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.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Reflection on readings for July 31

Lift up your heads, O gates!
and be lifted up, O ancient doors!
that the King of glory may come in.
(Psalm 24:7)

2 Chronicles 29:1-36
Hezekiah proclaimed that the destruction they had suffered was due to the misdeeds of their ancestors but now with the help of the Lord they could start over.

Romans 14:1-23
Church conflict is an old story. Paul says to the strong, "Get over yourself. Don't start a fight with those whose beliefs lead them to a stricter life style than the one you allow yourselves."

A problem I have with this teaching is that Paul characterizes the strict as weak. Do I agree with that?

In any case, I welcome his additional comment, "Don't pass judgment; that's God's job."

Paul was writing to a church that was made up of people from very different backgrounds, as had he been when writing to the Corinthians.

"Some of you are strong enough in your faith that the rules the others hold to seem petty to you." Once Paul had criticized Peter for siding with those who insisted on following rules. Now, Paul seems to be siding with them himself.

"If you love them, treat their needs seriously. After all, we are in this together. After all, we owe our allegiance to God." (I've been reading Garry Wills' What Paul Meant.)

Psalm 24:1-10
Who can approach the holy? Still a question for modern worshipers.

The clean hands and pure hearts--are these absolute requirements of who can get in, or are they strong suggestions for how worshipers should order their lives, or they necessary in order for us to receive blessing--or to recognize what is a blessing?

Proverbs 20:12
The hearing ear and the seeing eye--
the Lord has made them both.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, help us now to welcome strangers and to tolerate friends when they are strange. Help us in all our deeds and thoughts to be faithful to you and to demonstrate that faithfulness in our words and deeds. Amen.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Reflection on readings for July 30

Surely goodness and mercy
    shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house
    of the Lord
my whole life long.
(Psalm 23:6)

2 Chronicles 26:1-28:27
Suggested memory verse: But when he had become strong he grew proud, to his destruction. (26:16),

Romans 13:1-14
Paul cites specific commandments which deal with behavior toward other people, behavior that destroys relationships (see Exodus 20:13-17). He says all of these specific commandments as well as any other commandments can be summed up in this one command, "Love your neighbor as yourself." He is echoing Moses. You may remember that in the center of the purity regulations that the Lord spoke to Moses was "You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Lev 19:18).

"The way to fulfill the law, the way to live the way God intends for us to live," Paul says, "is to love."

Krister Stendhal, in his Final Account, Paul's Letter to the Romans, reminds us that church people in particular may need to hear this command to love one another:
"Knowledge puffs up, and love builds up, and Paul is not using that language in order to say that there is much love in the church. On the contrary, he said, if you are going to be a church, and if you are going to be able to stand such distressing fellow Christians as we Christians often are to one another, and as we find ourselves to be, you surely need love. Love is measured by the amount of tension it can take, not by how it feels."
After reminding them of the command to love one another, Paul, like Moses in Leviticus, returns to a list of forbidden activities: drunkenness, debauchery, quarreling, and jealousy.

Moses was speaking to people in the wilderness on their way to the land that had been promised them. Their lives had been ruled by Pharaoh. They now have a new law. They now should recognize that the Lord is their master. Paul is speaking to people living under the reign of Caesar. It's time for them to recognize who really is in charge.

And, Paul is speaking to us.

Psalm 23:1-6
Harold Kushner in his  Lessons to be Learned and Lived, a Reflection on Psalm 23 reminds us that the psalm doesn't offer us the pious hope that if we are good people that our lives will be easy. Instead, we can expect God's help as we meet the challenges that face us. Another lesson that Kushner finds in the psalm is that although we cannot control what happens to us, we can control how we respond to it.

Gary Sims, when he used to write the Reflections each week for First United Methodist, Albuquerque, asked these questions:
Do you dwell in the house of the Lord?
If not, when are you planning to move in?
Will it be after you take care of a few things in your life?
Do you have an agenda or plan that you want to follow before turning your life over to God?
Are you putting God's goodness and mercy on hold?
Are you counting your blessings to see if your cup is overflowing?
Are you looking for a bigger cup?
Do you see that now is the time to move into God's house so that these promises of life can begin?
Proverbs 20:11
Even children make themselves known by their acts,
by whether what they do is pure and right.

Prayer for Today: O Lord our God, we have read over and over what you expect of us. Forgive us for those times that we have not loved or not lived the way you have taught. Forgive us and strengthen our will to change. Amen.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Reflection on readings for July 29

But you, O Lord, do not be far away!
O my help, come quickly to my aid!
(Psalm 22:19)

2 Chronicles 24:1-25:28
King Joash restored the temple  that had been looted by previous rulers. As long as the priest Jehoiada was around, the king did what was what in the sight of the Lord. But, after Jehoiada died, the king fell away. When his sins were pointed out by the successor priest,  Joash ordered his stoning. Joash was assassinated by his servants. His successor, Amaziah, is given a mixed review.

Romans 12:1-21
The center, physically and metaphorically, of the Torah is Leviticus. Think of it as a kind of confirmation manual (with thanks to John H. Hayes' essay in The New Interpreter's Study Bible).

This book begins with seven chapters giving instructions for sacrifices. The animal you offer should be without blemish. Bring it to the entrance of the tent; the priest will take over there. Bring offerings even for unintentional sins. Also offer sacrifices for thanksgiving

Paul said, "Offer your own body as the sacrifice. Offer not only your body; offer yourself, all of yourself. Not just once, giving an animal to the priest and thinking you have accomplished what you came to do. Offer your body, your time, your effort. And your body includes your mind. Use that mind to figure out what God wants, not what the world seems to think is more important."

In this definition of sacrifice, Paul is echoing Old Testament prophets:
"'What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?' says the Lord; 'I have had enough of burnt-offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats (Isaiah 1:11)'".

"For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt-offerings" Hosea 6:6).

Boring & Craddock, in their People's NT Commentary remind us that the "you" Paul uses is plural. Paul is still talking to "y'all." Paul is talking to the organized community of folks called out from some other kind of life.

I'm struck by the "one body" part. I get the metaphor. But, I am even more impressed with the "members of one another." I am not sure what to do with this metaphor, but I am going to think about it some more.

Paul listed the kinds of gifts that were needed in the church of his day. Consider how timely his analysis still is: prophecy (he's not talking about fortune tellers); ministry; teaching; exhortation; giving; leading.

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

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

OTOH: One of my all-time favorite Pauline quotes is verse 20. "Do nice things for your enemies; it's guaranteed to drive them nuts."

Psalm 22:19-31
Psalm 22 begins in despair, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" It lifts up complaints of mistreatment and mockery and threats. And, intertwined with these laments, are words of remembrance of what God and done and a call to God to do more.

Verse 22 begins with "Save me" but then shifts to "You have rescued me."

How do rescued people respond?

Thank God and make those thanks public. Give thanks in the middle of the congregation.

Those people present there at that place will hear of God's work. And not only them. All of the families of the earth will know what God has done and what God can do. People living now and people to come.

Whose praise of the Lord have you heard? Who has heard your praise of the Lord?

Proverbs 20:4-6
The lazy person does not plow in season;
harvest comes, and there is nothing to be found.
The purposes in the human mine are like deep water,
but the intelligent will draw them out.
Many proclaim themselves loyal,
but who can find one worthy of trust?

Prayer for Today: Pray the parts of Psalm 22 that apply to your life today.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Reflection on readings for July 28

O my God, I cry by day,
   but you do not answer;
and by night,
   but find no rest.
Yet you are holy,
enthroned on the
   praises of Israel.
(Psalm 22:2-3)

2 Chronicles 21:1-23:21
Three bad rulers--Jehoram, Ahaziah, Athaliah. They walk in the ways of Israel (considered an indictment in Chronicles).  The Lord inflicted Jehoram with what sounds like Crohn's Disease to me, and saw that the other two were assassinated. But, even though the rulers were wicked, God continued to care for Judah as heirs of David. God's faithfulness is stronger than human sinfulness.

Romans 11:13-36
Paul has been reminding the Romans that you don't have to be a Jew to be a Christian. "Of course, God has not rejected the Jews. Look at me, for example," he says.

Now, he reminds them that you don't have to be a Christian to be included in God's family. God's mercy depends on God.

Every once in a while I read again from Krister Stendahl's Final Account, Paul's Letter to the Romans. Here's an excerpt that applies to today's reading:
Not until after Constantine did Christians get the itch to conquer the world for Christ. They thought of themselves as a peculiar people, as a light and as salt, witnessing and letting the chips fall wherever they may....
There are two ways of thinking about God. One way is to imagine a God who asks, first thing every morning, "What are the statistics on the saved?" Another is to have a God who asks, first thing, "Has there been any progress for the kingdom?" These are two distinct theologies. Paul's theology was the latter. He saw the mystery of God's workings not as a kind of universalism, but as the faithfulness of a new witnessing people....
Psalm 22:1-18
One of the discussions I remember from some theology class was the classic problem of how God could be all good and all powerful and at the same time we humans were suffering. Trying to solve this, we came up with quesions like "Did we deserve every bad thing that happened?" or "Was the bad thing we were experiencing going to turn out to be a good thing after all?"

However we frame our answers to our inquiry into the nature of God, we who are faithful hold on the knowledge (hope? faith?) that yes, God is all-powerful and all-good.

But, sometimes, we feel abandoned. We can pray "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Even Jesus felt abandoned--remember Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34. Yet, even in that sense of forsakenness, we can turn only to God. O my God, "I cry by day ... and by night...."

Proverbs 20:7
The righteous walk in integrity--
happy are the children that follow them.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, in times of despair, remind us that you are with us, that you offer us support. And, in all times, inspire us to behave as people who are so cared for should behave. Amen.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Reflection on readings for July 27

Be exalted, O Lord, in your strength!
We will sing and praise your power.
(Psalm 21:13)

2 Chronicles 19:1-20:37
When Jehoshaphat returns home after the battle, he is met by by the prophet Jehu who tells him he shouldn't have depended on an unfaithful ally. The king then actively worked to bring the people back to the Lord. He counseled the judges, priests, and family heads to make their decisions not on their own personal benefit but rather on faithfulness to the Lord.

When the Moabites and Ammonites invade, Jehoshaphat turns to the Lord for rescue. All the inhabitants of Judah prayed. The Moabites and Ammonites attacked Mount Seir, destroying the inhabitants completely, but then turned on each other leaving no survivors. Judah took the booty--livestock, good, clothing, precious things--so much stuff that it took three days to haul it all.

The people of Judah expressed their gratitude to the Lord.

Jehoshaphat made peace with the king of Israel, an act that the chronicler criticized.

Romans 10:14-11:12
Despite what we may have heard for some other Christians, Paul asserts that God has not rejected the Jews.

Psalm 21:1-13
The Lord is given credit for victory and also the responsibility to take care of enemies in the future.

Proverbs 20:4-6
The lazy person does not plow in season;
harvest comes, and there is nothing to be found.
The purposes in the human mind are like deep water,
but the intelligent will draw them out.
Many proclaim themselves loyal,
but who can find one worthy of trust?

Prayer for Today: O Lord our God, we recognize that we have had the opportunity to hear your word over and over. We confess that we have often responded by doing what we wanted to do anyway. We ask you now to continue to speaking to us and to stir us this time into listening and obeying. Amen.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Reflection on readings for July 26

The Lord answer you in the day of trouble!
The name of the God of Jacob protect you!
(Psalm 20:1)

2 Chronicles 17:1-18:34
The king preferred favorable comments from his prophets. Some prophets prefer to tell the king what he wants to hear. Results may turn out not so well.

Romans 9:25-10:13
The righteousness that come from the law is one thing according to verse 5; the righteousness that comes from faith is something else, according to verse 6-8. But, this is not an argument about which is superior--Judaism or Christianity, because both arguments come from what Christians call the Old Testament. Jewish arguments presented for an aid to understanding Christianity?

Righteousness from the law: see Leviticus 18:5, You shall keep my statues and my ordinances; by doing so one shall live: I am the Lord.

Righteousness is not something human beings are capable of achieving on their own. God's help is necessary: see Deuteronomy 30:11-14, Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away. It is not in heaven, that you should say, "Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?" Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, "Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it? No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe.

Faith is in your heart but cannot be confined there. As Boring & Craddock put it in their People's New Testament Commentary: "'Internal' faith without 'external' confession is as defective as external pretense without faith in the heart...."

The prophet Joel goaded his Jerusalem listeners: Be aware, the Day of the Lord is coming. Repent, return to the Lord. Be glad and rejoice in God. Joel told them that good times would replace the devastation they they had been experiencing. Then he said, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved." For I will restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem" (Joel 2:32).

Centuries later, Paul quotes this prophet, Romans 10:13.

Many have read this promise stated by Paul as an exclusionary statement. They assert that Paul is saying "Only those who believe that Jesus is Christ and Lord are included in God's promises." Others, influenced by verse 12, read Paul's remarks as inclusionary rather than exclusionary. "You, even you, are included. You don't have to be a Jew to be part of God's promises."

Psalm 20:1-9
The psalmist is addressing the King who is going into battle
--Here is my prayer to the Lord for you.
May the Lord answer you when you call for help.
May the Lord accept your offerings.
May the Lord grant your requests and fulfill your plans.

We want and need the king to defeat our enemies. We acknowledge that the king needs God's help.

Our enemies, on the other hand, says the psalmist, depend on chariots and horses. They fail. We, who depend on God, succeed.

We might ponder how we apply Bible scriptures written in a different society and different time to our own situations. In countries like mine with no king, how do we read that question? Who is king for us? What does the term anointed mean to us? Are there any modern-day equivalents?

Another tangent--I'm struck by the last verse, "Give victory to the king, O Lord; answer us when we call." The psalmist seems to recognize that the king's victory is not the end of the story. Rather, we still have request of the Lord, and, even after the king's success, we want the Lord to respond to our prayers.

Yet another tangent--and a reward for those who kept reading to this point. I'm reading Walter Brueggemann's Out of Babylon that calls Americans to consider how attached we are to being a modern-day Babylon. Here's an excerpt from a review:
It was the center of learning, commerce, wealth, and religion. Devoted to materialism, extravagance, luxury, and the pursuit of sensual pleasure, it was a privileged society. But, there was also injustice, poverty, and oppression. It was the great and ancient Babylon—the center of the universe. And now we find Babylon redux today in Western society. Consumer capitalism, a never-ending cycle of working and buying, a sea of choices produced with little regard to life or resources, societal violence, marginalized and excluded people, a world headed toward climactic calamity. Where are the prophets—the Jeremiahs—to lead the way out of the gated communities of overindulgence, the high rises of environmental disaster, and the darkness at the core of an apostate consumer society?
Proverbs 20:2-3
The dread anger of a king is like the growling of a lion;
anyone who provokes him to anger forfeits life itself.
It is honorable to refrain from strife,
but every fool is quick to quarrel.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, we yearn for our own comfort, we pray for your support. Remind us now that others are in need today, that you can use us to extend your help to them. Amen.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Reflection on readings for July 25

Let the words of my mouth
    and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable to you, O Lord,
     my rock and my redeemer.
(Psalm 19:14)

2 Chronicles 14:1-16:14
King Asa of Judah cleared the land from places of false worship and demanded that the people follow the commandments of the Lord. He was also a successful military leader, fortifying the land and driving back invaders.

The chronicler tells us that Asa  did what was good and right in the sight of the Lord. That's a rare description in Chronicles. Yet, he entered an alliance with Aram (Syria) against Israel.

We may be disturbed by part of the covenant they entered into (see 15:13).

Romans 9:1-24
In the first eight chapters of Paul's letter to the Romans, he has been talking about Gentiles, their sins deserving of God's judgment and the gift of grace offered to them through Jesus Christ. Gentiles are not subject to the law; rather, God has adopted them into the family (as Jews themselves had been earlier adopted).

Krister Stendhal, and others, assert that the climax of the letter is in chapters 9 through 11 in its discussion of the redemption of the Gentiles and the salvation of Israel (from Reinventing Paul, John G. Gager).

Paul preaches that Christians do not have to become Jews to be included in God's family. Nor do Jews have to become Christians in order to stay:

to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed forever (Romans 9:4-5).

The question for us moderns is whether God still has flexibility in defining family.

Psalm 19:1-14
"Where did you see God?" our small group asks us at the beginning of each meeting. I don't think I have ever answered by quoting the first verses of Psalm 19, but I may remember to next time.

"Look at the sky," the psalmist says. "Notice that it's day. Notice that it's night. Where do you think the sun came from? Why do you think it moves?"

God has so ordered the universe that the sun rises and sets, the sun provides light and warmth for us.

If only we humans could respond affirmatively to God's intentions.

The commands of God are intended to help us live good lives, orderly lives, joyful lives.

And they are intended to help us avoid behavior that would harm us and others. God's law provides rewards and boundaries (are these always opposites?)

Although we may want to behave wisely, we may fail at times. And we live among people who don't seem to care about doing right at all. Protect us from them, and protect us from failing to live up to God's wishes for us.

God is not a cosmic bellhop, Michael Shevack & Jack Bemporad tell us in their Stupid ways, Smart ways to think about God.

Just ring the bell, and God becomes your own personal Pavlovian puppy. Eagerly He goes to work, gratifying your every desire, indulging your every whim....

And, by making God an extension of your own desires, you have made your own desires God-like. In essence, you have made yourself God. You are the center of the universe and God is at the periphery.

That hardly resembles a healthy faith. Indeed, it is more akin to cult behavior. it turns man into God. It has a very ancient name, idolatry. because the first step in any meaningful religion is to recognize our proper place in the scheme of things....

Proverbs 20:1
Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler;
and whoever is led astray by it is not wise.

Prayer for Today: Pray Psalm 19.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Reflection on readings for July 24

The Lord lives!
Blessed be my rock,
and exalted be the God of my salvation,
(Psalm 18:46)

2 Chronicles 11:1-13:22
As the kingdom split, the Levites in the north moved south to Judah. Yet, Rehoboam abandoned allegiance to the Lord. The king of Egypt invaded taking fortified cities of Judah up to Jerusalem. As a prophet told Rehoboam, "You abandoned the Lord; so, the Lord has abandoned you." Rehoboam repented. Partial protection followed. Egypt took much of Jerusalem's treasures but refrained from complete destruction.

During the reign of his successor Abijah, Israel invaded Judah but was driven back.

Romans 8:26-39
....More groaning--in verse 26, the Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. Allen & Williamson in Preaching the Letters expand on this verse by saying:
The Spirit helps our praying. That the Spirit (roughly interchangeable with God or Christ in Paul) "groans" indicates that God is affected by us as we are affected (and effected--created) by God. God's passions can become our prayers, and our prayers can become God's passions.
Paul said, "For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son....And those whom he predestined, he also called..."

What do Methodists think about predestination? Here's what John Wesley said: On Predestination.

Paul is convinced that the love of God in Christ is eternal and inevitable.

Psalm 18:37-50

Proverbs 19:27-29
Cease straying, my child, from the words of knowledge,
in order that you may hear instruction.
A worthless witness mocks at justice,
and the mouth of the wicked devours iniquity.
Condemnation is ready for scoffers,
and flogging for the back of fools.

Prayer for Today: God, we acknowledge now that your Spirit has been with us, has supported us throughout sufferings. Remind us now that you will continue to be with, will continue to support us, that nothing or no one will be able to separate us from your love In Christ Jesus our Lord.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Reflection on readings for July 23

It is you that light my lamp;
the Lord, my God, lights up my darkness.
(Psalm 18:28)

2 Chronicles 8:11-10:19
The rich queen of Sheba visits Solomon and is overwhelmingly impressed with his wisdom and his displays of wealth. We are told that also all the kings of the earth came to Solomon to hear his wisdom. He was so rich that silver in Jerusalem was as common as stone.

After his death, accusations by some arose that Solomon had enslaved workers to build the impressive structures.

Romans 8:9-25
God's law was intended to help humans live the kind of life and to have the kind of community that God wanted them to have. God's law outlined for them how to have the right relationship with God. Yet, being humans, they didn't do so well.

God has a new plan: Christ Jesus. "Those of you who cannot comply with the old law are not required to try. God's Son has dealt with sin. Life in the Spirit of Christ serves as compliance."

Eugene Boring and Fred Craddock, in The People's New Testament Commentary, suggest reading Deuteronomy 30 to remind ourselves of the life-giving original function of the law. They are also helpful in pointing out that the word that the NRSV translates as "flesh" refers to human life as a whole, rather than being limited only to our "lower nature," as translated by the NIV.

We English speakers read "You are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit," and think "He's talking about me. He's making promises to me about my life." Well, so he is, but he's talking to the me that is part of us. The Greek pronoun translated as you is in the plural. Paul is talking to the Christian community. "Church, you're not in the flesh. Church, the Spirit of God dwells in you. Church, God's breath gives you life."

Paul, in this letter addressed to Gentile Christians, discusses their disobedience and their redemption (Chapters 1-4) and their new life in Christ (5-8).

"You have been adopted into the family," Paul says. "You will share in the inheritance." Then Paul gives us a BTW: part of that shared inheritance is suffering.

Sharing in the Spirit does not immunize us against the suffering that is part of creation; but, suffering is not the last word.

Paul believed that the end was coming very soon. We now believe this earth and our attachment to it are going to continue for quite a while. This difference in timetable forces us to consider how we are to interpret Paul's words about hope and patience.

Sources: Reinventing Paul, John G. Gager; Paul and His Letters, Leander E. Keck

Here's what Boring and Craddock say:
God is concerned with saving not only individuals but with all of creation.
Sin also is concerned with the individual and with all creation.
The evil we are experiencing is not the last word.
Through the Spirit, we have a foretaste of what God's new world will be like.
Hope is not just a wish; hope is confidence.
"We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now," Paul writes to the Romans.

In labor pains? Creation was not complete in a week? I'm making a connection between this verse and Psalm 104:30, "When you send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the ground."

A difference--in the psalm, the Spirit creates, but there's no mention of pain.

So, I'm back to the word "groaning." I looked up the word in my Aland dictionary and my Thayer's lexicon and learned that it implies not only groaning but groaning together.

All of creation is groaning. And, according to Paul, even we who have received fruits of the Spirit are also groaning. Groaning while we wait for adoption.

As I read this, I don't think Paul is talking about some life after death, but is talking about a life here on this earth, a life in which the Spirit lives in and through and around us--and we are aware of that presence.

Psalm 18:16-36
The psalmist lists reasons that he deserved rescue.

Proverbs 19:26
Those who do violence to their father and chase away their mother
are children who cause shame and bring approach.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, you have adopted us into your family. You have made us your heirs. Direct us now to use our inheritance in the way you intend. Amen.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Reflection on readings for July 22

I love you, O Lord, my strength.
The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer,
my God, my rock in whom I take refuge,
my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised,
so shall I be saved from my enemies.
(Psalm 18:1-3)

2 Chronicles 6:12-8:10
The entire population is assembled for the dedication of the completed temple. Kneeling before the altar, Solomon begins his prayer, "O Lord, God, of Israel, there is no God like you," then recounts the ways that God has cared for them and the ways that God will continue to provide rescue for them.

An interesting juxtaposition between this reading (6:36-39) and the one today from Romans is the reference to sin .

That night, God comes to Solomon in a dream and reminds him that the Lord holds people accountable.

Romans 7:14-8:8
At one time, we interpreted this portion of Romans as being an autobiographical account by Paul. However, scholars now assert that he was using "I" to represent a typical anybody, a common practice in Hellenistic writings of his time. Try reading this passage that way rather than as a personal confession of the particular guilt of one man.

We might say "you" or, probably preferably, "we." For example, "We don't always do what we know that we should."

Paul names sin as what is keeping us from doing what we know is right. We can see that doing the right thing is the right thing to do, but we are tempted to do something else. But, we don't need to despair. Paul reminds us that rescue is available to us.

Ronald Allen & Clark Williamson, in Preaching the Letters, discuss Paul's understanding of Sin:
Sin for Paul is not individual sins or the piling up of all of them into some big thing called "Sin" with a capital S, ... a power that governs the world in the old age in which we still live, in spite of the fact that in Jesus Christ we have a foretaste of God's righteousness, .... Paul not only does not express guilt for sinning--"it is no longer I that do it"--he does not admit responsibility for it, at least not so far as to be made guilty for it. Sin is a power in which individuals, groups and nations can become ensnared, like a fish caught in a net. It is our weakness that sin exploits.

They then add:
What we should not do then is wallow in guilt feelings. We should do what Paul did--sing praises to God through Jesus Christ for the magnificent gift of grace (v25).

"Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!"

Psalm 18:1-15
A warrior describes his rescue.

Proverbs 19:24-25
The lazy person buries a hand in the dish,
and will not even bring it to the mouth.
Strike a scoffer, and the simple will learn prudence;
reprove the intelligent, and they will gain knowledge.

Prayer for Today: O Lord our God, we remember the times you have rescued us. Strengthen us now to behave in ways worthy of your attention. Amen.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Reflection on readings for July 21

I call upon you,
for you will answer me, O God;
incline your ear to me,
hear my words.
Wondrously show your steadfast love,
O savior of those who seek refuge
from their adversaries at your right hand.
(Psalm 17:6-7)

2 Chronicles 4:1-6:11

Romans 7:1-13
My source for today is Krister Stendahl, Final Account, Paul's Letter to the Romans. The good that the law has done for us is to provide us with epignosis hamartias, that is, awareness of sin. Stendhahl asserts that verses 7-12 are a midrash on the Fall, that Satan couldn't have tricked Eve without using the law. Paul agrees the law is good, but recognizes that we sin anyway.

Psalm 17:1-15
The psalmist asserts innocence, innocence in every word and deed. I can't help but wonder at least a little if it applies to me when I am in trouble. How often have I contributed to whatever particular difficulty that I find myself in?

Yet, beginning in verse 6, I find the words ones that I can more honestly pray,
I call upon you, for you will answer me, O God;
incline your ear to me, hear my words.
 Wondrously show your steadfast love,
O savior of those who seek refuge
from their adversaries at your right hand.
The psalmist, although in great difficulty, is confident that God will always love and, in that confidence, turns for help.
Guard me as the apple of the eye;
hide me in the shadow of your wings,
from the wicked who despoil me,
my deadly enemies who surround me.
Depending more on the history of what God has done than on the history of what the one making the prayer has done, the psalm concludes with these confident words:
As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness;
when I awake I shall be satisfied, beholding your likeness.
Proverbs 19:22-23
What is desirable in a person is loyalty,
and it is better to be poor than a liar.
The fear of the Lord is life indeed;
filled with it one rests secure and suffers no harm.

Prayer for Today: Pray the verses of Psalm 17 that fit the situation you find yourself today.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Reflection on readings for July 20

Protect me, O God,  for in you I take refuge.
I say to the Lord, "You are my Lord;
I have no good apart from you."
(Psalm 16:1-2)

2 Chronicles 1:1-3:17
Succeeding David as king, Solomon went to the tent of meeting to make offerings to the Lord. That night God appeared to Solomon telling him, "Ask what I should give you." Solomon asked for wisdom. God answered, "Because you asked for this instead of for possessions or for revenge against people who have hurt you, or for long life, I am going to give you not only wisdom but also riches, possessions, and honors."

Romans 6:1-23
Paul asked "Does being saved by grace mean that we can keep on sinning?" He responded to his rhetorical (?) question by asserting that in Christ's death, we are dead to sin. Grace is more than forgiveness,  it is freedom from the power of sin to control us.

I'm paraphrasing: Sin used to control you. You were its slave and an obedient one. Now,  let righteousness be your master. Look at this way, what benefits did you get from sin? What benefits can you receive from God?

Psalm 16:1-11
The Wesley Study Bible describes Psalm 16 as a refugee's song. And certainly the Scriptures contain many stories of refugees--some voluntary but most involuntary. Think about what would be important to you if you lost your home or even your nation, if you had to leave behind so much of what had been familiar, what had seemed to be necessary. Then imagine praying this psalm.

Verse 4 of Psalm 16 reminds us that choosing another god doesn't work out well for people. Verses 5 and 6 are a reminder that the Lord has shown us the way to life, to fullness of joy, and eternal happiness, as well as an expression of appreciation for all that.

The psalmist is not afraid. He trusts the Lord to continue to care for the faithful (10-11).

Proverbs 19:20-21
Listen to advice and accept instruction,
that you may gain wisdom for the future.
The human mind may devise many plans,
but it is the purpose of the Lord that will be established.

Prayer for Today: Lord, remind us of what is important to you. Remind us of the blessings you have given us. Remind us then that you intend for us to share those blessings, Amen.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Reflection on readings for July 19

O Lord, who may abide in your tent?
Who may dwell on your holy hill?
(Psalm 15:1)

1 Chronicles 28:1-29:30
After assembling all officialdom of Israel, David tells them that God would not let him build the temple because he was a warrior who had shed blood, and that the Lord had chosen from David's many sons, Solomon, to be his successor for as long as he keeps the Lord's commandments and ordinance.

Steven Tuell in his commentary points out that in 17:14, the promise for eternal kingship for Solomon and his descendants was unconditional.

Although David was not allowed to build the temple, he did give detailed instructions for building it.

Romans 5:6-21
Several years ago just after reading his passage from Paul about suffering and hope and about God's love for sinners, I then read a couple of stories in the newspaper that seemed to be examples of this message.

The headline is "Vermont: Poetry Classes for Vandals." Twenty-eight young people broke into Robert Frost's house, got drunk, and damaged the place. The prosecuter has asked Jay Parini, a Frost biographer, who believes in the redemptive power of poetry, to lead them in a study of Frost's life and work. The New York Times, June 3, 2008, page A21.

The headline is "Where Illegal Guns Can Do No More Harm." In New York City, thousands of firearms are taken by law enforcement officers each year. Instead of crushing and burying them, they are crushing and re-using them. They have found a way to turn spears into plowshares. Guns are sent to scrap processing plants to be chopped up into tiny pieces and sent to foundries from New Jersey to China. The former firearms will be ultimately be used to build water pipes, chain link fences, or appliances. The New York Times, June 3, 2008, page A22.

Psalm 15:1-5
This psalm is given to us in the words of David but the concerns are ours as well.

It begins with the question, "Lord, who is welcome in your house?"

The answer given:
the one who lives without blame
who does what is right, who has never done wrong to anyone
who stands by his oath even if doing so hurts him
who has never lent money at interest
who has never accepted a bribe.
I'm trying to imagine this list posted at the door of a church--or synagogue or mosque. How many of us would read that list and then go on in?

On the other hand, why is it so much easier for so many of us to imagine a quite different list of who should be allowed in our congregation? Furthermore, why is it so much easier for some of us Christians to think that our Jewish ancestors cared only about dietary restrictions?

Although I'm having a hard time imagining that anyone could live up to the requirements of Psalm 15 completely, I can recognize that I need to try. I need to live and speak in a way that does not harm those around me. I need to remember that any assets I am in possession of are being held by me in trust for the Lord. If I say I'll do something--and it's something I ought to do, then I should do it.

Proverbs 19:18-19
Discipline your children while there is hope;
do not set your heart on their destruction.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, assist us in becoming worthy to enter your fellowship. Assist us in making welcome others into this fellowship. Amen.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Reflection on readings for July 18

The Lord looks down 
    from heaven on humankind
to see if there are any 
    who are wise, who seek after God,
(Psalm 14:2)

1 Chronicles 26:12-27:34

Romans 4:13-5:5
Much of Paul's writing is informed by his need to address an important concern on the Christian church of his time: Can a non-Jew become a Christian? Here, in this letter to the Romans, he reminds them that, after all, Abraham himself was not Jewish at the time that God chose him to be our great ancestor. Paul makes an explicit distinction between Abraham's faith and someone's following religious instruction.

The modern Christian church, as has the church throughout history, continues to wrestle with the question of who is eligible to be included in our faith community.

Who is to be included? "We are," Paul says to his fellows Jews, "because we are descendants of Abraham and God promised inclusion to all of his descendants."

Then Paul adds, "But, remember this: God chose Abraham before the world had even heard of Moses. Abraham couldn't follow the law of Moses before Moses brought it down from the mountain. God's choice was not made because Abraham followed the Jewish law, and it still isn't."

God's promise rests on grace.

Yes, God chooses us. Yes, God chooses a lot of unlikely people. Abraham and Sarah, for example. They were old, really old--100 and 90--when God told them that they were going to have multitudes of descendants.

But, notice that Abraham and Sarah didn't just sit idly by waiting for the future to fall on them. Because of their faith, they were able to respond rightfully.

These great ancestors of ours lived in a way that demonstrated that they really believed that God delivers on promises.

(Caveat: those of you who have read ahead know that Abraham and Sarah sometimes slipped up.)

As I read this passage, I thought about a line from Faulkner that went something like this, "He brought the old man with him every time he came." The old man in Faulkner's tale had been dead a generation or so, but his descendants had not even started to let him go. Well, by the time that Paul was writing to the Romans, Abraham had been dead a long time, but his story still was affecting those who had been told about it.

Paul reminded them, "The words--the pronouncement of acceptance of the trusting--were written not just for Abraham. They were written for all believers."

We read the stories in Scriptures not merely for glimpses into history but also to relive those encounters in our own lives, to glimpse how God continues to work in us humans.

This Sunday, look at the people around you and consider what it means for you that God's Spirit is within each of them. And it's a good time to consider what it means for your congregation that God's Spirit is dwelling within your church body. What kind of witness are you viewing? What kind of witness are you showing? (again, I'm thankful to Allen & Williamson's Preaching the Letters.)

Psalm 14:1-7
The psalmist looks around and can't find anyone who believes in God or anyone who does good. He finds himself in a world of corrupt people, wrong-doers.

And he warns us that this is what the Lord sees, too.

No one does good, no, not one.

The sin that the psalmist specifies is economic. These people who ignore God take advantage of the poor. He says that they really ought to be afraid because God hangs out with the righteous: You would confound the plans of the poor, but the Lord is their refuge.

Do we equate a lack of concern for the poor with atheism?
Do we agree with the psalmist that God prefers the poor?
When we look around us, we also see poverty, but do we see much guilt or remorse?

Proverbs 19:17
Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord,
and will be repaid in full.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, we give you thanks for the help you have given us through the efforts of many people. Help us now to see how we can continue your work by helping others. And increase our will to do so. Amen.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Reflection on readings for July 17

How long, O Lord?
Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide 
      your face from me?
(Psalm 13:1)

1 Chronicles 24:1-26:11
Changes in the situation may require changes in organization. A change in leadership is considered a change in the situation.

Romans 4:1-12
Must Gentiles be circumcised before they can be considered Christian? Our ancestor Abraham, while yet uncircumcised, believed God who recognized his righteousness. Paul concludes "The purpose was to make him the ancestor of all who believe without being circumcised and who thus have righteousness reckoned to them."

Can we metaphorize circumcision to fit present day exclusions and inclusions?

Psalm 13:1-6
Another lament. The psalmist is suffering and has been suffering, feels forgotten by the Lord. But, even in despair, turning still to the Lord for attention.

I'm struck today by the use of two different tenses in verse 5 (I'm using an English translation, not reading the Hebrew). "I trusted" indicates something I have already been doing. But, then, "shall rejoice" may indicate that I am going to respond to my rescue that I am sure will happen.

Verse 6 is not ambiguous: the rescue has happened.

Proverbs 19:15-16
Laziness brings on deep sleep;
an idle person will suffer hunger.
Those who keep
    the commandment will live;
those who are heedless 
    of their ways will die

Prayer for Today: O Lord our God, we step away from our routines for a moment to acknowledge your presence. We are grateful for the many blessings that you have given us. Help us now to respond to those blessings. Help us to be as inclusive as you have been. Amen.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Reflection on readings for July 16

You, O Lord, will protect us;
you will guard us from this generation forever.
(Psalm 12:7)

1 Chronicles 22:1-23:32
Since King David just couldn't trust his son to be able to do the job right, he made sure the right materials were obtained for building the house of the Lord. He cautioned Solomon that his prosperity would depend on observing the statutes and ordinances that the Lord had commanded Moses. Steven Tuell in his commentary of Chronicles points out the differences in David's speech from the way it was described in 1 Kings 2 "where the main body of the speech deals with eliminating enemies and potential rivals."

Choosing what advice to pass on does depend on both what we have experienced and what we want and what we don't want the recipients of the advice to experience.

 Tuell also deduces that David's job had been to be a warrior, Solomon's to be a man of peace. A working bureaucracy is necessary to maintain that peace. So, the Levites.

Romans 3:9-31
Remember that in this letter, Paul is addressing Gentiles. He tells them that they do not have to become Jews in order to be Christians. Their inclusion is a gift.

Psalm 12:1-8
In his A God of Vengeance?, Erich Zengler describes how Psalm 12 follows the basic structure of a lament: 1) Outcry over a disastrous situation; (2) God's answer; (3) Reaction to the congregation to God's words.

Proverbs 19:13-14
A stupid child is ruin to a father,
and a wife's quarreling is a continual dripping of rain.
House and wealth are inherited from the Lord.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, our God, instill within us the wisdom to face whatever confronts us today. Amen.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Reflection on readings for July 15

In you, O Lord, I take refuge.
For you are righteous.
You love righteous deeds.
The upright shall behold your face.
(adapted from Psalm 11:1a, 7)

1 Chronicles 19:1-21:30
Different times, different experiences, different editors, differing versions of history. For example, Chronicles omits details of David's experiences that spring that he got to know Bathsheba. Note that there's also a different giant being killed--but not by a young David but instead by David's nephew.

Another difference: Satan is a character in the story (the first time that name is mentioned in the Bible.) Satan tells David to conduct a census. God was unhappy and sent a plague. The census incident in 2 Samuel is presented more ambivalently: the Lord tells David to do it then David realizes that counting the people is a great sin.

Romans 2:25-3:8
Be judged by the name that you claim. If you present yourself as somebody who knows what God wants people to do, then do those things. As John Gager puts it in his Reinventing Paul, Paul is not denying the law; rather, he is asserting that God will reward the non-Jew who does the law and punish the Jew who doesn't.

Psalm 11:1-7
Psalm 11 asserts that the Lord tests the righteous and the wicked, and that it is the righteous that will behold the Lord.

Proverbs 19:10-12
It is not fitting for a fool to live in luxury,
much less for a slave to rule over princes.
Those with good sense are slow to anger,
and it is their glory to overlook an offense.
A king's anger is like the growling of a lion,
but his favor is like dew on the grass.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, help us to follow your intentions for us. Cleanse from us the practice of hypocrisy and substitute for it genuine love for you and your commands. Amen.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Reflection on readings for July 14

O Lord, you will hear the desire of the meek;
you will strengthen their heart,
you will incline your ear
to do justice for the orphan and the oppressed,
so that those from earth may strike terror no more.
(Psalm 10:17-18)

1 Chronicles 16:37-18:17
1 and 2 Chronicles were written to people who now that they had been released from exile were looking back at what had led to their loss and to their restoration. Today's passage describes David's wish to have a house built for the ark. The prophet Nathan told him that God didn't want that. Instead God was going to do the house building; that is, the family of David.

David responded with a prayer recognizing the power and singularity of God and asking for continued blessing.

David then won several battles extending the kingdom.

Romans 2:1-24
Those who have sinned themselves really don't have the right to judge others. Those who have repented really ought to recognize that other sinners are capable of repenting, too. Those who have been taught what God wants us to do should go ahead and do it.

Psalm 10:16-18
Asserting that the Lord will do justice for the orphan and the oppressed in no way means that we aren't required to do something for them ourselves.

Proverbs 19:8-9
To get wisdom is to love oneself;
to keep understanding is to prosper.
A false witness will not go unpunished,
and the liar will perish.

Prayer for Today: O Lord our God, forgive us for our sins. Restore us to faithfulness. Amen.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Reflection on readings for July 13

Why, O Lord,
   do you stand far off?
Why do you hide yourself 
    in times of trouble?
(Psalm 10:1)

1 Chronicles 15:1-16:36
David has a house. The ark has a tent. When the ark is brought to Jerusalem, David dresses in fine linen, leads a parade of singers and musicians. His wife, Michal, Saul's daughter sees all of this and despises David.

After distributing gifts to the people, more ceremony follows.

Romans 1:18-32
Sin has consequences. For a checklist of sins to avoid, consider verses 29-31.

Psalm 10:1-15
A prayer from someone in despair.

Proverbs 19:6-7
Many seek the favor of the generous,
and everyone is a friend to the giver of gifts.
If the poor are hated even by their kin,
how much more are they shunned by their friends!

Prayer for Today: O Lord, forgive us for our sins. Lead us now into faithfulness. Amen.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Reflection on readings for July 12

Be gracious to me, O Lord.
See what I suffer from those 
    who hate me;
you are the one who lifts me up
    from the gates of death,
so that I may recount all your praises,
and, in the gates of daughter Zion,
rejoice in your deliverance.
(Psalm 9:13-14)

1 Chronicles 12:19-14:17
Transfer of power from Saul to David. All tribes. The ark is brought to Jerusalem. Encountering God can be terrifying. David deflects some of the risk by putting the ark in someone else's house for a while. David builds a palace, marries a lot of women, and defeats the Philistines.

Romans 1:1-17
Paul is writing this letter to church people that he has never met, but is eager to. Eager to proclaim the gospel. We are reading it centuries later.

A few years ago I read the Advent study, Blessings of the Manger by Jeanne Torrence Finley, that included some questions for us that arise from this reading from Romans:
Where are our loyalties, and how do they define us?
What do our checkbooks tell us about what we value and to whom we give our allegiance?
What do our to-do lists say about our loyalties? What do our calendars and appointments tell us about what we value most?

Psalm 9:13-20
What do oppressors think when they read this psalm? I'm thinking specifically about verses 15-17 that explicitly state that the wicked get what they deserve.

We individual human beings and we groups of people may ignore the needs of the people around us, but we will be judged for this. Read verses 19-20. Can you honestly pray them?

Proverbs 19:4-5
Wealth brings many friends,
but the poor are left friendless.
A false witness will not go unpunished,
and a liar will not escape.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, help me to consider where my loyalties lie, what I spend time and money on. Open me to the needs of others. Amen.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Reflection on readings for July 11

I will give thanks to the Lord
with my whole heart:
I will tell of all your wonderful deeds.
(Psalm 9:1)

1 Chronicles 11:1-12:18
A recounting of David's battle to take the kingdom of Saul.

Acts 28:1-31
Safe on land on the island of Malta, Paul is bitted by a viper. When he didn't die as they expected, the natives decided that he was a god. Paul went on to cure many people of their diseases; consequently received honors and provisions for the next leg of the journey.

Finally reaching Rome, Paul is called before the local leaders of the Jews. He tells them he has done nothing against them or nothing in conflict with their traditional teaching. Rome wanted to release him. They agree to hear his defense. He preached, trying to convince them about Jesus, using the law of Moses and the writings of the prophets.

The quotation (adapted from Isaiah 6:9-11 and Jeremiah 5:21) that he used could be one that we could refer to in any contemporary disagreement among us religious people:
You will indeed listen, but never understand,
and you will indeed look, but never perceive.
For the people's heart has grown dull,
and their ears are hard of hearing,
and they have shut their eyes....
Psalm 9:1-12
Thanks to God for protection from enemies. Words of reassurance or of warning: God rebukes, blots out the wicked.

Proverbs 19:1-3
Better the poor walking in integrity
than one perverse of speech who is a fool.
Desire without knowledge is not good,
and one who moves too hurriedly misses the way.

Prayer for Today: O God, open us to hear you, to see what you are showing us, to understand what you intend for us to do. Amen.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Reflection on readings for July 10

O Lord, our Sovereign,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.
(Psalm 8:1)

1 Chronicles 9:1-10:14
After the exile, the Levites were the first to return to Jerusalem from Babylon, with a reminder that Judah had been taken into exile because of their unfaithfulness. Time shift. The chronicler moves back to King Saul, with a reminder that Saul brought on his own death because of his unfaithfulness to God. 

Acts 27:21-44
The storm had lasted so long that the sailors had given up hope of being saved. Paul announced to them  "We wouldn't be in this problem if you had listened to me. Listen to me now. You're going to lose the ship but not your lives. An angel from God has told me that I have to stand before the emperor and all you sailors are necessary to get me there."

When they got near land, some of the sailors tried to escape, but Paul told the guards who prevented their escape. Paul is living out the command that God has made to him to face the emperor. The ship wrecked on the rocks near the shore. Paul's guard wouldn't let the soldiers kill the prisoners but ordered everybody to jump overboard and make for land. All did.

Psalm 8:1-9
The psalmist addresses God as the powerful king of the earth--and of the heavens, as well. The glory of God is visible. Contemplating what God has done, the psalmist asks, "Why do you pay any attention to us humans? Why do you care what happens to us?

I wasn't sure what verse 2 meant, "Out of the mouths of babes and infants you have founded a bulwark because of your foes, to silence the enemy and the avenger," so I turned to several commentaries. Among them was The Book of Psalms, A Translation with Commentary, by Robert Alter.

He says that the phrase "mouths of babes and sucklings [his translation] does not have a clear meaning and has never been satisfactorily explained. He supplies what he terms a distant possibility:
God draws strength from consciously aware humankind, made in His image, even from its weakest and youngest members, against the inhuman forces of chaos. Perhaps the innocence of infants is imagined as a source of strength.
This powerful, majestic God turns to the weakest among us to put an end to threats.

"O God," the Psalmist sings, "When I consider your glory, when I consider your power, when I consider what you have created, I wonder why you bother with us."

God is greater, much greater than human beings. Yet, don't get too humble. God has a job for us.

Many of us can use this psalm to prod us or to assure us of the value of what we're trying to do--or, ought to be. We're responsible for maintaining, caring for, being responsible for, God's creations--human and earthly.

Proverbs 18:23-24
The poor use entreaties,
but the rich answer roughly.
Some friends play at friendship,
but a true friend sticks closer
     than one's nearest kin.

Prayer for Today: Pray Psalm 8--and mean it.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Reflection on readings for July 9

O Lord, I will give thanks due to you
    for your righteousness,
and sing praise to your name,
    O Lord, the Most High.
(adapted from Psalm 7:17)

1 Chronicles 7:1-8:40
In his commentary on Chronicles (in the Interpretation series), Steven S. Tuell points out (what I totally did not notice on my own):
....But the most intriguing feature of the Beriah story is the assumption that Ephraim lived in the land, when according to the story in Genesis, Ephraim was born, lived, and died in Egypt. .... Further, the Ephraimites in this story evidently live, at least in part, by raiding the wealthy inhabitants of the coastal plain. This fits the social picture of Palestine in the thirteenth century B.C., when Egypt's hold on the region was weakening, the Canaanite city-states were warring on one another, the marauding Sea Peoples were establishing settlements such as Gath along the coast, and lawless people were settling in the hill country.
Acts 27:1-20
Follow the route from Caesarea to Rome on this  map  furnished by Bible History. Trip began slowly as they were sailing against the wind. Paul warned that the delay had put them in the dangerous season for sea travel. The centurion in charge paid more attention to the ship owner than the tent maker. They set sail. A storm blew up. A bad storm. They lost hope that they could be saved.

Psalm 7:1-17
If we hadn't already realized it, reading the psalms would remind us that life is not always perfect for the faithful. Psalm 7 asks God to take care of enemies and to reward the righteous.

Proverbs 18:19
An ally offended is stronger than a city;
such quarreling is like the bars of a castle.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, protect us in times of danger. Comfort us in times of disappointment. Encourage us in all times. Amen.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Reflection on readings for July 8

The Lord has heard my supplication;
the Lord accepts my prayer.
(Psalm 6:9)

1 Chronicles 5:18-6:81
The Chronicler  continues to relate the history of Israel and Judah in relationship to God.  The stories contain both reassurance and warning.

Acts 26:1-32
In his defense, Paul asserts that in all that he has done and said, he has been loyal to the intent of God.

Psalm 6:1-10
Psalm 6 is a plea for deliverance from a long, painful illness.

Proverbs 18:20-21
From the fruit of the mouth one's stomach is satisfied;
the yield of the lips brings satisfaction.
Death and life are in the power of the tongue,
and those who love it will eat its fruits.

Prayer for Today: O Lord our God, come to us, encourage us to serve and testify to what we know about you and your will for your followers.  Forgive us for our sins. Open our eyes so that we may turn from darkness to light, from sin to obedience. Amen.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Reflection on readings for July 7

Give ear to my words, O Lord;
give heed to my sighing.
(Psalm 5:1)

1 Chronicles 4:5-5:17
More attention is given to mothers than is usual in biblical genealogical lists.

Acts 25:1-27
Paul is in a Roman prison accused of stirring up unrest. Although the Romans may not have cared if Paul was saying some things that the Jews thought was sacrilegious, they did care a lot for public order.
Paul insisted that he had done no wrong to the Jews. King Agrippa (whose wife was Jewish) wanted to talk to Paul himself.

Psalm 5:1-12
Let us pray to the Lord to hear our needs. Let us pray for those things that God wants us to want. And as we pray for what we want, let us be worthy of that asking and receiving.

Proverbs 18:19
An ally offended is stronger than a city;
such quarreling is like the bars of a castle.

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

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Reflection on readings for July 6

Answer me when I call,
O God, of my right!
You gave me room 
when I was in distress.
Be gracious to me, 
and hear my prayer.
(Psalm 4:1)

1 Chronicles 2:18-4:4
Today's passage is a continuation of the Davidic line. As will be all of 1 Chronicles and 2 Chronicles too. Completed around 400, these books compile the past for people facing the future.

Acts 24:1-27
Paul is on trial before the governor Felix at Caesarea. The case against him: he's an impious agitator. Paul replied that the charges against him were false. He asserted that he worships the same God that his accusers do, ascribes to the same scriptures, and like them, believes in the resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous.

Same scripture; different beliefs.

Without calling any more witnesses, Felix adjourns the hearing. Later along with his Jewish wife Drusilla, he sent for Paul and listened to his words about Christ Jesus. Hoping that Paul would give him money, he would often send for him for more conversation. After two years, Felix retired. Wanting to grant a favor to the Jews who opposed Paul, Felix left him in prison.

Psalm 4:1-8
This psalm begins with a direct address to God:
Imperative--what the psalmist wants God to do.
Answer me when I call, O God of my right!
Reminder--what God has already done.
You gave me room when I was in distress.
Imperative--an echo of what the psalmist wants.
Be gracious to me, and hear my prayer.

Then God speaks to us and we respond:
Accusation--How long, you people, shall my honor suffer shame? How long will you love vain words, and seek after lies?
But know that the Lord has set apart the faithful for himself.
the Lord hears when I call to him.
When you are disturbed, do not sin; ponder it on your beds, and be silent. Offer right sacrifices,and put your trust in the Lord.

Then the psalm returns to an address to God:
There are many who say, "O that we might see some good! Let the light of your face shine on us, O Lord!"

Psalm 4 is a traditional choice for night prayer. The next time you are kept awake from anxiety, try praying it yourself.

Proverbs 18:16-18
A gift opens doors;
it gives access to the great.
The one who first states a case
    seems right,
until the other comes and 
Casting the lot puts an end
    to disputes
and decides between
    powerful contenders.

Prayer for Today: Pray Psalm 4.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Reflection on readings for July 5

But you, O Lord, are a shield around me,
my glory, and the who lifts up my head.
I cry aloud to the Lord,
and the Lord answers me from the holy hill.
(adapted from Psalm 3:3-4)

1 Chronicles 1:1-2:17
I begin reading 1 Chronicles. The opening verse begins, "Adam, Seth, Enosh." I glance at the rest and see more genealogy, some familiar, a lot not.

So, I turned to Christine Mitchell's essay in Women's Bible Commentary. She points out that while almost all of Chronicles has some parallel with another biblical text, it does not follow those source texts slavishly. Chronicles omits most of the stories about the northern kingdom of Israel, and, instead, focuses on the southern kingdom, Jerusalem and the temple.

Mitchell points out that bible scholars conclude that Chronicles was written in the 5th to 4th centuries BCE, the latter part of the Persian period, and tells the story of what the rest of the world would have considered an unimportant place.

Acts 23:11-35
Paul is rescued from a planned ambush. His citizenship was the reason. A Roman official orchestrated Paul's escape from Jerusalem. Escape may be only temporary, though, Paul will face trial in Caesarea before the Roman govenor.

Psalm 3:1-8

Proverbs 18:14-15
The human spirit will endure sickness;
but a broken spirit--who can bear?
An intelligent mind acquires knowledge,
and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, calm our fears. Deliver us. Bless us. Amen.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Reflection on readings for July 4

Now therefore, O kings, be wise;
be warned, O rulers of the earth.
(Psalm 2:10)

2 Kings 23:31-25:30
Egypt asserts authority over Judah. King Jehoiakim gave allegiance to Babylon for a while. Eventually, Babylon took over Judah without interference from Egypt. King Jehoiakim, his mother, servants, and palace officials were taken prisoners. All the treasures of the temple and the palace were taken, as were all the officials, all the warriors, 10,000 captives, all the artisans and the smiths. Only the poorest people were left behind.

Babylon made the king's uncle the ruler over what was left of Judah, renaming him Zedekiah. His eventual rebellion against Babylon failed decisively.

Acts 22:17-23:10
At this point, Christianity is not yet a separate religion from Judaism but considered by many to be a threat to it. Paul accused the religious leaders of attacking him for not following the requirements of the religion while at the same time they themselves were violating them.

Psalm 2:1-12
Why is it, the psalmist asks, that powerful people think they are in charge. The Lord is sitting up there in heaven laughing at them.

Proverbs 18:13
If one gives answer before hearing,
it is folly and shame.

Prayer for Today: O Lord our God, in times of conflict within our church, remind us to pay attention to your will. Amen.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Reflection on readings for July 3

Happy are those who do not follow
     the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
or sit in the seat of scoffers;
but their delight is
     in the law of the Lord,
and on that law they
     meditate day and night.
(adapted from Psalm 1:1-2)

2 Kings 22:3-23:30
Eighteen years into Josiah's reign, he sent auditors to oversee the funds collected from the people and directed that the money be spent repairing the temple. In examining the temple, they found the book of the law. As I read this, I had two thoughts. First, I wondered if the US would ever get around to repairing the bridges. Second, why had I not noticed that they didn't have a Bible to look at all this time. I'm adding a third--what does it take for us to notice that we haven't been looking at a Bible for a long, long time. Now, a fourth thought, shouldn't we figure out how to fund the necessary repair to our infrastructure? Wouldn't that fit into caring for others?

Back to Josiah. He realized that Judah had been ignoring the will of the Lord for a long time; so much,  that they deserved the troubles they had had. They consulted the prophetess Huldah who warned them that they had provoked the anger of the Lord, but that because Josiah had been penitent, disaster would not be immediate.

Josiah directed a public reading of the law then directed that the law be carried out. The temple was cleared of the inappropriate (and some really inappropriate things were going on in there.) He also directed that the alternative worship sites be destroyed.

They kept passover for the first time since the days of the judges.

God had warned them against having a king. Let us consider who is in charge of our lives, our decisions.

Acts 21:37-22:16
Christians today consider themselves as being in a quite different religion from Jews. This speech of Paul reminds us that he didn't think that way.

Psalm 1:1-6
Imagine living in an arid land. Little rain. Little vegetation. Imagine what a tree would signify.

This first psalm, the opening of this wisdom book, has at its center the image of trees. Fruitful--their leaves do not wither, in all they do they prosper.

A tree in an arid land can prosper only if it is planted near a water source.

The teaching of the Lord provides what is necessary for us to grow, to prosper, to bear fruit. Ignoring that teaching is what the wicked do, the ones who become like chaff, driven by the wind.

Proverbs 18:11-12
The wealth of the rich is their strong city;
in their imagination it is like a high wall.
Before destruction one's heart is haughty,
but humility goes before honor.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, give us the courage to tell of your deeds, your care, your will for us. Remind us of your teaching and help us to follow your will. Amen.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Reflection on readings for July 2

Let everything that breathes
    praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord!
(Psalm 150:6)

2 Kings 20:1-22:2
When he was about to die from the effects of a boil, King Hezekiah called on the prophet Isaiah. This interaction including the cure for the boil can also be found in Isaiah 38. Although King Hezekiah almost died, the Lord decided to let him live another fifteen years--and prevent the Assyrians from taking over Judah. The king of Babylon cam to visit and Hezekiah showed him all his treasures. Isaiah said the day will come when Babylon takes over all that you and your ancestors have stored up.  Hezekiah appeared unconcerned about what would happen to his country or his children after he himself was dead.

A very bad king, Manasseh, followed. So bad that the Lord told them that Jerusalem was going to be destroyed. Amon was the next king, and he also did evil--worshipping idols, abandoning the Lord. His servants killed him substituting his son Josiah as king.

Acts 21:18-26
Paul returned to Jerusalem and told the elders how God wanted them to include previously unincludables (go back and re-read Acts 11:1-18 and 15:1-35).

Psalm 150:1-6
Listen to the Saint Paul Cathedral Choir sing Psalm 150.

Proverbs 18:9-10
One who is slack in work
    is close kin to a vandal.
The name of the Lord 
    is a strong tower;
the righteous run into it
    and are safe.

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

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Reflection on readings for July 1

Praise the Lord!
Sing to the Lord a new song,
sing in the assembly of the faithful.
(adapted from Psalm 149:1)

2 Kings 18:13-19:37
Judah was able to resist the advancement of Assyria.

Acts 21:1-17
"Don't go to Jerusalem," the prophet told him, "you will be handed over to the Gentiles." Paul said he was willing to risk even death for the name of the Lord Jesus. Consider what the biggest risk you have taken for Jesus. Some days I'm not too willing even to risk inconvenience.

Psalm 149:1-9

Praise the Lord! Sing to the Lord a new song...  Let Israel be glad in its Maker.

The praise is to be by dancing and by playing the tambourine and lyre.

A reason is given--the Lord gives victory to the humble. They respond by singing.

The mood of the psalm shifts. These singers are holding swords so that they can wreak vengeance and punishment on their enemies.  Executing judgment on their rulers is glory for his faithful ones.

The psalm ends as it began: Praise the Lord!

Why would these angry, vengeful verses be included in the Psalter? Are they appropriate for worship? Are they appropriate for private devotion?

The notes in the New Interpreter's Study Bible points out that since Israel would never have been in position to take kings and princes captive, the rhetoric is exaggerated. Yet, even if they were incapable of humiliating the powerful nations that attacked them, they did have hope for their own survival. The Lord could and would vindicate the righteous and impose judgment on their enemies.

Transferring the message of this psalm to our time could mean for us questioning who are the weak and humble now and who are the powerful.

Proverbs 18:8
The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels;
they go down into the inner parts of the body.

Prayer for Today: Listen to King's College Cambridge sing Psalm 149.
Here's another version of Psalm 149 as performed by 4th and 5th graders