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.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Reflection on the readings for August 31

Rouse yourself! Why do you sleep, O Lord?
Awake, do not cast us off forever!
Rise up, come to our help.
Redeem us for the sake of your steadfast love.
(Psalm 44:23, 26)

Job 37:1-39:30
Job and each of his friends have done a lot of discussing what has happened and why, but now, for the first time in the book of Job, the Lord speaks.

"Man up. Answer these questions. Where were you when I was creating? Who gave me any help or advice about anything?"

Tangent: Please note that later the Lord will say "I'm angry with those three guys who kept mounting pious arguments to Job when he was suffering. Job is the one who has spoken right of me," (42:7-10). Thus, I'm asserting that God is okay with our needing to express laments.

The Lord has appeared to Job out of the whirlwind. Commentators tell me that this word can mean thunderstorm. I've seen more thunderstorms than whirlwinds, so I'm translating it that way. I'm imagining looking out the window (or, since I'm from Texas, standing out on the porch) watching the lightning, the trees swaying, loose objects bouncing down the street. In the days after the storm, I can observe how dust has become a flower bed.

The Lord says to Job, "Who can do this? Can you?" then asks, "Who do you think can you provide a way that wild animals can be fed, that birds can find food?"

God has provided a world in which flowers grow and lions lunch--and sometimes I get glimpses of all of this, and when I'm not looking, this world keeps revolving. Sometimes I get a glimpse of God but even when I'm not looking, God is still there, still at work.

2 Corinthians 4:13-5:10
Paul writes to the Corinthians that he and they have the same spirit of truth that is in accordance with scripture, "I believed, and so I spoke." Allen & Williamson, in their Preaching the Letters, find the source of that scripture to be Psalm 116. So, I looked this psalm up: "I love the Lord, because he has heard my voice and my supplications. Because he inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live."

Paul is testifying that his knowledge of the Lord enables him to do that testifying. What the Lord has done for him, the Lord can do for him. And for them, as well.

And for some others, too. Read verse 15 again. It contains assertions that are we aren't to find contradictory:  Everything is for our sake. Grace extends to more and more people. The extension of grace results in an increase in recognition of God.

For some of us, belief has to come before grace. For others, we felt the result of grace and then were able to believe.

But, just who is included in this "more and more people" that Paul refers to?

Belief in God is not belief in some magic power that will ensure that we will never suffer, never face hard times, never have losses. Paul writes to people whose lives are difficult.

Pain is real but temporary. God's glory lasts forever.

Commentators differ on the message that Paul is delivering in the opening verses of chapter 5. A common interpretation is that he's saying that our physical bodies on earth will decay, but we are assured of a heavenly home. On the other hand, Beverly Gaventa in Texts for Preaching has found another interpretation, that rather Paul is not referring to resurrected bodies of individuals but rather is referring to the new creation in which believers will find a home.

Can we, as Christians, find as much assurance in the notion of a transformed earth for everyone as we do in the notion of being individually transported to a home far away from this earth?

Psalm 44:9-26

Proverbs 22:13
The lazy person says, "There is a lion outside! I shall be killed in the streets!"

Prayer for Today: O Lord our God, sustain us through our times of difficulty. Strengthen our faith in our times of difficulty. Then in times of ease and comfort, jog our memory of your presence. Amen.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Reflection on readings for August 30

For not in my bow I trust,
nor can my sword save me.
But you have saved us from our foes,
and have put to confusion those who hate us.
In God we have boasted continually,
and we will give thanks to your name forever.
(Psalm 44:6-8)

Job 34:1-36:33
Elihu warns that Job is misleading them, that God gives people what they deserve to get. God sees everything. Then Elihu specifies certain sins that will be punished; e.g., not helping the poor.

He continues, "Your wickedness and your righteousness affect other people, Remember, God doesn't listen to an empty cry."

Elihu exalts God's greatness and warns of God's anger.

2 Corinthians 4:1-12
Paul was writing to the early church, the post-transfiguration, post-crucifixion, post-resurrection church: Those other apostles have been misleading you. They have thrown a veil over the true gospel. The light that has enabled us to see is the light that will enable you to see. That light comes in the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

The light was there for the Corinthians, but they had allowed themselves to be blinded by the false apostles.

He wrote to the Corinthians of what seems like a paradox, that extraordinary power belongs to God but we who follow God may not always appear very powerful. Look at Christ, Paul says, he suffered and died. We may undergo afflictions, suffering, persecution. Keep looking at Christ. His life is now made visible in what we do.

The church is the Body of Christ.

An example of a Christian who was willing to suffer, even to give up his life, was Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  He led a resistance movement against the Nazis, returning to Germany from safety in America. He loved God, and because of this love, he loved God's people.

Here is an excerpt from his The Cost of Discipleship:
In the fellowship of the crucified and glorified body of Christ we participate in his suffering and glory. His cross is the burden which is laid on his Body, the Church. All its sufferings borne beneath this cross are the sufferings of Christ himself. .... For while it is true that only the suffering of Christ himself can atone for sin, and that his suffering and triumph took place "for us," yet to some, who are not ashamed of their fellowship in his body, he vouchsafes the immeasurable grace and privilege of suffering "for him," as he did for them. No greater glory could he have granted to his own, no higher privilege and the Christian enjoy, than to suffer "for Christ," ....
Although Christ has fulfilled all the vicarious suffering necessary for our redemption, his suffering on earth is not finished yet, He has, in his grace, left a residue of suffering for his Church to fulfill in the interval before his Second Coming (Col 1:27). This suffering is allowed to benefit the Body of Christ, the Church....
The Christian may now serve so that "Christ may be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death" (Phil 1:20). Such vicarious activity and passivity on the part of the members of the Body is the very life of Christ, who wills to be formed in all this. We are simply following the first disciples of Christ.

However, not many of us will face imprisonment or execution because of our claim to be Christian. Yet, we are called to make Jesus visible in our lives. Beverly Gaventa, in Texts for Preaching B,  points out:
This passage may be particularly important for those churches that were once referred to as "mainline." The frantic search for answers to declining membership and for new identity for denominations might well be set in a larger context, one that at least considers the possibility that in some sense the church's ministry cannot be defeated, despite all appearances to the contrary.
Psalm 44:1-8
How much of our success, how many of our achievements, do we attribute to our own hard work, to our own efforts? How willing are we to give God credit?

Proverbs 22:10-12 (adapted)
Drive out a scoffer, and strife goes out;
quarreling and abuse will cease.
Those who love a pure heart and are gracious in speech
will have the king as a friend.
The eyes of the Lord keep watch over knowledge,
but overthrows the words of the faithless.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, help us to discern your presence in this world that we inhabit. Help us to live the way that Christ taught, even in those times that it is inconvenient for us. Amen.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Reflection on readings for August 29

Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause
against an ungodly people;
from those who are deceitful and unjust
deliver me!
(Psalm 43:1)

Job 31:1-33:33
Job gives a list of sins that would deserve being punished and asserts his innocence of each one of them. For example, he hasn't been unfaithful to his wife or told lies or mistreated his slaves or withheld anything from the poor or widows.

Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar have nothing to say. A fourth accuser appears, Elihu, who is angry with Job for justifying himself rather than God. He says, "Since I am young, I gave you others the change to impart some wisdom, but you didn't. So, I will." Elihu demands that Job is wrong to claim that he is sinless because God can't be wrong. God forgives sinners who admit that they have sinned.

2 Corinthians 3:1-18
Since Paul's understanding of the purpose of Moses' veil differs from that of the version in Exodus, we are prompted to wonder why. Boring & Craddock, in their New Testament Commentary, suggest that Paul thought that the veil like other components of Jewish religious faith were not necessary for Christians.

For Paul, none of us need to be protected from a view of the glory of the Lord. The New Interpreter's Study Bible suggests that Paul may be referring to the new covenant as described by Jeremiah, "No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, 'Know the Lord.' for they shall all know me...." (Jeremiah 31:31-34).

When we try to get a modern meaning from an ancient text, we really ought to spend some effort on thinking about what the text meant when it was written--in this case: what was the underlying problem that Paul was addressing.

Allen & Williamson, in Preaching the Letters are helpful. Paul is trying to overcome the problems he believes that the super apostles have caused in Corinth. He is rebutting claims that they have made about him:
....The other missionaries have incorrectly used Exodus 34:29-34. Paul speaks with great boldness, that is, not viewed but frankly and publicly. The super apostles imitate Moses, but not in the way they think they do. According to Paul, they speak from behind a veil, preventing the community "from gazing at the end of the glory." In other words, they prevent the congregation from seeing clearly the nature of the coming realm of God beside which the glory so prized by the super apostles will fail. Therefore, the super apostles and those who follow them are "hardened against the purposes of God in the same way as Pharaoh."
Psalm 43:1-5
Many times when we pray, we are expressing gratitude for what has already been provided for us. But, sometimes, we are in situations of despair, of loss, of fear. Psalm 43 gives us the words to pray to God when we have been treated unfairly.

We ask for defense and for refuge.  And when we need defense and refuge, we turn to God. We ask God to spread light on our situation so we will know what we should do. We have known this, and we have to re-know it from time to time.

Caution: William Holladay, in Long Ago God Spoke, reminds us that the word translated as soul, nepes, should not be understood as some religious part of us but rather as all that makes up our total being.

Proverbs 22:8-9
Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity,
and the rod of anger will fall.
Those who are generous are blessed.

Prayer for Today: In times of frustrating despair, pray the words of Psalm 43.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Reflection on readings for August 28

As a deer longs for flowing streams,
so my soul longs for you, O God.
(Psalm 42:1)

Job 28:1-30:31
Job rhapsodizes on wisdom, how hard it us for so many to find it and how God knows and is its source.  Job looks back on his life, how rewarding it had been, and, in despair, how hard it is now.

2 Corinthians 2:12-17
Not everybody accepted Paul's preaching with approval. Neither does Paul approve of some of the others' preaching. He asserts his sincerity and that he has been commissioned by God.

Psalm 42:1-11
No, we don't have to pretend that everything that happens is really for the best. We are allowed to recognize the difference between things working out well and not working out at all.

Much of the Bible is written about God and about the relationship between God and God's people--Genesis through 2 Chronicles, say.

The books of the prophets are filled with words that God intends for us to listen to.

The wisdom books, including but not limited to Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, are largely people speaking to people, that is, wise people speaking to people that need and want to be wise.

Psalms, though, has a large component of people speaking to God.

And often, what we say is a complaint, an expression of sadness, a lament that things are the way we wanted--or expected--them to be.

Psalm 42 begins with an expression of longing for God, a longing prompted by a sense of separation from God. A long separation, and one that has been noticed by onlookers.

The psalmist is in despair. He thinks that God has forgotten about him.

Is being too unimportant to be remembered worst than being so bad that you deserve being punished?

Although he thinks that God has forgotten him, he knows very well that his enemies haven't. They mock him, "Where is your God?"

But, even in despair, the psalmist turns to God,
Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my help and my God.

Proverbs 22:7
The rich rules over the poor.
and the borrower is the slave of the lender.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, turn us toward Christ, keep us focused on Christ, enable us to demonstrate the work of Christ in this world. Amen.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Reflection on readings for August 27

Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,
from everlasting to everlasting.
Amen and Amen.
(Psalm 41:13)

Job 23:1-27:23
Job's friend has accused him of great wickedness--of overextending credit to people beyond what they can pay back and then stripping them of their remaining assets" (22:1-11). The friend then counsels Job to try to get closer to God and to do what God wants, "If you pray, God will listen" (22:21-30).

Job responds "If, only. I've been praying. I've been asking God why that I have been punished this way. but I can't seem to find him. He's not anywhere that I've looked." Job further responds to his friend's attack by asserting, "I've done what God wants. I've never sinned." (10-12).

Job is ready to give up, "I'd just like to vanish."

Yet, even in this, Job says, "Still I’m not annihilated by darkness; he has hidden deep darkness from me."

After reading Job 24, look at your daily newspaper (that is, if you are an old person like me and still read the printed paper; otherwise, read it online or catch the news on TV or radio.) How timely this chapter seems. We still have violence--by other people and by nature. We still have wealthy,  powerful people who are able to protect themselves in ways the rest of us cannot.

Job says to Bildad, and to us, "Well, what are you doing to help?"

2 Corinthians 1:12-2:11
Paul explains that he has delayed returning to Corinth because of an earlier troubled visit. He asks them to forgive the trouble maker that had caused Paul the trouble there.

Boring and Craddock in their People's New Testament Commentary sum it up for us:
Paul regards the church to be in a struggle with hostile demonic powers that resist its mission. Discord within the congregation is more than a problem of interpersonal relationships. Internal conflicts hinder the mission of the church and are thus a strategy of Satan.
Psalm 41:1-13
A prayer for forgiveness. An assertion of God's care.

Proverbs 22:8-9
Whosoever sows injustice will reap calamity,
and the rod of anger will fail.
Those who are generous are blessed,
for they share their bread with the poor.

Prayer for Today:  God, we turn to you for healing, both for our bodies but also for our congregations. Amen.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Reflection on readings for August 26

Do not, O Lord, withhold your mercy from me;
let your steadfast love and your faithfulness
    keep me safe forever.
(Psalm 40:11)

Job 20:1-22:30
Zophar demands that Job pay attention to him. "Wickedness tastes good for a while but turns to vomit." He outlines ways that God will send punishment to sinners.

Job replies that Zophar should listen to what he has to say, "The wicked don't always get punished." then adds, "How often will you comfort me with empty nothings?"

Eliaphaz is not convinced by Job. He reminds him of the greatness of God and asserts that God will save the penitent.

2 Corinthians 1:1-11
[Scholars tell us that 2 Corinthians as we have it in our Bible is a compilation of several letters written by Paul then combined but probably not in chronological order.]

Paul tells the congregation at Corinth: God consoles us in our afflictions so that we may console others. God raised Jesus and will rescue us.

In their Jewish Annotated New Testament, Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler point out that the relationship between affliction and consolation was raised in 1:3-11 and is the backbone of the arguments we will read in 4:7-10; 4:16-5:10; and 12:7-10.

Psalm 40:11-17
These verses sound like ones that Eliaphaz could pray. Yet, they also sound like ones that we could all pray.

Proverbs 22:7
The rich rules over the poor,
and the borrower is the slave of the lender.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, open us to your truth but guide us in our telling others what they ought to be doing. Console us in our pain. Direct us to consoling others. Amen.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Reflection on readings for August 25

You have multiplied, O Lord my God,
your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us;
none can compare with you.
Were I to proclaim and tell of them,
they would be more than can be counted.
(Psalm 40:5)

Job 16:1-19:29
Job responds to those people who have been preaching to him: Have windy words no limit?

He then speaks of his despair but asserts "There is no violence in my hands, and my prayer is pure."

Job prays for relief, "My spirit is broken, my days are extinct, the grave is ready for me, and my eye dwells on their provocation."

Bildad levels accusation at Job, "You think we are stupid. The wicked get what they deserve."

Job responds that his friends' comments have not been helpful and have even made his situation more painful.

Job pours out a lament to God and affirms his allegiance to God.

1 Corinthians 16:1-24
Paul asks them to give financial support to the churches in Jerusalem.

Paul's final message is still timely to our modern congregations: Keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.

Psalm 40:1-10
Psalm 40 begins "I waited patiently for the Lord...." Believers by being believers are not immune from the pains in life. I'm also admitting that my own waits have not always been very patient. But, the psalmist was patient--and needed to be--note the "waited" part. But, also note what is being waited for--the Lord. Even in times of tribulation, pain, or disappointment, the psalmist recognizes the source of what is going to make things better.

This trust comes, in part, from what has already happened, "He drew me up from a desolate pit, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure." Rescue plus a new start.

The psalmist doesn't keep this rescue, this improvement in his life a secret. Rather, he tells about it. And the ones he tells listen, and, because of what they hear, their lives are changed, their expectations are changed, even what they consider as powerful enough to help them through their difficulties will shift, "Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord. Happy are those who make the Lord their trust, who do not turn to the proud, to those who go astray after false gods."

This psalm begins with gratitude to the Lord, recognition of what the Lord has done. It continues with affirmation of the benefits of trusting the Lord rather than some other false gods, "You have multiplied, O Lord my God, your wondrous deeds and your thoughts; none can compare with you."

How are we to worship? What is it that God expects us to do to show that we do worship? Where does worship happen? What is the necessary cost? Am I doing it right?

The psalm says, "Sacrifice and offering you do not desire, but you have given me an open ear. Burnt offering and sin offering you have not required." Focus first on what is not necessary--offerings; then, pay attention to what we have been given--that open ear.

That ear is open to what has been written in the Torah. More than listening, the psalmist attests that what has been written in a scroll has become a law within his heart.

Proverbs 22:1
A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches,
and favor is better than silver or gold.

Prayer for Today: O Lord our God, give us the right words to share when someone around us is in despair. And, O Lord, restrain us from saying the wrong words to them. Amen.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Reflection on readings for August 24

Hear my prayer, O Lord,
and give ear to my cry;
do not hold your peace at my tears.
For I am your passing guest,
(Psalm 39:12a)

Job 12:1-15:35
Job told his friends "You think you know so much. Well, everybody knows as much as you." He reiterated his argument that despite what they believed that his situation was not punishment for sin.

He then says "Every animal, every bird, every plant, every fish can tell you that every living thing is in God's hand. I want to argue my case with God."

His friend Eliphaz (Ch 4) speaks again. "Why do you think you know more than we do? What you're saying is a diminishment of God." He repeated his assertion that the wicked will be punished.

1 Corinthians 15:29-58
Christian faith is more than good theology; it's also right living.

Series of contrasts.

Analogy of seed that becomes flower--although you can't see the flower now, it will come from the seed. We already participate in Adam's earthly humanity, and Not yet, in the resurrection life of the new humanity. Notice that Paul does not mention physical resurrection of either Jesus or ourselves. "Body" is the essential self. How resurrection happens is a mystery (Boring & Craddock).

For further reading: I'm posting from a commentary by Thomas Fischer about wrong reasons to serve God: 1) Guilt; 2) Pressure; 3) To please people; 4) Pride; 5) To earn salvation

Psalm 39:1-13
It is interesting to read this psalm on the same day as the selection from Job. Eliphaz could have prayed these verses.

Proverbs 21:30-31
No wisdom, no understanding, no counsel,
can avail against the Lord.
The horse is made ready for the day of battle,
but the victory belongs to the Lord.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, when we despair, encourage us. When we fear, comfort us. When we waiver, strengthen us. Amen.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Reflection on readings for August 23

Do not forsake me, O Lord;
O my God, do not be far from me;
make haste to help me,
O Lord, my salvation.
(Psalm 38:21-22)

Job 8:1-11:20
His friend Bildad tells Job, "If God is punishing you, you must have done something to deserve it. God will not reject a blameless person. " Job replies, "How can anyone lead a totally blameless life? God is all-powerful, but he is not listening to me." Job then addresses God directly, "Why are you doing this to me? You made me, you know me, you know I haven't done anything to deserve what is happening to me."

Another friend, Zophar speaks, "You say you are innocent. God knows what you have done. Turn to God now."

1 Corinthians 15:1-28
Paul reminds the Corinthians the message he terms of first importance: Christ died, was buried, was raised, and appeared to witnesses including Paul himself.

Paul has received this gospel and is passing it on to the Corinthians. His knowledge is based on experience and scripture.

And, now, here we are. What we know about Christ is also based on what we are told--both by long-ago witnesses as well as those in our own times. We hear them recount the good news. We read our Bibles. And we hold firmly to the message that is being proclaimed.

Sidelines: Apparently Paul was not aware of the traditions underlying the Gospel reports of the appearances of Christ to the women at the empty tomb. He includes that the death for our sins and the being raised on the third day was in accordance with the scriptures. That is, to Paul, the death and resurrection of Christ are not a repudiation of Judaism.

Corinth was a city that had been destroyed then rebuilt by the Romans. In Paul's time, it was a thriving port city strategically located with ports on the Aegean and on the western gulf leading to the Adriatic. Like other formerly Greek cities, many gods had been worshiped.

The church founded there by Paul, Silas, and Timothy had, at first, been a vital Christian congregation, but, by the time of this letter, the Corinthians had been visited by and impressed with followers of Simon Peter (spiritual phenomena) and Apollos (wisdom).

(The above information is abstracted from the excellent The People's New Testament Commentary by M. Eugene Boring & Fred B. Craddock.)

I'm struck by Paul's rhetorical strategy. He writes to rich people stressing his being least and unfit. His doing what he is capable of doing is due to the grace of God. Yet, Paul did not leave the gift stored on a shelf of some closet. He worked hard--harder than the other apostles (is this a dig at Peter's followers?)

He worked hard, but he attributes God's grace for the ability to do the work--or, should I read this as God's grace for the ability to want to do the work?

Now, back to us. We have had the opportunity of good, faithful teaching by hard-working teachers who were filled with grace and able to demonstrate that grace to us. And we have been faced with not-so-faithful, not-so-grace-filled teachings and examples. Let us hold firm to the good news proclaimed through Paul. Let us come to believe--and act as if we did. Let God's grace to us not be in vain.

Psalm 38:1-22

Proverbs 21:28-29
A false witness will perish,
but a good listener will testify successfully.
The wicked put on a bold face,
but the upright give thought to their ways.

Prayer for Today: Pray Psalm 38:21-22.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Reflection on readings for August 22

The salvation of the righteous is from the Lord.
You are our refuge in time of trouble.
You help us and rescue us;
you rescue us from the wicked and save us,
because we take refuge in you.
(adapted from Psalm 37:39-40)

Job 4:1-7:21
His friend Eliphaz responds to Job's despair by asserting that sinners deserve punishment. He advises Job to turn to God and pray for deliverance. Job responds that he would agree except that he doesn't know what he has done to warrant the pain he is in. He then does ask for deliverance.

1 Corinthians 14:18-40
More advice on conducting worship service: Make them intelligible to visitors. Suggested pattern: a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Have only two or at most three people speak in tongues and then only if someone can interpret. Women should be silent.

How much of Paul's advice to the Corinthians applies to our worship services? What advice would he give to us today?

Psalm 37:30-40
Reading this passage today I am reminded of Eliphaz' comments.

Proverbs 21:27
The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination;
how much more when brought with evil intent.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, open us to share your word. O Lord, somehow restrain us from misusing your word. Amen.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Reflection on readings for August 21

For the Lord loves justice
and will not forsake the faithful ones.
(adapted from Psalm 37:28a)

Job 1:1-3:26
After reading Deuteronomy, we may think we know the formula to success--do what God told us and things will work out right; don't do it and we will surely suffer. Then, we read the Book of Job.

Job has done everything he was supposed to do. For a while, it looked as if the formula was working for him. He had a big family and a lot of wealth.

Then things fell apart.

The Adversary (in Hebrew, ha-satan) contends to the Lord that Job was a good man only because he had lots of blessings (Job 1:6-12). Then when Job still did not sin even after losing his possessions (1:13-22), the Adversary argued that Job would change his attitude if he himself was injured.

The Lord agreed to this test. The Adversary afflicted Job with a painful skin ailment. Job's wife urged him to blaspheme God.

He wouldn't.

Instead, he said, "Should we accept only good from God and not accept evil?"

After receiving devastating news and living through its aftermath, Lawrence Kushner wrote When Bad Things Happen to Good People that explores the theological underpinning of this question and how it worked out in his family's life.

1 Corinthians 14:1-17
Advice on getting people to come to your church: They're going to understand what you're saying only if you are intelligible.

Psalm 37:12-29
Differences between the wicked and the righteous; difference between their outcomes.

Proverbs 21:25-26
The craving of the lazy person is fatal,
for lazy hands refuse to labor.
All day long the wicked covet,
but the righteous give and do not hold back.

Prayer for Today
: O Lord, console us in times of difficulty.  Direct us to your will. Open us to sharing with others our knowledge of you. Amen.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Reflection on readings for August 20

Commit your way to the Lord;
trust in the Lord;
the Lord will act.
(adapted from Psalm 37:5)

Esther 8:1-10:3
Defeat of their aggressors. In order to remember always, they instituted the feast of Purim.

1 Corinthians 12:27-13:13
Society then was comprised of different levels. Some people were in categories not much respected or admired. Some people were regarded as being at the top of the social pyramid. 

Not only society in general, but also the church.

Paul instructed them to recognize their mutual need for each other's contributions.

I'm wondering about today's congregations. Some differences in all churches--somebody preaches, somebody teaches children's Sunday School (for churches that still have children), somebody leads the choir, and so on. But, do all congregations include people from different economic and ethnic backgrounds? If they did, what differences would the church experience? What differences would the church make on the world (or, at least, the community around it)?

"If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal....," Paul wrote to the fractious Corinthian congregation.

Sounding good, even great, doesn't mean much in Paul's assessment. Love is requisite.

"If I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith...."

Being able to be prophetic, that is, to be able to transmit the words of God, means nothing without love.

Being able to perform miracles, being willing to be generous, even sacrificing one's own safety are all nothing without love.

For the church to continue to do God's work in the world, its members must have love.

And that includes love for each other. Not just feeling, but also acting.

We can see God's love in the community that surrounds us. We can be part of God's love now.

Psalm 37:1-11
Yes, bad things do happen, and, yes, bad people exist. Even if we do what we're supposed to do, we may still have to face the consequences of somebody else's doing what we don't want them to do.

This psalm counsels us on how to get through those bad times.

First, Don't let yourself be tied up in reacting to the person who is trying to hurt you.

After all, they aren't going to be able to sustain themselves forever.

Second, Instead of paying a lot of attention to the person who is trying to upset you, turn that attention to what does last, the Lord.

Paying attention to the Lord, trusting the Lord, will change us.

Vindication may take a while, but leave it up to the Lord.

Proverbs 21:23-24
To watch over mouth and tongue is to keep our of trouble.
The proud, haughty person, named "Scoffer,"
acts with arrogant pride.

Prayer for Today: O Lord our God, help us to notice how those around us show wisdom and generosity, and are willing to share their gifts with the rest of us. Help us now as a church to continue to do your work in the world. Help us to love each other and to act like it. Amen.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Reflection on readings for August 19

How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
(Psalm 36:7)

Esther 4:1-7:10
Esther was distressed and wanted to help Mordecai. He told her all Jews were in danger, her included. What was different about her was that she had access to the king. She agreed to go to the king although appearing before the king without being asked could be a capital offense. 

Esther was able to attract the attention of the king who asked her what favor he could give her. She responded that she wanted to give a banquet and that Haman be invited. Two things happened the night before the banquet. One was that Haman's wife told him to build tall gallows to hang Mordecai. 
The other was that the king having trouble going to sleep had some recent history read to him and learned about how Mordecai had prevented the king's assassination. The king summoned Haman and told him that it was about time to give honor to Mordecai.

At the banquet, when the king asked Esther what she wanted, even offering her half the kingdom, she replied that all she wanted was for her people to be safe. 

Mordecai lived. Haman was hanged.

1 Corinthians 12:1-26
Look back at the first chapter of Corinthians--Paul has heard that the congregation has divided into groups and the groups are not getting along. The more things change .... you know the rest.

Paul continues to lecture and warn and remind them of what they should be concerned about.

In Chapter 12, he talks about spiritual gifts. (We aren't sure whether the Greek term should be translated as "spiritual gifts" or "spiritual persons").

Paul tells them, and through them, tells us that a congregation is made up of people with different gifts. Both words are important: different and gifts.

Gifts denotes that we don't get these talents or abilities by ourselves. The Spirit of God has passed them out to us. Different is also important because difference is essential if the whole thing is going to work.

Note the pattern from unity through diversity in order to enable unity.

Paul continues to lecture and warn and remind them of what they should be concerned about.

Different people have different talents, Paul told them. It's still true. For example, I cannot sing, but I like to stand in front of a room full of people and talk.

Paul lists several gifts that the Spirit has given to different church members. Moreover, every one of the gifts is important, even necessary.

Different talents but same source and for same reason.

Explore  your spiritual gifts

Psalm 36:1-12
Psalm 36 begins with describing the wicked--They aren't afraid of God; they don't think anyone is going to find out what bad things they have done; they cause trouble by word and deeds.

Then, the psalm changes in a couple of ways. The psalmist had been talking to us; now the psalm addresses God: Your steadfast love extends to the heavens. Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains. Your judgments are as deep as the ocean.

The psalmist affirms God's love, protection, and abundant gifts then asks that it continue.

Sidelight: The Lord saves not only us humans but animals as well (v.6). I hadn't picked up on that myself until I read John H. Hayes' contribution to Preaching Through the Christian Year C.

He says:
What may initially strike us as odd in such a comparison or classification might not appear so if we give it some thought. The beast receives its blessings, its food, its livelihood witout setting out to please God or anybody; it makes no effort to measure up to any standard; it simply drinks in the benefits that come its way from the created order controlled by God. The writer is suggesting something similar is the case with humans.
Do you agree with Hayes that we receive all our good things without trying to please God?

Proverbs 21:21-22
Whoever pursues righteousness and kindness
will find life and honor.
One wise person went up against a city of warriors
and brought down the stronghold in which they trusted.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, we thank you for the many gifts that you have bestowed on us, and also for the gifts that you have bestowed on others. Open us to the recognition that your love comes to us through the gifts of many, many people. Open us to the recognition that our gifts are to be used to help many, many others. And, O Lord, give us the courage that Esther demonstrated to speak out to tyranny. Amen.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Reflection on readings for August 18

You have seen, O Lord;
do not be silent!
O Lord, do not be far from me!
(Psalm 35:22)

Esther 1:1-3:15
The king got drunk and ordered his queen to come to the party. She refused. Seeing the possible outcome of wifely rebellion, the royal officials recommended that she be fired. She was. The king sent a letter to every province in his kingdom that every man should be the master in his house.

After the king got over his anger, he began to miss having a wife. A national search began. Mordecai, one of the Jews who had been taken from Judah by the Babylonians recommended his niece Esther as a candidate for queen.

Mordecai learned of a plot against the king, told Esther, now the queen., who passed on the information to her husband.

Mordecai would protect the king but couldn't bring himself to bow down before the king's high official, Haman. Haman told the king that there was a group of people who were different and should no longer be tolerated. The king responded by issuing an order to kill all the Jews.

1 Corinthians 11:17-34
Institution of the Lord's Supper. Reminders and Warnings.

Psalm 35:17-28
Reading Robert Alter's The Book of Psalms pointed out to me that there are four groups of characters in this psalm: God, the supplicant, enemies, and supporters. Alter states that the supplicant in this psalm can imagine vindication and that his supporters will be happy about it.

Proverbs 21:19-20
It is better to live in a desert land  
than with a contentious and fretful wife.
Precious treasure remains in the house of the wise,
but the fool devours it.

Prayer for Today
: O Lord, help us to figure out how to get along with the other people in the church. Help us to balance any sacrifice that comity would require by remembering all that you were willing to give up for us. Help us to consider what they need as we consider what we already have. Amen.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Reflection on readings for August 17

All my bones shall say,
"O Lord, who is like you?
You deliver the weak
     from those too strong for them,
the weak and needy 
    from those who despoil them."
(Psalm 35:10)

Nehemiah 12:27-13:31
Ceremony for dedication of the wall. Responsibilities for the temple assigned. Expulsion of foreigners. Some misappropriation was discovered and dealt with. Blue laws instituted. Marriage eligibility restricted.

1 Corinthians 11:1-16
Women must have long hair and must have covered heads in worship services. Men must not wear hats in worship. We seem to be able to adopt our modern customs in contradiction of the rules that Paul clearly set out. How do we decide which rules must be followed and which ones can be modified or even ignored?

Psalm 35:1-16
Bad people can do bad things to good people. This psalm asks God to handle redress.

Proverbs 21:17-18
Whoever loves pleasure will suffer want;
whoever loves wine and oil will not be rich.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, help us to sort through all the requirements and prohibitions in the Bible and live out the ones you consider appropriate for our time and place. Amen.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Reflection on readings for August 16

Come, O children, listen to me;
I will teach you the fear of the Lord.
(Psalm 34:11)

Nehemiah 11:1-12:26

1 Corinthians 10:14-33
When should our liberty be restricted by someone else's conscience? When should somebody else's liberty be restricted by our conscience?

Psalm 34:11-22
Psalm 34 can be read as wise advice for people who are in covenant with the Lord.

Don't slander anybody. Cease hateful talk. Remember that God hears the cries of people who are in trouble.

We may have caused that trouble for ourselves, or, it may have been dropped on us undeservedly by evil people or by happenstance. Yet, in our trouble, God cares for us.

We are not promised an absence of suffering. We are promised compassion and help when suffering comes. (Gene M. Tucker, Preaching through the Christian Year B).

Proverbs 21:14-16
A gift in secret averts anger;
and a concealed bribe in the bosom, strong wrath.
When justice is done, it is a joy to the righteous,
but dismay to evildoers.
Whoever wanders from the way of understanding
will rest in the assembly of the dead.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, you have given us the freedom to make many choices. Direct us now to use our freedom in ways that will carry out your purposes. Forgive us for the times we have failed. Continue to care for us. Amen.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Reflection on readings for August 15

O magnify the Lord with me.
O Lord, we exalt your name together. 
(adapted from Psalm 34:3)

Nehemiah 9:22-10:39
When they overcame their enemies, when they had lots of possessions. When they had copious amounts of food, they didn't bother to obey the Lord. Their sinning had consequences. They cried out to the Lord for rescue and after receiving mercy, they turned back to sinning.

They ask the Lord for mercy again.

1 Corinthians 9:19-10:13
The first missionaries were reaching out to people who had been raised like them and people who had not, people who were used to the same kind of worship, and people who were not. They faced the same set of decisions that missionaries continue to face--how much like us do they have to be and how much like them should I be willing to be?

Some missionaries travel to foreign distant lands; some work within their own hometowns.

Paul has said that he was willing to be under Jewish law to convince fellow Jews, and willing to be outside his own tradition for the Gentiles. He was willing to change a stance that was not requisite for a Christian life. But, he was not preaching no standards at all.

Being a Christian requires effort and discipline. Preaching the gospel (by word or deed) may turn out to be as strenuous as running a marathon. Do it anyway.

Psalm 34:1-10
The psalmist has noticed that the Lord has done something. And the psalmist is not going to keep quiet about it.

Receiving help, Noticing, Announcing.

Also, the psalmist is reminding others to join in the praise. After all, they need the Lord. After all, the Lord has helped them, too.

The psalm begins with testimony, "I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul makes its boast in the Lord"

and turns to lesson, "Let the humble hear and be glad. Magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together."

Prayer is not restricted to only private conversation. Prayer at times can and should be communal.

Hear the invitation to join in prayer with someone who has known difficulty and has known rescue:

"I sought the Lord, and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears. ...O taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are those who take refuge in him."

Proverbs 21:13
If you close your ear to the cry of the poor,
you will cry out and not be heard.

Prayer for Today: O Lord our God, encourage us to be willing to be among people who don't agree with us on everything. Help us even to see when we should change. Open us to notice your support, your help, your compassion. Open us to telling others about that. Amen.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Reflection on readings for August 14

Let your steadfast love, O Lord,
be upon us, even as we hope in you.
(Psalm 33:22)

Nehemiah 7:73-9:21
The priest Ezra reads Scripture to the gathered people. They all listen attentively because those ancient words about their ancestors are words that continue to affect their lives.

When they heard the Scripture, when they heard the interpretation, when they understood what God meant for them to do, they wept. 

The words were old even in their time but they were words for their time.

Their leaders told them not to despair but to enjoy--and to share--the gifts that the Lord had provided for them.

Ezra recounted for them how their ancestors had disobeyed the Lord's commands over and over, and that the Lord had shown them mercy over and over. This reminder was not an excuse for future misdeeds.

In our own time, in our own places, someone will be standing before a roomful of worshippers and reading ancient words about long-ago people and times. And in our own time, in our own places, we will hear those words with understanding, and our lives will change. Won't we? Won't they?

1 Corinthians 9:1-18

Psalm 33:12-22
The first readers of verse 12 of course were Jews and they would have sung this psalm as an affirmation that God had picked Israel out of all the nations to be the special people. How do we Christians today read it? Don't we really think that God likes us best of all the rest?

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

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

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

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

Proverbs 21:14-16
A gift in secret averts anger;
and a concealed bribe in the bosom, strong wrath.
When justice is done, it is a joy to the righteous,
but dismay to evildoers.
Whoever wanders from the way of understanding
will rest in the assembly of the dead.

Prayer for Today: Pray Psalm 33:12-22

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Reflection on readings for August 13

Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous.
Praise befits the upright.
(Psalm 33:3)

Nehemiah 5:14-7:73
Nehemiah asserts that, unlike the preceding members of the government, he and his family are not appropriating donations to the wall project for themselves. Jerusalem's neighbors felt threatened by the wall, that is indicated that Jerusalem was intending to be independent, to have its own king.

The wall was completed. Many exiles returned.

1 Corinthians 8:1-13
People who believed in idols also believed it was beneficial to offer gifts, including food, to those idols. The idols, of course, couldn't actually eat that food. Some enterprising entrepreneurs didn't see why that uneaten food should be left to spoil. They would gather the food and offer it for sale. So, if you were invited to eat with someone, you couldn't be sure whether you were being served some of that food.

It wouldn't make any difference whether that food has been sacrificed to idols if you know that idols aren't really real. Jews knew that there was only one God. They would not have considered it harmful to their religion to eat that meat. Christians who were Jews would be able to eat the meat served to them without worrying about whether it had been part of idol worship.

But, not all Christians in Corinth had a Jewish background or understanding. Paul was writing to believers who lived among nonbelievers. Think about the difference between preaching to the already converted and teaching those who really don't have a good idea about just what it is that sets us apart.

In his time, if you wanted to eat meat, you got it from the meat place, and the meat place didn't stamp it "not from idol sacrifice." If you accepted an invitation for supper, you would not know whether that meat fit your religious scruples.

 On the other hand, if your own religion is strong enough not to be hampered in any way by some practice that you consider a scruple, shouldn't you just go ahead and do what's easiest on everybody? Should you refuse to eat with people who have different standards?

What differences should we hide? When should we keep silent?  Beverly Gaventa, Texts for Preaching, A Lectionary  Commentary based on the NRSV--Year B:
The text never hints that conflict is to be avoided, that discussion of the issue of eating of food offered to idols should be skirted. Paul's letters, in fact, consistently argue for the church as the forum for moral discourse. The scenario from 1 Corinthians 8 simply asks that every member of the community be taken seriously (even those without "knowledge") as a person for whom Christ died, and that one's actions reflect a compassionate and even restraining consideration for fellow members of the body of Christ. On the other hand, if your own religion is strong enough not to be hampered in any way by some practice that you consider a scruple, shouldn't you just go ahead and do what's easiest on everybody?
 It's not just the unbelievers that see what you do; the believers are watching, too.

Paul says to them (to us?): It's not only your conscience; think about how what you do will affect someone else's conscience.

Psalm 33:1-11

Proverbs 21:8-10
The way of the guilty is crooked,
but the conduct of the pure is right.
It is better to live in the corner of the housetop
than in a house shared with a contentious wife.
The souls of the wicked desire evil;
their neighbors find no mercy in their eyes.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, help us to remember that our words and our actions affect other people. Increase our willingness to be compassionate and not condescending. Amen.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Reflection on readings for August 12

Many are the torments of the wicked,
but steadfast love surrounds those 
    who trust in the Lord.
Be glad in the Lord and rejoice,
    O righteous,
and shout for joy,
    all you upright in heart.
(Psalm  32:10-11)

Nehemiah 3:15-5:13
Rebuilding of the wall  began, an effort of great cost and opposition of enemies and with complaints within. Finally, Nehemiah called an assembly to deal with the charges that some people were raking off contributions to their own benefit.

1 Corinthians 7:25-40
When Paul wrote this letter to the Corinthians, he was expecting the return of Christ as ruler of the earth to be imminent. Our expectations of the apocalypse have had to be modified. Yet, we can still benefit from Paul's advice although we need to temper that advice in light of our own circumstances.

How much is Paul asking us to forget? Be careful in how you read his advice that married people act as if they weren't married. He is not suggesting licentiousness. Rather, he is asking us to shift our focus outward, to be concerned about more than our own happiness or sorrow.

Being a Christian means being interested in what Christ is interested in.

Psalm  32:1-11
We just cannot count on sin to keep us happy. The psalm expresses a similar situation: "As long as I wouldn't admit my errors, I suffered. But, when I confessed my sins to the Lord, I was forgiven."The psalm calls on us to reflect on our choices--the ones we have already made and the ones that it is time to make. We need to stop doing what we shouldn't even have started doing. We need to confess and to ask forgiveness.

And confession and forgiveness are not the end of the story according to this psalm. Once we have gotten right, we need to stay that way. "Do not be like a horse or a mule, without understanding, who needs to be curbed with a bit and bridle."

The alternatives are stark, according to this psalm: The wicked will live in torment, but steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the Lord. We are being asked to change our ways so that we can live out the command:
Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, O righteous,
and shout for joy, all you upright in heart.
Proverbs 21:5-7
The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance,
but everyone who is hasty comes only to want.

Prayer for Today: O Lord our God, shift our focus from ourselves. Direct our attention to your will. Increase our love for you. Increase our willingness to live lives that demonstrate this love. Amen.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Reflection on readings for August 11

Be strong, and let your heart take courage,
all you who wait for the Lord.
(Psalm 31:24)

Nehemiah 1:1-3:14
Nehemiah, cupbearer to King Artaxerxes, learned about the deplorable situation for his people left in Jerusalem. The king allowed him to travel to Jerusalem to see for himself. Inspecting the devastation, he announced that Jerusalem should rebuild the wall.

1 Corinthians 7:1-24
Paul corrects the opinion that some had that Christians should not get married. He added marital advice. Some Christians through the centuries have wanted to restrict who can marry whom. The current controversy is whether people of the same sex are allowed to marry each other.

Brian Bowen in his blog gives a response  to the assertion that unlike ordination of women, no agreement today could be garnered  regarding a proposal to recognize and approve homosexual genital relations—even in “committed, loving, and just” relationships. He argues that to do so overlooks (or intentionally ignores) Apostle Paul's ordination of same sex marriage in 1 Corinthians 7:8-9, and the Holy Spirit's warning to Christians not to forbid people to marry in 1 Timothy 4:1-3.

Psalm 31:19-24

Proverbs 21:4
Haughty eyes and a proud heart--
the lamp of the wicked--are sin.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, we give you thanks for your many blessings. We ask you now to help us to see others who are in difficulties and to strengthen our will to be the means to extend your care to them.  Amen.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Reflection on readings for August 10

Let your face shine upon your servant;
save me in your steadfast love.
(Psalm 31:16)

Ezra 10:1-44

1 Corinthians 6:1-20
"Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?" Paul asks the Corinthians. "Therefore, as a member of Christ, don't do any unChrist-like things."

The specific topic here is association with prostitutes, but the advice should not be restricted to this alone. Paul is urging Christians to take seriously, very seriously, their membership in Christ's body.

"Don't you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit?"

What are we supposed to do with the prohibition against lawsuits?

Psalm 31:9-18
Prayers in time of distress allow us to admit that our lives are not perfect now nor are they going to be. We will have difficulties, we will have enemies, we will be in scary circumstances, But, we have somewhere to turn.

Whether our enemy is human or nature or, as in my case right now, a failure of my own body to behave the way I would rather it behave, we can pray to the Lord, our faithful God.

Proverbs 21:3
To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.

Prayer for Today: O Lord our faithful God, My times are in your hand; deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors. Let your face shine upon your servant; save me in your steadfast love. Save me not because I have earned salvation. Save me because you demonstrate steadfast love

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Reflection on readings for August 9

You are indeed my rock and my fortress;
for your name's sake lead me and guide me.
(Psalm 31:3)

Ezra 8:21-9:15
Ezra describes the journey from exile to Jerusalem: selection of priests, allocation of silver and goal for the temple, then the deliverance from ambushes on the way. When the exiles had arrived in Jerusalem, they offered worship to the Lord and reported to the king's officials.

Ezra was told that during their time in exile, the people had mingled with foreigners. He prayed that God would forgive them for all their sins. They had deserved every bad thing that had happened to them, but God stuck with them anyway. It is time now that they repent and change.

Troubling to us moderns may be the specific method of repentance that Ezra pronounces, no more intermarriages with people who do not worship the Lord.

1 Corinthians 5:1-13
Paul asserts that just saying you are a Christian isn't enough. You need to act the way Christ would expect. He then instructs the community to expel sinners--sexually immoral persons, the greedy and robbers, idolators, and drunks. How to we adapt these few specific verses to the rest of Paul's message? Is this prohibition applied only to that specific community with its specific population and problems?

Psalm 31:1-8
Much of the Bible is speaking to us (often telling us what God wants us to hear) or telling us about something that someone did or learned a long time ago. But, some portions of the Bible are words that we can use to speak to God. The Psalms, in particular, are addressed to God.

Psalm 31 begins with a plea for rescue. Listen to me. Protect me. Deliver me.

We talk like this to someone we believe can do what we so desperately need--and right away.

The metaphors that demonstrate the capability of salvation that are used in this psalm are rock and fortress--images that are solid, strong, capable of keeping the bad away.

And, sometimes, we are already in the bad and need rescue from it. Verse 4 says "Take me out of the net hidden for me," and then verbalizes the wish for rescue and the assertion that the Lord is capable of doing that rescue, "for you are my refuge."

Proverbs 21:3
To do righteousness and justice
is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, direct our thoughts and actions to doing your will, to living the way you intend for us. When we are in difficulty, remind us of the care that you have given us. Remind us of the times that your care has come to us through our community. Prompt us to extend your care to others. Amen.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Reflection on readings for August 8

Sing praises to the Lord, 
O you his faithful ones,
and give thanks to his holy name.
(Psalm 30:4)

Ezra 7:1-8:20
The Persian king permitted rebuilding the temple and aided in its financing.

1 Corinthians 4:1-21
Paul is writing to the Corinthians, a fractious community. They are critical of each other and also of Paul. We can read this letter historically to help us understand what Paul was trying to get the Corinthians to understand, and we can read it to help us to work through conflicts within our congregations.

Paul reminds them and us that, after all, it is not the congregation that determines how well and how faithfully he has served. Rather, the Lord is the one who does the judging. We may be reacting to what a minister is doing or saying today, but, in doing so, we should also reflect on the consequences of those actions. Some events are not immediately apparent.

Beverly Gaventa, Texts for Preaching:
For those Christians who find even the term "judgment" to be distasteful, Paul's comments stand as a powerful reminder that all human beings are God's servants and stand responsible before God for their behavior. No one escapes that accountability. For those Christians who, on the other hand, savor the prospect of judgment because they have already made judgments of their own, Paul's insistence that it is God who judges may cause the tongue to pause mid-accusation. Paul's not-too-subtle point is that God requires no help or recommendations about the judgments of others.
Or for a post that I wish I had written, see Nadia Bolz-Weber's take on this passage.

Psalm 30:1-12

In the bible I'm using today, Psalm 30 has two superscriptions (what I would have called headings if I didn't also read commentaries). It is either a thanksgiving for recovery from grave illness or it is a song at the dedication of the temple. Or, it is both. 

Verses 1-3 are all in the first person singular. Keep reading. Any one of us may have prayer for our own individual need, but Psalm 30 also includes the rest of us in the requirement to express gratitude. See verse 4.

O Lord my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me.

It then directs the congregation to also give thanks.

Sing praises to the Lord, O you his faithful ones, and give thanks to his holy name.
It ends with the recognition that expression of gratitude is to be made openly and publicly:
You have turned my mourning into dancing;you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,so that my soul may praise you and not be silent.O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever.
As a person can be grateful for being healed from some personal sickness, a nation can be grateful for its restoration after a great disaster.

The notes in the Jewish Study Bible suggest that the psalm could have been used when the temple was rebuilt after exile, 515 BCE, or at its rededication after the victory of Judas Maccabaeus, 164 BCE. This psalm continues to be read on Hanukkah as well as part of the introductory liturgy for the daily, Sabbath, and festival morning services.

Proverbs 20:28-30
Loyalty and faithfulness preserve the king,
and his throne is upheld by righteousness.
The glory of youths is their strength,
but the beauty of the aged is their gray hair.

Prayer for Today: O Lord our God, direct us toward obedience to your word. Direct us away from judging each other. Amen.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Reflection on readings for August 7

Ascribe to the Lord, "O heavenly beings,"
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
(Psalm 29:1)

Ezra 4:24-6:22
King Darius (aka Artaxerxes) of Persia decrees that the house of God is to be built. The exiles have been allowed to return to Jerusalem but they are not completely free of foreign rule.

1 Corinthians 3:5-23
I am not good at memorizing, but passages like this one make me want to be. Paul tells this congregation that has competing loyalties to quit quarreling and to end their jealousy. "After all," he says, "who's really doing the accomplishing?"

We each have a part to play in accomplishing the work that God has given us to do, but we shouldn't ever think that the work is ours entirely. Neither should we think that we deserve all the credit.

As Paul puts it, "For we are God's servants, working together; you are God's field, God's building." I'm remembering when I was a child, that when riding through the country, my grandmother would look out at the fields and comment on whether the cotton or corn was looking good for that time of year. Now, I'm imagining someone observing a local congregation, God's field, and noticing how it was doing.

Only God gives the growth, but we church people sure can provide some weeds.

I used to live in a city built on Yazoo clay--it expands when moist then contracts when dry--so I have observed up close problems caused by foundations. The house two doors down from us moved off its foundation as the earth underneath shifted. Cars could get stranded in large pot holes. I now live in a city that has a seismic history. Lots of money must be spent retrofitting buildings that were erected without considering potential earth-shifting.

Having seen the difficulties caused by poor foundations, I can recognize the value in a good foundation. As God's temple, we, the church, are built on the foundation of Jesus Christ.

But, what we build on that foundation is also important. Paul cautions the Corinthians not to think that they are wise--or to attempt to appear wise to other people. Christianity requires its practitioners to do a lot of things--say, love your enemy--that appear right out foolish to other people.

He quotes what we call the Old Testament to underlie this point, "he catches the wise in their craftiness," (Job 5:13) and "The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile" (Psalm 94:11).

After all, not one of them had built anything alone. They all had help. And they all shared in the benefits of the efforts of others. What they have now and will have in the future will be there. And now and in the future they will belong to Christ and Christ belongs to God.

(Footnote in my Cokesbury Bible: Note that in verses 16 and 17 the Greek word for "you" is plural.)

Psalm 29:1-11
This psalm begins by reminding us of those qualities that the Lord possesses, the ones that we need to remember that the Lord possesses, and that we are to worship the Lord. The Lord that saves. The Lord that announced to Jesus, "You are my Son."

There shouldn't be any secret to this. The Lord's voice has spoken in a way that we should be able to recognize. Thunders. Powerful. Full of majesty

One evening, I was watching television while sitting in my well-padded recliner. Comfortable, head leaning back, feet propped up. All was well. Then, through the window next to me, I saw a flash of lightning . Almost immediately, I heard a loud crash of thunder. The TV show lost my attention.

Since I spent my formative years in Texas, I have the Texas attitude toward storms. As soon as we hear thunder, we're outside looking at the sky. Thunder gets our attention.

You don't have to be a Texan to notice thunder.
A thunderstorm will interrupt your life.
You'll turn your attention from what you're doing to this interruption.
Proverbs 20:26-27
A wise king winnows the wicked,
and drives the wheel over them.
The human spirit is the lamp of the Lord,
searching every innermost part.

Prayer for Today: We turn to you, O God, to ask you to keep us mindful of your teaching and mindful of our responsibility to live out those teachings in our communities. Amen.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Reflection on readings for August 6

The Lord is my strength and my shield;
in God my heart trusts.
(adapted from Psalm 28:7)

Ezra 3:1-4:23
They have returned but not to a perfect world. They can worship at the site of the destroyed temple but they are still in fear of the neighboring people. Rebuilding the temple meets with some resistance. After reading some of the history of Judah, King Artaxerxes concludes that they can be be dangerous so he forbids them to rebuild the temple.

In our own times, people in a community have felt threatened by the prospect of people of some other religion building a house of worship.

1 Corinthians 2:6-3:4
If we had created God--rather than the other way around, what kind of God would we have wanted? Paul is teaching the Corinthians what we may need to be reminded.

Paul is basing the success of his mission not on his own rhetorical skills but rather on the power of God. And what he is preaching is preaching Christ crucified.

Yet, it must be noted that Paul immediately does launch into rhetorical excellence.

He argues that if the leaders of their day had wisdom, they would not have crucified Christ. But, Christians have a knowledge that comes to them from God through the Spirit. We can learn from other people only what they have already known.

But, we, because we have received not the spirit of the world but the Spirit that is from God, can understand the gift bestowed on us by God.

Paul continues the contrast between what can be taught by human wisdom and what can be taught by the Spirit. What the Spirit teaches is intelligible to the spiritual, but not to those who are unspiritual.

Here's how Eugene Peterson expresses it in The Message:
[To the unspiritual,] they seem like so much silliness. Spirit can be known only by spirit--God's Spirit and our spirits in open communion.
I'm thinking of all the things we tend to be afraid of--people who don't look like us, or behave in ways that we just wouldn't, or somebody else getting to make a decision about something that affect us, and much, much more. We do spend a lot of our effort on focusing on our fears. I'm not sure that it's human wisdom that's led us astray so much as no wisdom at all. But, I'm sure that being open to what the Spirit of God had to say about such changes in our lives would help us to face them without so much fear and angst.

Also, let us not read Paul to be saying that human wisdom has no benefit at all. Rather. we are always to use and to interpret what we've learned in a way that serves God's purpose.

"You weren't ready to hear it yet," Paul told the Corinthians, "and you aren't ready yet."

"I've told you some, but there's more to this Christianity stuff than you are able to grasp."

It may be disconcerting to us moderns to consider the basis for his diagnosis of immaturity--jealousy and quarreling among the church members.

Background information: The word "flesh" in Greek is "sarx." According to Carl R. Halladay in Preaching through the Christian Year A, sarx in the New Testament almost always has a negative connotation, "signifying an outlook that is essentially centered on the self and pursues one's own interests."

How many of the quarrels that we have in our congregations are based on our needs and interests and how many of the needs and interests of what Christ would have us think more important? Are we ready to hear more of what Paul had felt the Corinthians were not yet ready to hear? Are we ready to get ready?

Psalm 28:1-9

Proverbs 20:24-25
All our steps are ordered by the Lord;
how then can we understand our own ways?
It is a snare for one to say  rashly, "It is holy,"
and begin to reflect only after making a vow.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, help us to get along with the people that we care about--and those that we don't. Amen.