahweh is God, tells Ahab what he has been told by the Lord, that a drought is coming (17:1-7).

Where does power lie? King Ahab lives in royal court, and has control over an army.

Elijah, a prophet, was first fed by ravens then stayed in the home of a widow who was so poor that she had only a handful of meal and a little oil in a jug. The Lord saw to it that she wouldn't run out of food. When her son became very ill, Elijah prayed to the Lord who listened, and the son revived (1 Kings 17:8-24).

After three years of drought, the Lord tells Elijah to go to Ahab. Risky because Jezebel has been killing the prophets of the Lord.

Elijah sets up a test to prove that the Lord is God, not Baal. 450 prophets will call on the storm god to provide lightning to set fire to their sacrifice. They call on their god all morning and all afternoon. They hear no voice, no answer.

Who are we more likely to trust in times of danger, deprivation? Where do we turn for help? When we don't get an immediate positive solution, what do we do next?

The followers of Baal had been unable to evoke a miracle. Yet, when Elijah prayed to the Lord to do something to impress the people, the Lord responded with a fire that "consumed the offering, the wood, the stones, the dust, and even licked up the water that was in the trench."

Israel has been convinced.

Allen and Williamson in their Preaching the Old Testament point out that far more than a miracle story, our text raises questions of how we think and speak of God. Baal provides no voice and no answer. God is companion, vulnerable, affected by prayer, interacts with God's people and God's world.

But what do we think when our droughts continue? When someone else gets all the rain they need?

Acts 11:1-30
The more things change ....

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A distinction that had been important, essential even, was now gone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Psalm 135:1-21

Proverbs 17:12-13
Better to meet a she-bear robbed of its cubs
than to confront a fool immersed in folly.
Evil will not depart from the house
of one who returns evil for good.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, continue to expand our recognition of your presence. Remind us of the help we receive from strangers. Encourage us to befriend strangers. Amen.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Reflection on readings for June 16

May the Lord,
maker of heaven and earth,
bless you from Zion.
(Psalm 134:3)

1 Kings 15:25-17:24
Elijah was a prophet of God at a time when the king of Israel, Ahab, married Jezebel, a worshipper of Baal. God was angry with Ahab. Elijah said so. The Lord told him "Go hide by the Wadi Cherith. It has plenty of water, and I'll see you get food." Elijah did what he was told, and things worked out for a while. Then the wadi ran dry (16:29-17:7).

The Lord told Elijah where to go for food.

I'm thinking about how unlikely the choice might have seemed to Elijah. The place was at the center of Baal worship. The person he was supposed to get help from was a woman. He, a stranger, was supposed to approach a woman. Moreover, she was a widow; that is, she wouldn't be expected to have much in the way of financial resources.

But, the Lord had included the assurance, "I have commanded her to feed you."

Elijah trusted the Lord enough to comply with the instruction.

When he got to the widow's place and asked her for some food, she told him, "As sure as the Lord your God lives, I have only enough for me and my son to have one small meal and then we'll die."

Apparently although she lives in Sidon, she knows about the God that Elijah worships--and obeys.

Elijah responds to her, "Do not be afraid. Go ahead and fix the meal for you and your son, but, first, make me a little cake. The Lord God of Israel will provide you with all the food you need for as long as you need."

She did. And the Lord did.

She trusted God's word that came to her through a prophet, a foreigner.

From whom can we expect help when we are in trouble?

In this story Elijah is fleeing for his life from the threats of the powerful king and queen of his nation. He turns to a widow who is trying to support herself and her son in a time of drought.

He is able to reassure her that God will provide for her needs if she will take care of his.

Her son died.

In her grief, she turned on Elijah, blaming him.

Elijah took her son and prayed to the Lord to let the child live.

The Lord heard Elijah's plea; the boy revived.

When Elijah brought her son back to her, the mother responded, "Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the Lord is truly in your mouth."

Lessons in this lesson:
People who know God turn to God in time of need.
God cares for people who aren't necessarily very important to the world.
Recipients of God's care can react with gratitude.
In 2012, NPR did a story about the geography of charitable giving.

Ever wonder how charitable the people are who live in your state or community? It turns out that lower-income people tend to donate a much bigger share of their discretionary incomes than wealthier people do. And rich people are more generous when they live among those who aren't so rich.
They compared the states according to whose typical households give the biggest--and--smallest percentage of discretionary income to charity:

1  Utah                           10.6%
2  District of Columbia     7.7%
3  Mississippi                    7.2%
48 Maine                          2.8%
48 Vermont                      2.8%
51 New Hampshire          2.5%

Acts 10:24-48
In Acts 8, Philip learned that Gentiles could be Christians.  In Acts 9, Paul learned that Jews could be Christians.  In Acts 10, Peter, too, learned that Gentiles could be Christians. A messenger from God came to Cornelius, a Roman centurion. A Gentile, an enforcer of the occupation of Israel. Prompted by the Spirit, Peter was willing to break the law and eat with him. From menu to men.

In today's passage, Peter's sermon to Gentiles is interrupted. We are told that the Holy Spirit fell on all who were listening to him.

All. The ones who had already belonged. And the ones who had not. The old-timers were astounded that the newbies would be included.

How does your congregation react to the notion that the Holy Spirit may be reaching out to people who were raised with different beliefs from yours? Or, how would they react to the notion that the Holy Spirit speaks?

In Acts 2, The Holy Spirit fell on Jews from all lands. In Acts 8, the Holy Spirit fell on Samaritans (not-quite insiders but not completely different, either).

In Acts 10, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. The insiders were astounded that outsiders were recipients.

Questions: Wouldn't the Holy Spirit fallen on them whether they had heard the word or not? Or, is hearing the word necessary for someone to be able to recognize the presence of the Holy Spirit? How did the believers know that the Holy Spirit had been poured out on them--that is, was proof necessary?

In this passage from Acts, baptism is preceded by the receiving of the Holy Spirit. But, in Acts 8:14-24, the Samaritans were baptized before receiving the Holy Spirit.

I don't think that which came first is as important to Luke as that they both do, and, even more important, that they both come to people that the rest of us might not have thought likely or even worthy.

Psalm 134:1-3

Proverbs 17:9-11
One who forgives an affront
    fosters friendship,
but one who dwells on dispute
    will alienate a friend.
A rebuke strikes deeper into
    a discerning person
than a hundred blows
    into a fool.
Evil people seek only rebellion,
but a cruel messenger will be sent against them.

Prayer for Today: O Lord our God, open us to recognize the presence of your Holy Spirit. Stir us to follow your will. Increase our willingness to be generous. Amen.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Reflection on readings for June 15

Lift up your hands to the holy place,
and bless the Lord.
(Psalm 134:2)

1 Kings 14:1-15:24
The prophet who had said that Jeroboam should be king of Israel now says that now because of his sinfulness, he will lose everything and that Israel will be destroyed. Judah under King Rehoboam committed many, many sins as well. War between Israel and Judah continued.

Acts 10:1-23
A messenger from heaven came to the hungry Peter and offered him a meal--all kinds of four footed creatures and reptiles and birds. Peter, of course, refused the gift because the animals were ones that were considered unsuitable for the people of God to eat. He knew the rules and intended to keep them--even if he was very hungry. The voice from heaven spoke to Peter again, "If I say something is clean, it is."

Peter was puzzled about how to interpret this message.

Psalm 133:1-3
Let's read this psalm as extolling harmony in a family as applying literally to a biological family but not restrict our reading to that application. Let us consider what benefits derive from unity in each organization we humans are part of.

When we (family, church congregation, neighborhood) are at peace with each other, blessings are available and possible. When we don't have to use resources for peace-keeping, they are then available for enjoyment. Those blessings extend great distances--both literally and metaphorically. And they support our life.

"How very good and pleasant is it when kindred live in unity!"

Good and pleasant and necessary.

As necessary as for life as water--Mount Hermon was the source of the Jordan River. As good and necessary as their goal--Zion, the place that God had blessed, the place where blessings were bestowed. (with thanks to John H. Hayes' contribution to Preaching through the Christian Year, Trinity Press International.)

Proverbs 17:7-8
Fine speech is not becoming to a fool;
still less is false speech to a ruler.
A bribe is like a magic stone
    in the eyes of those who give it.

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

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Reflection on readings for June 14

Come, bless the Lord,
all you servants of the Lord,
who stand by night in the house
of the Lord.
(Psalm 134:1)

1 Kings 12:20-13:34

Acts 9:26-43
When Saul came to Jerusalem and tried to join the disciples, they resisted at first because they were afraid of him, not able to believe that he had changed. Once allowed into their group, he had to leave Jerusalem because his interpretations upset some of the regulars. However, the church throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria grew.Today's Christians still don't agree on everything. Disagreement doesn't always equate division or decline.

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

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

She died. The other widows were distraught.

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

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

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

Psalm 132:1-18
Psalm 132 begins by asking the Lord to remember David favorably--in this case, for wanting to build an appropriate place for the Lord to dwell and also appropriate for the people to come to worship.

We can read this reminder as referring specifically to David's establishment of Jerusalem as the capital and the worship center for all the tribes. And we can also read it metaphorically--Israel welcomed being chosen by the Lord and responded in a way that we could call hospitable and respectful.

This psalm then asks the Lord to remember the promise of the covenant with the house of David. Note that the Bible has several references to the covenant's being eternal, here it is described in more conditional terms--"If your sons keep my covenant and my decrees ... their sons also, forevermore, shall sit on your throne."

We who are Christians can remember the promises made to David and we can appropriate many of them for ourselves.

We also can appropriate many of the pledges that David made. We do desire to find a place for the Lord in our lives, a place that may be for us a physical church building, but it is also that place within the hearts of all of us in community.

And we certainly can appropriate the verses praying that our clerics be clothed in righteousness and all of us faithful, clergy and lay, be joyful in the presence of the Lord.

The place that the Lord has chosen to dwell is a place that will receive many blessings.

The first is to feed the poor.

Others include granting salvation to the priests, providing prosperity for David's decendants, and heaping disgrace on his enemies.

Back to the first--feeding the poor.

If we were to assess whether our congregation is providing an appropriate dwelling place for the Lord, should we use as a criteria whether we are feeding the poor?

Proverbs 17:6
Grandchildren are the crown of the aged,
and the glory of children is their parents.

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

Friday, June 13, 2014

Reflection on readings for June 13

O Israel, hope in the Lord
from this time on and forevermore.
(Psalm 131:3)

1 Kings 11:1-12:19
Even though the Lord had told the Israelite men not to marry women from certain nations that worshipped other gods, Solomon followed his heart--over a thousand times. And as the Lord had warned, his heart was turned away from God.

In anger, after trying  twice to get Solomon to follow his commands, the Lord told him that the kingdom would be split--but not during Solomon's lifetime. Then one of Solomon's trusted employees, Jeroboam (a supervisor of the forced laborers), was approached by a prophet who told him that God was going to split up Solomon's kingdom.

After Solomon died, his son Rehoboam accepted the kingship. When Jeroboam asked him to lighten the burden of the laborers, Rehoboam said he was making make it heaver. The northern tribes did secede.

Acts 9:1-25
Saul had witnessed the execution of Stephen in Jerusalem. Persecution of Christians in Jerusalem became so fearsome that many fled the city. Saul was part of the effort to remove what they considered to be a dangerous threat to their religion. Scaring the Christians out of Jerusalem did not silence them. They preached wherever they were. Evangelism in Samaria was so successful that Peter and John made a trip there then returned to Jerusalem. Philip obeyed a call from the Lord to go south. There he baptized and preached.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Psalm 131:1-3
Psalm 131 begins with an assertion of humility, "O Lord, my heart is not proud nor my look haughty; I do not aspire to great things or to what is beyond me." I'm pausing here to ponder how honestly a typical modern can pray this psalm. Do we think a heart should be proud? Is it hard for us to admit that some things are beyond us? How willing are we to limit our aspirations? Or, I'm wondering if we, on the other hand, can pray this psalm quite honestly. Our humility is part of what drives us to our places of worship. Of course, we can't do everything. Of course, we don't understand why some things turn out the way they do. But, I'm still having trouble with the not-occupying myself part. I, at least, if not we, do tend to worry about a lot of things.

Back to the psalm.

The words of the psalm links the one on the way to the Temple (or on the way home from exile, or the one seeking the presence of God) to a small child with its mother. From an assertion of humility to an example of it. It's hard to come up with a relationship in which one party provides for the needs of the other--even when that other isn't behaving particularly well at all--than the mother and her child.

Proverbs 17:4-5
An evildoer listens to wicked lips;
and a liar gives heed to a mischievous tongue.
Those who mock the poor insult their maker;
those who are glad at calamity will not go unpunished.

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

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Reflection on readings for June 12

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits.
In your word I hope.
(adapted from Psalm 130:5)

1 Kings 9:1-10:29
The Lord told Solomon, "I'll be with you as I was with your father, but you must maintain integrity and uprightness, obey all commands, statutes, and ordinances I have given you.  Otherwise, I will cut you off."

Solomon used conscripted labor to build the temple and his palace and many, many other projects. His fame spread. The queen of Sheba gave to see for herself. After observing his wisdom and his display of wealth, she pronounced her approval and gave him lavish gifts.

More wealth came to Solomon through traders, merchant, shippers, and the nations allied with him.

Wisdom and wealth, so far.

Acts 8:14-40
Through the first seven chapters of Acts, Peter and the other apostles have been preaching in Jerusalem. Successes and setbacks. Steven was condemned to death. Saul (more about him later) watched the stoning.

The persecution became so severe that the apostles scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. (Go back and read again Acts 1:8.)

Philip is preaching in Samaria where crowds are listening eagerly to him and seeing the signs that he did (8:4-8). Peter and John returned to Jerusalem. And Philip is directed by a messenger from God to go to Gaza.

He is performing signs, drawing crowds, being praised, and baptizing. Philip is in a productive mission field. And God tells him to travel the wilderness road.

On the trip, Philip came across a court official of the Ethiopian queen who was returning from a trip to Jerusalem. He had gone there to worship, and when Philip saw him, he was reading from the prophet Isaiah.

We can speculate whether he had already read the part of Isaiah where eunuchs and foreigners are included in Israel's promise (56:1-8). [Tangent: We can further speculate on whether we ourselves have spent much time with that passage and whether we talk and act as if we believed it.]

The Spirit sent Philip over to speak to this foreigner. Philip responded to this command by running over to his chariot.

He asked him if he understood what he was reading. The Ethiopian replied, "How can I, unless someone guides me?" And he asked Philip to join him.

Some points to consider:

People who don't look like or who haven't been brought up like us may be sensing the call of God. God may be talking to us, and we ought to be listening.

If someone wants to understand scripture, and we're standing right there, we need to be prepared to step up to the need.

OTOH, scripture may not be transparent even to someone who has studied a lot. We need to look at the Ethiopian as a good example of someone who knew he needed instruction and was willing to admit it.

The Ethiopian had been reading from Isaiah (53:7-8), a passage first heard by a weak nation in tribulation caused by a powerful invader, a passage about suffering.

Who is the Ethiopian talking about--himself or somebody else?

Philip responded by telling him about Jesus.

Christians continue to appropriate the stories of Israel in exile. Some of us think all the prophets were talking about Jesus. Some of us think that we can understand the meaning of Jesus better as we learn the history of God's dealing with suffering through the millenia that preceded Jesus' time on earth.

He is not like them. He's from a different place. He lives a different life. But, he asks "What is to prevent me from being baptized?"

Philip sees no reason why not.

The General Conference of the UMC in 2012 marked the entry into full communion with the  African Methodist Episcopal Church, the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, the African Union Methodist Protestant Church and the Union American Methodist Episcopal Church. According to Rich Peck (see

“We have a shameful history of blatant racism that led to the breakup of American Methodism into multiple denominations beginning in the late 18th century,” said the Rev. Stephen J. Sidorak Jr., staff executive of the United Methodist Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns.

Noting the existence of the Pan-Methodist Commission, Sidorak said, “There is some solace in the fact that there has been demonstrable dedication within The United Methodist Church to preserve a special relationship with the historic African-American Methodist churches.”

But not everyone is to be include in everything. The GC spent time trying to decide who should be included in decision-making roles, in the clergy, and in church weddings. The view of the Common Witness Coalition is that we did not succeed in inviting-all-to-the-table

Psalm 130:1-8
This psalm helps give us voice to our laments, for those times when we are lost in situations of despair, times when we are not in control of the outcome. It is a reminder, an affirmation, that what we are waiting for is for the Lord to take control.

We are turning to the Lord even with the admission that we don't deserve help. God forgives. God loves. God redeems.

When I am in pain, and the situation is due to my own fault, how can I expect God to help? Why would God want to step in to that situation? The answer in the psalm is that God forgives.

I'm not good at memorizing, but as I read Psalm 130, I think I really ought to try to be.

Outline of Psalm 130
Memory of what God has already done.
Waiting. Hoping.
Proverbs 17:2-3
A slave who deals wisely will rule
    over a child who acts shamefully,
and will share the inheritance
    as one of the family.
The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold,
but the Lord tests the heart. 

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

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Reflection on readings for June 11

Out of the depths 
I cry to you, O Lord.
(Psalm 130:1)

1 Kings 8:1-66
Solomon has the ark brought into Jerusalem to be set in place in the new temple. The priests carried the ark into the holiest part of this holy place. As they came out, a cloud filled the temple--a cloud, the visible sign of the glory of the Lord.

(His ancestors had been led by the cloud through the wilderness on their journey from slavery to promised land.)

Solomon prayed before the altar in the presence of all those assembled in the temple. He praised God for the covenant that had been made with David that extended to David's descendants. And extended to people who were not David's descendants. Solomon specifically included immigrants, asking God to hear their prayers, as well.

The glory of God is visible in the temple, but God is not imprisoned there. Solomon could pray to God in the temple and expect God to hear him, but God is not confined to the temple.

In the last few years here in the US, we have become accustomed to reading about immigrants--and arguing about them. Many Americans would prefer that we not accept any new arrivals although of course we know that almost all of us are descendants of immigrants.

So, it's interesting to me to read in the OT yet one more passage about immigrants. In his dedicatory prayer in the newly built temple, Solomon includes the foreigners who have heard about God and showed up at the temple.

Now, Solomon does give a practical reason for welcoming the outsiders. The more people that know about God, the most people there will be to teach others. But, let me also point out that Solomon assumes that God hears the prayers of these outsiders and will respond favorably to them.

What would it mean for us in the US--or, for any of the rest of you, for that matter--to recognize that God listens to the prayers of people that aren't just like us?

Acts 7:51-8:13
They reacted to his severe criticisms by attacking and killing him. Saul, who we will later know as Paul, watches with approval.

As Stephen dies, he prays that they will receive forgiveness.

Severe persecution of the church in Jerusalem began. Many of the Christians scattered to other places. Philip went to Samaria where he met eager crowds to hear his message.

In the Book of Acts, some evangelists have received positive support (see Chapter 2, for example), but not all faithfulness to God's intent brings immediate success. For the "yet," here's an excerpt from Texts for Preaching, Westminster John Knox Press:
Yet while acknowledging the continuing reality of evil, the text makes it quite clear that those who are really dead are not Stephen, but the disciple's killers. His pain may be the most immediate, but his joy is ultimate and final, while their twisted and hate-posoned hearts show no inclination to be open to any good news of what God has done and is doing. And so the Easter victory is genuine and enduring, but in important respects it is a victory whose final consummation is still held in anticipation.

Psalm 129:1-8
Bad things do happen to good people.

Proverbs 17:1
Better is a dry morsel with quiet
than a house full of feasting with strife.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, our God, open our ears to hear your message. Open our mouths to share your message with others. Amen.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Reflection on readings for June 10

The Lord has done great things for us,
and we rejoiced.
(Psalm 126:3)

1 Kings 7:1-51
Solomon built other buildings, big and expensive.

Acts 7:30-50
Stephen also reminded them that leaders chosen by God weren't always immediately accepted. He has been preaching to them about their ancestors. Abraham and then Moses were willing to leave home, to travel to unknown places, (and for Moses, to spend decades in the wilderness without reaching the destination). Moses over and over had to face the complaints of his followers who kept insisting that they ought to return rather than go on to something yet unseen.

Stephen then used Solomon as a bad example because he insisted on building a visible temple. Turning to the religious authorities, Stephen chastised them, "God doesn't live in a house that humans can build."

To summarize: buildings should not be the goal of your life with God. God expects you to leave the comfortable and spend some time with the unfamiliar and the uncomfortable.

Psalm 126:1-6

Proverbs 16:31-33
Gray hair is a crown of glory;
it is gained in a righteous life.
One who is slow to anger is better than the mighty,
and one whose temper is controlled than one
who captures a city.
The lot is cast into the lap,
but the decision is the Lord's alone.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, our God, help us turn away from false gods that promise us security, advancement, rewards, and to turn toward you. Remind us that you don't just stay in that big building we call our church but are with us and before us and behind us in all we do and try to do. Amen.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Reflection on readings for June 9

Unless the Lord builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.
(Psalm 127:1)

1 Kings 5:1-6:38
A new king; new policy. David had wanted to build a temple but had been convinced that God did not want him to. Solomon, now the king, wants to build a temple. He states that since they are not now at war, God would approve. Their neighbor Lebanon is happy with the decision because the project will require importing cedar from them. King Solomon conscripts labor from 30,000 men to go to Lebanon to harvest the cedar, another 70,000 laborers and 80,000 stonecutters, and 3,300 supervisors.

The word of the Lord comes to Solomon "If you walk in my statutes, obey my ordinances, and keep all my commandments, I will establish with you the promise I made to David."

It took seven years to complete the building.

We descendants of Solomon still tend to show our allegiance to God by building big, expensive structures.

Acts 7:1-29
The religious authorities bring Stephen to trial. He reminds them that God's people had been required to make drastic moves in the past in order to remain faithful to God's wishes for them.

Psalm 127:1-5

Proverbs 16:28-30
A perverse person spreads strife,
and a whisperer separates close friends.
The violent entice their neighbors,
and lead them in a way that is not good.
One who winks the eyes plans perverse things;
one who compresses the lips brings evil to pass.

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

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Reflection on readings for June 8

The Lord has done great things for us,
and we rejoiced.
(Psalm 126:3)

1 Kings 3:3-4:34
Having become king, Solomon goes to the high places to offer sacrifices to the Lord. The Lord appears to him in a dream, asking him what he wants. Solomon's reply that he would prefer wisdom as the gift pleases the Lord, who grants his gift and promises many others as well.

A demonstration of his wisdom convinces everybody.

Judah and Israel got along with each other. Solomon ruled over kingdoms extending from the Euphrates (Philistines) to Egypt, receiving tributes from them.  A time of peace and of prosperity. A king who was respected for his wisdom by all the kings of the earth.

Acts 6:1-15
Today's reading from Kings tell about wisdom and peace. The reading from Acts tells about Christians who did not get along perfectly. But, they were able to devise a plan that would result in appropriate distribution of resources.  Christian congregations still worry about making sure no one in their community is lacking what they need--don't they?

Conflict arose among the congregations. Some thought that Stephen was not voicing the orthodox line sufficiently. He was put on trial for saying things they considered blasphemy.

Psalm 126:1-6
The Psalmist asks for our fortunes to be restored "like watercourses in the Negeb." His first readers would have known what a lavish gift he was asking for.

In the desert region of the Negeb, creek beds were almost always dry. But, when the rains came, they were rushing rivers. If you knew the central Texas of my childhood, you would be familiar with what we called a gully, a wash, or an arroyo.

Imagine now a shallow depression in the desert. That's what you've got. Dust. Now, imagine, a heavy rain.

Despair followed by joy.

Proverbs 16:26-27
The appetite of workers works for them;
and hunger urges them on.
Scoundrels concoct evil,
and their speech is like a scorching fire.

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

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Reflection on readings for June 7

Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion,
which cannot be moved but abides forever.
(Psalm 125:1)

1 Kings 2:1-3:2

Acts 5:1-42
On Easter we remembered and celebrated the resurrection of Jesus Christ. That was Easter. In what the church calls Eastertide, we have been remembering the resurrection. As we approach Pentecost,  we are also assessing what the impact of the resurrection has on our own lives.

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

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

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

Peter and the other apostles summarize the message that inspired them and continues to inspire us as we move through Eastertide:
God raised up Jesus.
God exalted him so that he might give repentance and forgiveness.
We are witnesses to these things.
But they weren't the last witnesses. The Holy Spirit continues to move through the church.

Psalm 125:1-5
Psalm 125 begins with a statement of confidence: Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever. As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds his people from this time on and forevermore.

As I thought about these verses, I was struck first by the psalmist's use of place. That is, he looked around him where he was and saw God right there right them, and further knew that God had always been there and always would be. We are like that big mountain over there. We cannot no more be moved than it can. God is like the mountains that surround this city. I can step out into the street and see them all around us. God is like that, all around us.

Perhaps I will remember to look around today and to let familiar objects remind me of God and God's qualities and the qualities of people who recognize God's presence.

This psalm continues with a prayer to the Lord to do good to those who are good. We need to remember to be good if we are sincere in this prayer.

Proverbs 16:25
Sometimes there is a way that seems to be right,
but in the end it is the way to death.

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

Friday, June 6, 2014

Reflection on readings for June 6

Our help is in the name of the Lord
who made heaven and earth.
(Psalm 124:8)

1 Kings 1:1-53

Acts 4:1-37
Peter, a religious man, has been acted on his religious training and experience, is now called to account by religious authorities.

"Who gave you the authority to do this?"

Holly Hearon  asks: "When have you experienced a life-giving event in your life that has been viewed with suspicion by others? When have you found yourself suspicious of what someone else has identified as a life-giving event? What criteria should be used in assessing such moments?"

More disturbing to us may be verses 32-35. We Americans complain that our government wants a lot. Then, the church wanted it all.

Remember, no social security, no medicare, no unemployment insurance. How were people who needed help to be cared for?

Giving everything seems hard--and it seemed hard to them, too. Keep reading in this chapter.

But, back to this lesson: Luke has emphasized that discipleship to Jesus involves one's possessions. See Luke 6:20-26; 12:13-21; Acts 11:27-29, among others.

Is there a conflict between being of one heart and one mind (v.32) and having private ownership? Even if we cannot imagine common ownership, is there any way we can accept a modification of this principle?

How do you find a connection between verses 33 and 34? What is our responsibility toward the needy (v.34)? Does this responsibility leap across national borders?

Psalm 124:1-8
I'm trying to imagine the original setting for this psalm. Everybody is grateful. Everybody is traveling to a great festival. Which is harder for me to imagine happening in my time--that they are on a pilgrimage, or that they are on it together?

This psalm gives us words to express gratitude and reminds us to whom we owe our rescue.

If God had not been on our side, we would have been swallowed up by enemies--human ones and ones of nature.
We have escaped like a bird
from the snare of the fowlers;
the snare is broken,
and we have escaped.
Although this psalm is written for a community, individuals can also find solace and suggestion in it. When you have escaped from whatever snare had trapped you, you can pray these words. When you are still entrapped, you can use them as a reminder that help does come.

Proverbs 16:24
Pleasant words are like a honeycomb,
sweetness to the soul and health to the body.

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

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Reflection on readings for June 5

To you I lift up my eyes,
O you who are enthroned 
   in the heavens!
(Psalm 123:1)

2 Samuel 23:24-24:25

Acts 3:1-26
Even seeing the healing first hand, they all were astonished that the beggar was now able to walk. Even after hearing Peter invoke the name of Jesus, they couldn't understand what had just happened.

In response to their lack of understanding, Peter preaches to them. "Did you think that we did this? Have you forgotten the God of Israel? You may have rejected Jesus, the one that God chose, but God has not rejected him."

We today are living among people who also have heard about God, about God's gifts, and God's faithfulness. Yet, they don't expect God to do anything good for them, and they don't recognize when God does. They may have neglected God or they may have corroborated in acts that were in opposition to what God wished.

What now?

Peter preaches, "Repent. Even your sins can be forgiven.

Tangent: Verse 16 says that Peter was able to heal the man through faith, but is not explicit whether Peter is talking about his own faith. Nothing is said about the beggar's faith before the healing.

Psalm 123:1-4
When the Israelites were oppressed by Canaan, they cried out to the Lord for help (Judges 4:3). Centuries later, after success and great failure, they continued to ask the Lord for mercy. And, we, their descendants, continue to suffer and continue to turn to the Lord to aid them.

And, like them, we can pray Psalm 123 when we are suffering from the contempt of those around us.

The notes in The New Interpreter's Bible interpret the image of servant and master:
Worshipers turn to God as their true sovereign, sick to death of the scorn and contempt of those who strut through the earth, oblivious of everything and everyone except themselves. The petition, even so, has no bitterness, just an urgent plea for God's mercy.
Proverbs 16:21-23
The wise of heart is called perceptive,
and pleasant speech increases persuasiveness.
Wisdom is a fountain of life to one who has it,
but folly is the punishment of fools.
The mind of the wise makes their speech judicious,
and adds persuasiveness to their lips.

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

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Reflection on readings for June 4

I was glad when they said to me,
"Let us go to the house of the Lord!"
(Psalm 122:1)

2 Samuel 22:1-23:23
The last words of David. He speaks of the many times that he called out to God and God delivered him. He also says that his deliverance was a reward for his righteousness, that he never turned away from God's ordinances. I don't know what to say about this. David also recounts his experience as a warrior and expresses the claim that God has made an everlasting covenant with him.

Acts 2:1-47
The Holy Spirit appeared suddenly, loudly, and effectively. The reaction was mixed. Some were bewildered, amazed, astonished.

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

Miracles or any exciting phenomena do not necessarily generate faith.

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

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

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

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

I got the Greek Reader app for my iPhone and used it today to analyze some of the words in this passage. This analysis then raised questions and prompted suggestions:

apostles (apostolos apostle, messenger, delegate) Who are we listening to? Who does the sending; i.e., how do we decide to recognize the authority of the one we're listening to, or learning from?

sign (semeion sign, token) What do we see? What do we find convincing?

wonders (teras) What is happening that is so different from ordinary life that we notice it?

devoted (proskartereo persevered, adhered to, gave constant attention to) Imagine a buzzer going off at intervals.You're supposed to write down what you are doing or thinking at that moment. Try it, and see how closely you come to the description of this early Christian congregation.

What does the word "church" mean to us now? Is it restricted to that building that we gather in on Sunday morning? Or, does it mean more than that?

Looking at the Acts passage, I really cannot imagine a congregation selling all of their possessions and sharing the proceeds. I can and have seen great generosity but not to the extent that Luke describes. We seem to be more likely to complain about high taxes than we are to worry about the needs of those less fortunate than we are.

What should we do with this text?

Psalm 122:1-9

Proverbs 16:19-20
It is better to be of a lowly spirit among the poor
than to divide the spoil with the proud.
Those who are attentive to a matter will prosper,
and happy are those who trust in the Lord.

Prayer for Today: O Lord our God, send your Spirit among us so that we can speak with each other and understand them when they speak to us. Show us how to share the gifts that you have bestowed upon us. Amen.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Reflection on readings for June 3

I lift up my eyes to the hills--
from where will my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.
(Psalm 121:1-2)

2 Samuel 20:14-21:22
The ten tribes of Israel and the two tribes of Judah haven't gotten over their resentment of each other. David's kingship is again threatened. Through the help of a wise woman, the leader of the rebellion is eliminated. When the Gibeonites reminded David of the sufferings caused them by Saul, he agreed to execute almost all of Saul's sons. The actions of the grieving Rizbah, one of Saul's concubines, inspired David to give the remains of Saul and Jonathan a proper burial.

More war with the Philistines. David's men told him it was time for him to retire from army leading. Then another giant is killed, this time not by David but by his nephew.

Acts 1:1-26
He was a man who taught and worked and died. He appeared to travelers and disciples. We don't experience him in the way that they did. Yet, we continue to experience him. In the Christian calendar, we mark the 40th day after Easter as the day of the Ascension of the Lord (May 29 this year).

They had listened to his teaching. They had asked him when things would be the way they wanted them to be.

He told them that the Holy Spirit would visit them and bestow power upon them.

2 Samuel 20:14-21:22
The ten tribes of Israel and the two tribes of Judah haven't gotten over their resentment of each other. David's kingship is again threatened. Through the help of a wise woman, the leader of the rebellion is eliminated. When the Gibeonites reminded David of the sufferings caused them by Saul, he agreed to execute almost all of Saul's sons. The actions of the grieving Rizbah, one of Saul's concubines, inspired David to give the remains of Saul and Jonathan a proper burial.

More war with the Philistines. David's men told him it was time for him to retire from army leading. Then another giant is killed, this time not by David but by his nephew.

Acts 1:1-26
He was a man who taught and worked and died. He appeared to travelers and disciples. We don't experience him in the way that they did. Yet, we continue to experience him. In the Christian calendar, we mark the 40th day after Easter as the day of the Ascension of the Lord (May 29 this year).

They had listened to his teaching. They had asked him when things would be the way they wanted them to be.

He told them that the Holy Spirit would visit them and bestow power upon them.

He vanished from their sight.

But not from their lives.

In order for the church (yes, I realize that it wasn't called that yet) to continue, they are going to have to tell what Jesus had done and they're going to have to do the work he was doing.

Witnesses are essential to knowing what has happened and then telling about it--telling that the church continues to live, continues to do the work that it was created to do. The question that the Ethiopian convert asked Peter remains a good question, "How can I understand what the scripture says unless someone is willing to explain it." I would add, "or live by its teachings right in front of me."

Matthias is chosen to replace Judas. The team is complete, again.

Yet, I am troubled that we never hear any more about Matthias. We're left to wonder whether he did a good job preaching and healing and teaching or not. Or, maybe, I should be reassured by the omission of Matthias' success or lack of it. After all, the job did get done even if we don't know all the details of who did what work or how well.

Psalm 121:1-8
Commentaries tell me that this psalm was used by pilgrims traveling to Jerusalem to celebrate various festivals. The goal was important, desirable, worthy, but the trip to get there was often uncomfortable, even dangerous.

We moderns can benefit from the words of this psalm. We are also on journeys. We're not traveling through geographic Israel toward the physical Mount Zion to visit the site of the temple in Jerusalem. But, we are moving in our lives surrounded by calls to give allegiances to worldly pleasures and protections. As we go through each day, we may be confronted by, interrupted by, irritations or even threats of actual danger.

May we in our journeys, real and metaphorical, as we face our adversaries, in situations due to our own transgressions or not, have the assurances offered to those ancient pilgrims that are still offered to us:
God will protect us from stumbling, night or day, now and always.

Book recommendation:  Openings, a Daybook of Saints, Psalms, and Prayer by Larry James Peacock, published by Upper Room Books.

In his discussion of Psalm 121, Peacock points out that in encompassing day and night, near and far, present and future, all of life rests under the protection of the Lord.

The Lord is always awake. The Lord is always with us. The Lord protects us in all our comings and goings, now and forever.

Can I have the confidence in the Lord that the psalmist expresses? Do I usually look for help from the Lord, or am I more likely to try something else first?

Witnesses are essential to knowing what has happened and then telling about it--telling that the church continues to live, continues to do the work that it was created to do. The question that the Ethiopian convert asked Peter remains a good question, "How can I understand what the scripture says unless someone is willing to explain it." I would add, "or live by its teachings right in front of me."

Matthias is chosen to replace Judas. The team is complete, again.

Yet, I am troubled that we never hear any more about Matthias. We're left to wonder whether he did a good job preaching and healing and teaching or not. Or, maybe, I should be reassured by the omission of Matthias' success or lack of it. After all, the job did get done even if we don't know all the details of who did what work or how well.

Psalm 121:1-8
Commentaries tell me that this psalm was used by pilgrims traveling to Jerusalem to celebrate various festivals. The goal was important, desirable, worthy, but the trip to get there was often uncomfortable, even dangerous.

We moderns can benefit from the words of this psalm. We are also on journeys. We're not traveling through geographic Israel toward the physical Mount Zion to visit the site of the temple in Jerusalem. But, we are moving in our lives surrounded by calls to give allegiances to worldly pleasures and protections. As we go through each day, we may be confronted by, interrupted by, irritations or even threats of actual danger.

May we in our journeys, real and metaphorical, as we face our adversaries, in situations due to our own transgressions or not, have the assurances offered to those ancient pilgrims that are still offered to us:
God will protect us from stumbling, night or day, now and always.

Book recommendation:  Openings, a Daybook of Saints, Psalms, and Prayer by Larry James Peacock, published by Upper Room Books.

In his discussion of Psalm 121, Peacock points out that in encompassing day and night, near and far, present and future, all of life rests under the protection of the Lord.

The Lord is always awake. The Lord is always with us. The Lord protects us in all our comings and goings, now and forever.

Can I have the confidence in the Lord that the psalmist expresses? Do I usually look for help from the Lord, or am I more likely to try something else first?

Proverbs 16:18
Pride goes before destruction,
and a haughty spirit before a fall.

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