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, November 30, 2014

Reflection on One-Year-Bible readings for November 30

Let my supplication come before you;
deliver me according to your word.
(Psalm 119:170)

Daniel 7:1-28
Daniel is living in troubled times. He is expecting apocalyptic change to come into his world. Cyrus of Persia had conquered the Babylonians and allowed the Judeans to return home from exile and to rebuild their temple in Jerusalem. Limited automony under Persian rule continued until Alexander led the Greek defeat of Persia. After his death, his empire split into rival empires--and Judea lay between them.

At the time the book of Daniel was written, the beginning of the 2nd century BCE, the Secleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes had turned his attention to control of the Jerusalem temple and the gold that was there Daniel was thinking about his whole nation and everybody in it being swept up. As he said, "my spirit was troubled within me, and the visions of my head terrified me." Yet, the response to this terror is also one of great consolation, a promise to the holy ones of life in the kingdom of God forever.
In his vision, Daniel sees the Ancient of Days, a overwhelmingly powerful one who is served by thousands and myriads. Daniel then sees what he describes as One like a human being. This one is presented to the Ancient One who gives him dominion, glory, and kingship. Every nation of every language is to serve him. His dominion is eternal. [Source: Lawrence M. Wills, commentary in the Jewish Study Bible]

Christians have appropriated this vision for the coming of Christ because we see his role as one to break the dominion of those who would do harm. We agree with the Jews that God is sovereign over history and that God intends blessings for us not repression and violence....

1 John 1:1-10
There cannot be a solitary Christian. Christianity is fellowship. And has been from the beginning.

In this epistle, the writer is saying to a community: We could see the visible Jesus. We could touch him. In him we were able to visualize life with the Father. And in our fellowship, we continue to see and to touch and to know. A long time has passed since those disciples saw and touched Jesus. What part of their experience are we able to make use of in the 21st century?

I find helpful "In the Light of Victory," an article by Alister E. McGrath that is included along with many other excellent essays in Bread and Wine.
Easter Day has shown us the care and power of God. We wake up today and sin still thrives in the world. McGrath reminds us that many distinguished writers trying to explain this for us used the situation during WWII. Occupying power. Life lived under the shadow of a foreign presence. Then comes the news of a far-off battle that has turned the tide of the war.
In one sense, the situation has not changed, but in another, more important sense, the situation has changed totally.
I remember once meeting a man who had been held prisoner in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp in Singapore. He told me of the astonishing change in the camp atmosphere which came about when one of the prisoners (who owned a shortwave radio) learned of the collapse of the Japanese war effort in the middle of 1945. Although all in the camp still remained prisoners, they knew that their enemy had been beaten. It would only be a matter of time before they were released. And those prisoners, I was told, began to laugh and cry, as if they were free already.
In one sense, victory has not come; in another, it has. The resurrection declares in advance of the event God's total victory over all evil and oppressive forces--such as death, evil and sin. Their backbone has been broken, and we may begin to live now in the light of that victory, knowing that the long night of their oppression will end.
Psalm 119:153-176

Proverbs 28:23-24

Prayer for Today: O Lord, open us to your presence with us. Support us in our journey toward you. Amen.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Reflection on the One-Year-Bible readings for November 29

Turn to me and be gracious to me,
as is your custom toward those who love your name.
(Psalm 119:132)

Daniel 6:1-28
Daniel's outstanding achievements were so outstanding that his competitors became jealous. They plotted a way to have Daniel thrown into a pit of lions. The Lord protected him. King Darius was so impressed that he had Daniel's accusers along with their whole families thrown to the lions.

Darius published a proclamation throughout his kingdom that the God of Daniel was the living, eternal, all-powerful God.

2 Peter 3:1-18
Directions on how Christians were to live in their time and place, with consideration to the social standards of that time and place. Some rules still are applicable to our times, but others may not seem to be.

Psalm 119:129-152

Proverbs 28:21-22
To show partiality is not good--
yet for a piece of bread a person may do wrong.
The miser is in a hurry to get rich 
and does not know that loss is sure to come.

Prayer for Today: Reread today's passage from 2 Peter then pray for the patience to wait for the Lord's patience.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Reflection on the One-Year-Bible readings for November 28

Truly I love your commandments
more than gold, more than fine gold.
Truly I direct my steps by all your precepts;
I hate every false say.
(Psalm 119:127-128)

Daniel 5:1-31
King Belshazzar gave great festival for a thousand of his lords. They drank wine from vessels of gold and silver that had been looted from the temple in Jerusalem. As they drank, writing on the wall appeared. Nobody, even the enchanters, diviners, all the wise men, could interpret the message. When the king got very worried, the queen reminded him of the man who had interpreted his father's dream.

Daniel came when summoned, rejected lavish gifts, gave them a summary of the harshness of that former king that had led to his being deposed. Daniel said to King Belshazzar, "Your father lost his throne and his mind. Then, when he acknowledged the Most High God had sovereignty and chose who would be in charge. It's now time for you to humble yourself."

The writing on the wall said MENE, MENE, TEKEL, and PARES. Daniel interpreted these words: God has numbered the days of your kingdom; You have been found wanting; Your kingdom will be lost to the Medes and Persians.

Daniel received a gift from the king, who was that same night killed.

2 Peter 2:1-22
Not everyone who claims to be speaking the word of God is. He describes them as waterless springs driven by a storm. He warns that these false prophets speak bombastic nonsense, and behave licentiously.

Psalm 119:113-128
A caution not to be one of those false prophets that Peter's letter warned about.

Proverbs 28:19-20
Anyone who tills the land will have plenty of bread,
but one who follows worthless pursuits 
will have plenty of poverty.
The faithful will abound with blessings,
but one who is in a hurry to be rich will not go unpunished.

Prayer for Today: Pray today's verses from Psalm 119.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Reflection on the One-Year-Bible readings for November 27

How sweet are your words to my taste, 
sweeter than honey to my mouth!
(Psalm 119:103)

Daniel 4:1-37
Another dream. Another interpretation: The king would be punished, but after atonement, would be reinstated.  When things turned out the way Daniel had foretold, the king praised God.

2 Peter 1:1-21
Necessary characteristics of Christians: goodness, knowledge, self-control, endurance, godliness, mutual affection, love.

Psalm 119:97-112
This portion of Psalm 119 helps us to put into words how we can perceive God's instructions as a blessing to us--rather than an onerous burden. An understanding of this world that God has created, we help us know we may best live in it. In the words of the psalm, God's law makes us wise.

And this wisdom that we have learned affects the way we live, the choices we make.

And we will be glad that we are following God's intentions for us:
How sweet are your words to my taste,
sweeter than honey to my mouth!
Through your precepts I get understanding;
therefore, I hate every false way.
Proverbs 28:17-18
If someone is burdened with the blood of another, 
let that killer be a fugitive until death;
let no one offer assistance.
One who walks in integrity will be safe, 
but whoever follows crooked ways will fall into the Pit.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, keep us mindful of your call for us act out in our lives the faith we have been taught, to show your love in my world. Amen.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Reflection on the One-Year-Bible readings for November 26

My eyes fail with watching for your promise; 
I ask, "When will you comfort me?"
(Psalm 119:82)

Daniel 2:24-3:30
None of the king's wise men could interpret his dream, but Daniel could. He relayed to the king the interpretation of his dream that God had revealed to him. Daniel told him,, "You will be powerful, the head of gold, but then a series of inferior kingdoms will overcome. Your kingdom will be divided then destroyed." The king was delighted. Why was he?

Daniel and his three friends were given promotions. But, when they refused to worship the golden statue that the king had erected, he had them thrown into a furnace. His anger turned to amazement when they came through the ordeal unscathed. He decreed that anyone who blasphemed their God would be destroyed.

The powerful can do a lot of harm, but God can foil their efforts. [On the other hand, God's people may be subjected to suffering. See today's reading from 1 Peter 4:12-19].

1 Peter 4:7-5:14
Not everyone will appreciate your being a Christian. Sometimes, the things you do because you are a Christian will irritate people a lot. For example, in a country that is not friendly with the U.S., Christian evangelism may be seen as an attempt undermining that country. But, besides trying to get religious people to change their religion to ours, what do Christians do that would be upsetting?

What are Christians supposed to do to be Christians? Love one another. Feed the poor. Care for the helpless. Visit prisoners. Treat others the way you want to be treated. Forgive. Pray. You can think of others.

Some groups don't like the idea of feeding the poor or making sure old people will be able to afford health care twenty years from now.

These long-ago Christians were told to humble themselves. I'm wondering how many of us Christians of today think we are still supposed to be humble. Is humble something to be desired? accepted? Wouldn't we rather have that exaltation now rather than some time in the future?

Psalm 119:81--96

Proverbs 28:15-16
Like a roaring lion or a charging bear 
is a wicked ruler over a poor people.
A ruler who lacks understanding
is a cruel oppressor;
but one who hates unjust gain
will enjoy a long life.

Prayer for Today: Kindle within us love for each other. Open us to ways to help each other. Remind of your grace and help us to get past the shortcomings of others. Lead us through our times of pain into renewed joy. Amen.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Reflection on the One-Year-Bible readings for November 25

Your hands have made and fashioned me;
give me understanding that I may learn your commandments.
(Psalm 119:73)

Daniel 1:1-2:23
The Lord has allowed Babylon to take over Judah. In addition to temple treasures, four young men of noble families are take to the King Nebuchadnezzar's court in Babylon. They are to be taught the ways and language of this new home in order that they can serve in the palace. One of them, Daniel, balks at the routine. His religious scruples will not allow him to eat the palace food or drink the wine.

Less dramatically than his situation of losing a war and being kidnapped, we may find ourselves in a job situation that has some requirements that don't match well with our religious training. Recurring question arises: Who's the boss of me?

In Daniel's case, they let him and the three other captives with him to stick to a vegetarian diet with water to drink. The results were good. They were stronger and smarter than the others in the court.

The king has a dream that none of the court magicians, enchanters, or sorcerers can interpret. He gives them this test, "Tell me what was in my dream so I can know that you really can interpret it." Enraged when they couldn't do it, he threatened to have the all executed.

God revealed the dream to Daniel, for which he gave thanks.

1 Peter 3:8-4:6
This letter is advising new Christians how to react when non-Christians criticize them. The essence of the advice is for them not to worry about it but be ready to answer any questions. And if they do respond to the attacks, they are to do so with gentleness and reverence.

Do we find this advice helpful to our modern congregations? What are the criticisms that onlookers make against the church (or churches) today? Paul said for Christians not to fear what their critics fear. What do our critics fear? What are we afraid of? How do we respond to criticisms? What if our congregation is not criticized? Does that mean outsiders think we are doing everything right? Or, does it mean that we are doing anything that anybody even notices?

When writing to these Christians who were suffering harassment, he reminds them that Christ also had suffered but had continued to evangelize.

He then uses an example whose meaning is still being debated--comparing the rescue from the flood with rescue from sin by baptism. God waited patiently while Noah built the ark that would save eight persons. Baptism is an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Rather than trying to be the person that will finally settle the arguments over this flood/baptism tie, I'm instead going to return to what seems to be the main purpose--to speak to Christians who are suffering unjustly. Here's what Beverly Gaventa says in Texts for Preaching:
In the face of any suffering, whether caused by human inhumanity, by disease, or by nature, the available answers always fall short. What Christians can assert with 1 Peter, as with Christians of every time and place, is that God stands with those who suffer and that God ultimately triumphs over that suffering.
"Christ suffered for sins once for all--my sins, their sins. The righteous suffer for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God" (verse 18).

How does your congregation live differently from the folks around you that are not part of any faith community? What suffering by the righteous have you witnessed? What suffering was done for the unrighteous? Why am I equating church membership with righteousness, anyway?

"Christ was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit" (verse 18). The physical death of Jesus was not the end of him or his work. Rather, his resurrection demonstrated God's purpose and power to save.(thanks to Allen & Williamson, once again.)

"Christ suffered for the righteous and the unrighteous. He made a proclamation to those who in former times did not obey." (verse 19). God's purpose in Christ is not restricted to Christians alone. God wants to save sinners who didn't pay attention earlier.

What do we do with this idea? Are we to believe--and behave as if we believed--that just as God of Israel wanted to save non-Jewish Gentiles, that this God wants to save non-Christians? Again, why am I equating righteousness with belonging to the same faith that I do?

"Our baptism is a reminder of the ark," (verse 20-21). Many years at Lent, I read Bread and Wine, Plough Press. Here is what Will Willimon has to say about baptism:
His message is not the simple one of the Baptist, "Be clean." Jesus' word is more painful--"Be killed." The washing of this prophetic baptism is not cheap....That day at the Jordan, knee deep in cold water, with old John drenching him, the Anointed One began his journey down the via crusis. His baptism intimated where he would finally end. His whole life was caught up in this single sign. Our baptism does the same.
The chief biblical analogy for baptism is not the water that washes but the flood that drowns. Discipleship is more than turning over a new leaf. It is more fitful and disorderly than gradual moral formation. Nothing less than death, often painful, lifelong death will do.

Psalm 119:65-80

Proverbs 28:14
Happy is the one who is never without fear, 
but one who is hard-hearted will fall into calamity.

Prayer for Today: Use the reading from Psalms to guide you in a prayer.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Reflection on the One-Year-Bible readings for November 24

This is my comfort in my distress, 
that your promise gives me life.
(Psalm 119:50)

Ezekiel 47:1-48:35
When they return from exile, the land is to be divided equally.

1 Peter 2:11-3:7
This letter gives instruction to people who were being treated unjustly, specifically including household slaves, a reminder that  people even at the lowest ranks of society were included in the Christian community from the beginning, a note to us that they still are.

The message is to those who suffer,  a group we still have among us.
What about Christianity causes someone to suffer unjustly?
How does doing something right cause someone to suffer?
Does any suffering that we do because we are Christians really evoke the image of Christ's suffering?

For those of us who find the membership in a Christian church full of rewards rather than threats of harm, is there something that we are neglecting? Are we not doing something that God would approve of?

I hope I can remember this passage, 2:22-25, the next time someone cuts me off in traffic or gets ahead of me in line. When Christ was abused--and, in his case unlike mine, really abused, he responded not with threats or revenge but entrusting himself to God.

In what way can we live for righteousness? How would our lives change if we began to understand that revenge was sinful and that we don't have to practice that particular sin anymore?

Peter says "For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd...." Isn't it about time for us to join that flock?

Psalm 119:49-64

Proverbs 28:12-13
When the righteous triumph
there is great glory,
but when the wicked prevail, 
people go into hiding.
No one who conceals transgressions will prosper,
but one who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, unify us, kindle within us sympathy and love for each other. Guide us into forgiveness and away from retribution. Amen.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Reflection on One-Year-Bible readings for November 23

Give me understanding, that I may keep your law
and observe it with my whole heart.
(Psalm 119:34)

Ezekiel 45:13-46:24
Rules for the reclaimed homeland: No more violence and oppression. Maintain honest business dealings. Make religious offerings. Take time for celebrations.

1 Peter 1:13-2:10
This letter is written to people who live far away from the true home, "Live in reverent fear during the time of your exile. You're one of us now. You've been rescued from the futile ways that your ancestors lived. Christ has ransomed you."

How do we read the letter today? What does it say to our lives?

First, I'm struck by the term "exile." I hear people refer to America as a Christian country. Yet, I read polls that indicate that when asked what their religion is, the largest number report "none." Furthermore, as I read the morning paper or listen to conversations, I don't always hear Christian principles discussed. Have I, like these ancient people, inherited futile ways? Worse, am I passing on futile ways to the generations that follow me?

What do I have faith in? What are my hopes set on?

Peter is writing to the new converts: The resurrection of Jesus Christ gives us hope. Rejoice because you are also included.

He outlines the appropriate response to the news of salvation:
Consider what's important.
Consider what lasts.
How much of Peter's instruction is palatable to us today? Do any congregations exhibit the kind of love that he is talking about?

Peter says to them--and through them, to us, "Like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house."

These words remind me today that the early Christians had little interest in building those big buildings on the corner that we now think of as defining church. We say "A church is not a building" a lot, but I'm not sure that we really get it. This passage helps me.

First, I'm struck by the metaphor of "stones" for individuals. A stone is strong and durable, but it takes a lot of stones to make anything useful. One stone looks different from another. To make something, we need to find stones that fit together, that fill in the gaps of the ones next to it. And, if a stone cracks or falls out, another stone can be inserted. Moreover, when the needs for that building exceed its current capacity, the builder can add on to it. And that add-on may look entirely different from the original structure.

After all, our spiritual houses are all founded on the same cornerstone.

Even though I am a Methodist, thus an Arminian, I can readily see how others could find instruction from passages like this that say "as they were destined to do" and "you are a chosen race."

Rather than argue the differences, today I am more interested in that spiritual building that we who are Arminian and we who are Calvinist comprise. We share a precious cornerstone.

We choose to believe or believe because we are chosen, but we share that cornerstone.

And chosen and believing, we share a function: to proclaim the mighty acts of the one who called us out of darkness into the marvelous light.

Peter was telling his listeners that they are part of God's family. Extending his message to our time, we can recognize that Christianity is inclusive of people whose backgrounds, whose behavior, whose appearance may be very different from our current congregation. And the message is still that they, like us, have received mercy.

Psalm 119:33-48
If you see any of these signs, please pay attention.

Warning signs are intended to help us. So, are God's statutes.

Proverbs 28:11
The rich is wise in self-esteem,
but an intelligent poor person sees through the pose.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, we give you thanks for including us in your family. Open us now to reach out to others, even those who look or act differently from what we are used to. Amen.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Reflection on One-Year-Bible readings for November 22

Open my eyes so that I might behold
wondrous things out of your law.
(Psalm 119:18)

Ezekiel 44:1-45:12
Troubling message: Not all will be welcome.

1 Peter 1:1-12
This letter was to Christian congregations in what we now call Turkey, as the Common English Bible puts it," to God's chosen strangers in the world of the diapora."

He reminds them of what they already have--a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. He offers them reassurances that God will continue to protect them.

But, as we read these reminders and reassurances, we also realize the reason Peter offered them--They were undergoing suffering because of their faith.

Peter's explanation for the suffering is that it is necessary so that their faith may be found genuine. Suffering helps us get rid of the unnecessary and focus on the important. For example,
See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight--indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner's fire and like fullers' soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness (Malachi 3:1-3).
Many Christians during Lent do a kind of purification, choosing to eliminate certain foods or distractions from their lives so that they can focus more on what is really important. I'm wondering whether we have picked those habits back up when Lent is over or whether we have now become a new kind of Christian.

Peter says to them to rejoice. Their new faith that has come through the period of testing, will be genuine and will result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

Reading these words from Peter (or as my Bible commentaries lead me to believe, someone else for whom the early church put Peter's name on his letters), I'm wondering how applicable they are for me. I know that in some parts of the world that Christians are under attack. But where I live, they really aren't. What is it that I have to give up in the world that I live because I am a Christian? Am I suffering because of it?

How genuine is my faith? How much of my life, how many of my decisions are based on example of Jesus Christ?

Can I discern what is important? Can I tell the difference between the gold and what should be refined away?

Psalm 119:17-32

Proverbs 28:8-10
One who augments wealth by exorbitant interest
gathers it for another who is kind to the poor.
When one will not listen to the law,
even one's prayers are an abomination.
Those who mislead the upright into evil ways
will fall into pits of their own making,
but the blameless will have a goodly inheritance.

Prayer for today: O Lord, keep our faith strong as we pass through life's difficulties. Focus us on what is important to you. Amen.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Reflection on the One-Year-Bible readings for November 21

Blessed are you, O Lord; 
teach me your statutes.
(Psalm 119:12)

Ezekiel 42:1-43:27
A vision of the temple, restored and filled with the glory of the Lord. Is the temple being described to be a physical structure or is it metaphorical? Verses 10-12 in chapter 43 the description of the temple, now destroyed but to be rebuilt, is tied together of the with recognition of their sins and their need to observe and follow God's law and ordinances.

James 5:1-20
James warns the rich that their riches won't protect them and that they should have paid higher wages to their employees.

James reminds us that Christians know both the bad and good of life. "When you are suffering," he says, "then pray." We are not alone. We are not with help. And he tells us, "When you are cheerful, sing songs of praise." Again, we are not alone, and we need to remember with gratitude the help we've received that led to our cheerfulness.

Also, James reminds us that being a Christian is more than that me-and-Jesus thing. He says to confess our sins to each other. To each other?

And not just pray for my healing, my gratitude, my sins, but also I'm to pray for yours.

James uses the Scripture to bolster his teaching: Remember Elijah.

Psalm 119:1-16
A way that Christians have used to express disdain for Jews--and Protestants for Catholics--is to say that they are obsessed with the law. Walter Breuggemann reminds us that Torah piety is a living-out of the realization that they have been disobedient but were rescued by the Lord anyway. Thus, their commitment to doing what God wanted them to do was driven not by guilt, fear, or coercion, but by joy, comfort, and well-being (Theology of the Old Testament).

Psalm 119 demonstrates this praise of the law and the law-giver.

Brueggemann again, but this time in the commentary, Texts for Preaching, points out the three steps in this section of Psalm 119: Step 1, verses 1-3, We have seen destruction and disappointment. The Lord has shown us how we can attain happiness. Step 2, But, just have been told what to do is not enough. We need continued support--verse 4 shifts to a prayer to the Lord. The third step, verses 5-8, the psalmist expresses the resolve to keep Torah and to establish God's instruction as the pole around which life revolves...and the joy to be found in that commitment.... At the same time that the psalmist gives voice to this resolve, however, he or she confesses the power of human ignorance and weakness. In order to keep Torah, it must first be learned (v. 7b). And even when God's instruction has been learned, faithfulness to it is often interrupted by human weakness and sin, so that the petition in v. 5 becomes a necessary one for the poet to raise.

Proverbs 28:6-7
Better to be poor and walk in integrity 
than to be crooked in one's ways though rich.
Those who keep the law are wise children, 
but companions of gluttons shame their parents.

Prayer for Today: Pray Psalm 119:12-16.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Reflection on One-Year-Bible readings for November 20

Open to me the gates of righteousness,
that I may enter through them
and give thanks to the Lord.
(Psalm 118:19)

Ezekiel 40:28-41:26
The temple will be rebuilt.

James 4:1-17
"Why can't we just get along?" someone asked.

Well, why can't we?

James seems to be telling me that I'm not going to be able to get along with anybody as long as I'm worried about my own self too much.

Give thought to what God wants.

Is there any hope for me?

James says "Of course. Just give up what the devil wants and start wanting what God wants."

Can it be as simple as James makes it out to be: Resist the devil and he's beaten. Draw near to God and God's with you.

James writes of the importance of wisdom and also of the divergent outcomes of being wise and being unwise. He says that it's pretty obvious if somebody is wise. If you're envious or selfishly ambitious, you're not.

Moreover, your envy and selfishness harms everybody. (I'm wondering if envious and selfish people worry about this.)

How God wants us to be, according to James, is peaceful, merciful, impartial, and not hypocritical. Perhaps, if I would try to attain and act out those characteristics, then I wouldn't be envious or selfish. Or, if I weren't so envious and selfish, then I would find it easier to practice peace, mercy, and impartiality, rather than hypocrisy.

When you are aware of bad things happening in the congregation, what is your responsibility? Please note that I'm not talking about the many times that we don't agree with someone or the times when we don't get our way.

Psalm 118:19-29
I often used to begin the worship service by quoting the first part of 24, "This is the day the Lord has made," and the congregation would immediately respond, "let us rejoice and be glad in it."

The "us" is important. Everyone in that congregation had known some kind of pain or rejection. Yet, they could rejoice.

We wouldn't need victory if we didn't already know rejection, but our lives have both. We don't have to pretend that our lives haven't had and don't have grave difficulties. But, we can remember and be thankful what the Lord has done and continues to do for us. And,  even in that rejoicing over what had been overcome, we still need the strength and support that God gives us. This is the day. Every day is this day.

Proverbs 28:3-5
A ruler who oppresses the poor
is a beating rain that leaves no food.
Those who forsake the law praise the wicked,
but those who keep the law struggle against them.

Prayer for Today: O Lord our God, forgive us for those times that we have been envious or selfish or hypocritical. Guide us into ways of peace, into ways of accepting others, into ways of helping people in difficulty. Amen.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Reflection on One-Year-Bible readings for November 19

O give thanks to the Lord.
You are good; 
your steadfast love endures forever!
(adapted from Psalm 118:1)

Ezekiel 39:1-40:27
Restoration. They had deserved their losses, but the Lord will take them back.

James 2:18-3:18
One of my new favorite books is The Twible, in which Jana Riess presesents all the chapters in the Bible in 140 characters or less. For example, she sums of James 2:
EPIC FAIL RELIGION: when a cold, hungry guy hears a Christian say, "Stay warm and be fed, pal!" while passing him by.
James asked, What is the conflict among you? If he were writing to Americans right now, we could say that it is this recent political season  exposed quite a bit of conflict. Here's a suggestion of how we could be more Jamesian when we express a political opinion (by Ginger on her blog RambleRamble):

But, of course, we don't restrict our trash talk to discussing politicians. We may also judge the people we are around us. James say to stop it now.

Psalm 118:1-18
"The Lord is my strength and might; he has become my salvation." We acclaim the victory, yes, but we also recognize what impact that victory has on us--how we are to live now.

"I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the Lord." We wouldn't need victory if we didn't already know rejection, but our lives have both.We don't have to pretend that our lives haven't had and don't have grave difficulties. But, we can remember and be thankful what the Lord has done and continues to do for us.

Proverbs 28:2
When a land rebels,
it has many rulers;
but with an intelligent ruler
there is lasting order.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, we give you thanks for what you have done for us and continue to do. Help us now to live the lives that show your love. Amen.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Reflection on One-Year-Bible readings for November 18

Praise the Lord, all you nations!
We extol you all you peoples!
Great is your steadfast love toward us,
and your faithfulness endures forever.
Praise the Lord!
(adapted from Psalm 117:1-2)

Ezekiel 37:1-38:23
Ezekiel was speaking to people in exile. Was their home lost for them forever? Did the losses in their lives prevent them from worshiping God, from being connected to God? Could they still be a people? Does the despair that comes from the pain in our lives keep us from any hope?

The Lord comes to Ezekiel and asks, "Can these bones live?" Ezekiel says, "You know the answer."

The answer that the Lord gives him is in the form of an instruction, "Prophesy to these bones. Tell them what I am going to do."

Ezekiel does speak to the people. And as he does, those scattered bones come together, sinews and flesh and skin cover them. But, no breath.

Here we are, a bunch of individuals grouped together, yet not accomplishing anything. Economic times are tough. Where will the money come from to satisfy our needs? our wants?

A bunch of bones lying in a field. Even when connected, they're not getting the job done.

God says, "I'll put my breath into you and you shall live again."

This state of life works as a metaphor for our own times.  A couple of examples: We can use it to despair of our economic difficulties or of the decline in organized religion--or in our particular denomination. We may still look the way we did in the past when things were better, but things aren't the same. We aren't as productive, we fear the future.

Here we are, church congregations, fearful of their present and for their continued future, who can celebrate receiving God's own breath into their midst.

When there was no breath in those mortals, the breath of the Lord God came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet.

O Lord, lift us from our fear.

James 1:19-2:7
God created us with God's purpose in mind. So, we are to act in a way that will fulfill God's purpose.

The first requirement is a hard one: Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger. Also, eliminate sordidness and wickedness.

What kind of person would be like this? Oh, right. The kind of person that will be able to welcome God's word that can save our souls.

James knows that we are familiar with scripture, can even recite it or discuss it, and he knows that we may have not allowed that scripture to change us very much. He says "But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves."

He cautions us to look at what the Bible throughout has required.

His test for whether someone is religious includes care for orphans and widows in distress and keeping oneself unstained from the world. Some of us think that one of those is more important than the other. James is holding out for both--as well as refraining from anger.

Being religious might be hard for some of us.

James wrote to the Christians of his day "What good is it to say you have faith if your neighbors need food or clothes?"

Psalm 117:1-2

Proverbs 28:1
The wicked flee with no one pursues, 
but the righteous are as bold as a lion.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, calm our fears. Increase our trust in you so that we have the courage to follow your commands to be more generous. Amen.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Reflection on the One-Year-Bible readings for November 17

I love the Lord.
You have heard my voice and my supplications.
You have inclined your ear to me,
therefore I will call on you as long as I live.
(adapted from Psalm 116:1-2)

Ezekiel 35:1-36:38
After the prophecies of judgment against the aggressors comes the blessing of Israel. And a reminder. The last time that the Lord had provided the people with their own country, they responded badly. They had deserved the punishment they had received, but the Lord forgives them.

This time will be different. The Lord offers this assurance, "A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh." The gift is free but comes with obligations,  "I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances."

James 1:1-18
The letter to James is written to a congregation that has already heard the basics of the Jesus story. They've heard about Christianity, but they need instruction on how to live out the faith.

Being a Christian may mean taking a more difficult path, but the result could make you stronger, whereas dithering can make you weaker. Riches don't last. Your gifts come from God. Remember that God had something in mind for how you use those gifts.

Psalm 116:1-19
I can't remember my first prayer. I don't even remember who first told me about prayer or suggested words that might be used. I'm guessing that grace before meals and those bedtime prayers were the first. But, I don't remember who taught me about prayer in time of great difficulty. Somebody must have, because I have been praying that kind of prayer throughout the tough times in my life.

One source of instruction for all of us is, of course, the Psalter.

The psalm for today is a thanksgiving psalm.

And, as a thanksgiving psalm, it also gives the need for the prayer that the Lord has answered.

The psalmist remembers the time of distress and anguish and calling on the Lord for help. And, having received that help, the psalmist then gives thanks.

Notice that the psalmist is not being totally private, but is promising to be a witness to the care and support that the Lord gives.
I will pay my vows to the Lord
in the presence of all his people,
in the courts of the house of the Lord,
in your midst, O Jerusalem.
Praise the Lord!
Proverbs 27:23-27
Know well the condition of your flocks,
and give attention to your herds;
for riches do not last forever,
nor a crown for all generations.
When the grass is gone, and new growth appears,
and the herbage of the mountains is gathered,
the lambs will provide your clothing,
and the goats the price of a field;
there will be enough goats' milk for your food,
for the food of your household
and nourishment for your servant girls.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, we have heard the story, we have received the gifts, and we have informed of the commands; yet, we often behave as if we did not know what you wanted us to do. We ask forgiveness and your continued presence. Amen.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Reflection on the One-Year-Bible readings for November 16

Not to us, O Lord, not to us, 
but to your name give glory, 
for the sake of your steadfast love 
and your faithfulness.
(Psalm 115:1)

Ezekiel 33:1-34:31
Ezekiel is called by God to speak to Jerusalem as it faced its fall to Babylon, to speak to a people who had lived in a kingdom in a land promised to them by God, and who had lost it.

How are any of us, living at any point in history, supposed to learn survival lessons? Ezekiel reminds us that God uses prophets, sentinels, to warn us of dangers, "Tell those people that I don't want their destruction. Tell them to turn back, to repent."

Bad things do happen to good people. But, let us remember that sometimes, bad things happen to good people who did bad things. And, let us remember, that if we are going to remain bound together in order to serve God more effectively, then we have to be responsible to one another.

God sent Ezekiel as a sentinel to warn people of danger. God sends each of us to speak--and to listen.

Look back in earlier chapters of Ezekiel to see the kinds of sins he was talking about. For example, "You wore expensive clothes and ate expensive meals but did not aid the poor and needed," (16:1-49). What is lawful and right, according to Ezekiel, includes caring for the poor and hungry (18:5-13).

A shepherd is committed to the care and safety of the flock. Ezekiel writes to a people in exile, a people who have lost their homes, who are wandering, who need protection, who need to be rescued.

Look back at the earlier verses in this chapter. Israel's human shepherds had been feeding themselves rather than the sheep. They had not looked after the needs of the weak or injured. They had not searched for the strays.

They deserved to be scattered. But, scattering the shepherds means scattering the sheep. God declares, "I will rescue the sheep."

"I will seek the lost," God promises. "I will strengthen the weak."

Consider who will benefit from the attention of the Lord God, the true shepherd.

Ezekiel reminds us that the shepherd has another duty, protecting the weak from predators. "The fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice."

The world may think that the well-fed and strong are those that have received God's blessings. Ezekiel  might ask whether they have usurped the blessings that were intended for all of God's flock.

When we read in Ezekiel about the coming judgment, do we read Final Judgment? That is, do we think these pronouncements are only about going to heaven or hell?

Consider that the judgment of the powerful and the consequent setting-aright is God's word to us of what our life on this earth would be like if we would just do what God has always wanted us to do.

Ezekiel says, "Your leaders have cared about themselves not their people. I am going to give you a new leader, a leader who will protect you, a leader that will carry out my will."

Even though they were not able to live out the promises and gifts, God continued to care for these people. God sent other shepherds, another Shepherd, and continues to be our Shepherd. And shepherds need assistant shepherds;  all of us are accountable for all the sheep.

Hebrews 13:1-25
"Let mutual love continue," this week's passage from Hebrews begins. I'm assuming that the word "continue" connotes that this congregation already has achieved mutual care. The next instruction is "Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers..." They can love each other, and they are also required to love some new people, people they aren't used to, people that may not automatically know what they're supposed to do in each circumstance.

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

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

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

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

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

Thomas Long in his commentary on Hebrews, says about verses 15-16:
We do not make, of course, the same sacrifice that Jesus offer; his was "once for all" (10:10). Our sacrifices are praising God, confessing God, name in public, doing works of mercy, and sharing what we have with others--in other words, right out there in public view we are to worship, evangelize, empathetically serve the needy and exercise generosity to others. Such "sacrifices are pleasing to God", which is one of the marks of faith.
Psalm 115:1-18

Proverbs 27:21-22
The crucible is for silver,
and the furnace is for gold,
so a person is tested by being praised.
Crush a fool in a mortar with a pestle
along with crushed grain,
but the folly will not be driven out.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, direct our attention to those in need, the weak, the injured, the strayed. Give us the will to extend our care to them. Amen.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Reflection on the One-Year-Bible readings for November 15

Praise the Lord!
Praise, O servants of the Lord;
praise the name of the Lord.
(Psalm 113:1)

Ezekiel 31:1-32:32

Hebrews 12:14-29
The preacher is describing what the community ruled by God is like. He uses the metaphor of two mountains. He describes the first as a place where some things can be seen and heard and touched. The other mountain, Mount Zion, is not like this.

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

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

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

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

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

Remember. Pay attention. Listen.

Refusal to listen has consequences.

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

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

Psalm 113:1-114:8
Psalm 113 begins with a call to praise, a call for all the servants of the Lord -- that means all of us, surely?-- to praise the name of the Lord.

All to praise and for all time.

For all time and all day long.

The psalm recognizes that the Lord is supreme, high above all nations, with glory above the heavens. When we pray this psalm, we are saying, "Our Lord, you are so high you have to stoop down to look at the heavens."

The time we are to spend praising the Lord can't be measured any more than the Lord's glory can be measured.

Our Lord is unique, says this psalm. Then, what might seem like a surprising reason is given--This Lord is willing to come down from a high throne to lift up the weak and the poor.

I'm thinking about the content of my usual prayers and wondering how much gratitude I express that God cares so much for the poor and the lowly.

Proverbs 27:18-20
Anyone who tends a fig tree will eat its fruit,
and anyone who takes care of a master will be honored.
Just as water reflects the face,
so one human heart reflects another.
Sheol and Abaddon are never satisfied,
and human eyes are never satisfied.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, open our ears to hear your message; help us to pay attention to your will; and remind us of your word when we get distracted by everything else that is going on around us. Amen.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Reflection on the One Year Bible readings for November 14

Praise the Lord!
Happy are those who fear the Lord,
who greatly delight in the commandments.
(adapted from Psalm 112:1)

Ezekiel 29:1-30:26
Egypt, that once-proud, powerful nation, will be destroyed, its people scattered.

Hebrews 11:32-12:13
What has been possible by faith--
making it out of Egypt and into the promised land
settling the land and protected it from enemies

Many suffered, many did not reach the goal

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

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

Thomas Long in his commentary Hebrews in the Interpretation series characterizes the author's message:
The Preacher knows that it is late in the day, and that we have already run several sprints and dashes. We are winded and tired, but this is the race that counts, so we are to strip off anything that would slow us down--all the weighty encumbrances and shackling sins and run our portion of the race with endurance. The trail has already been blazed; the path of the race has already been forged by Jesus. He is the lead runner, and he shows us where to go, since he is the "pioneer," the one who sets the course. He also shows us how to run, since he is the one who runs the race with flawless form, the "perfecter of our faith." Indeed, it is Christ who makes it possible for us to run at all.
Psalm 112:1-10
This psalm answers the question, "What is life like for people who are doing what God wants them to do?"

First, they are happy.

Then follows a list of attributes of happiness, beginning with they are rich--a little troubling because we know so many non-rich people that do try to follow God's will.

Because they trust the Lord, they don't get scared easily.

Also, they are good examples. They are gracious, merciful, and righteous. They give to the poor.

For an exercise, try reading the front page of your local paper. Watch your favorite news channel for about 5 minutes or so. Do you see happy there? Or, do you see scared? Can we in our lives connect God's will with actually changing our habits and attitudes? Do we believe that if we were more generous that we would be less afraid?

What do you think about the assessment in verse 10, that it is the wicked who are angry about distributions to the poor?

Proverbs 27:17
Iron sharpens iron,
and one person sharpens the wits of another.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, strengthen our faith. Amen.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Reflection on the readings for November 13

Praise the Lord!
I thank the Lord with all my heart.
(Psalm 111:1, Common English Bible)

Ezekiel 27:1-28:26
The Lord's word comes to Ezekiel: Sing a lament for Tyre, that beautiful, strong, wealthy, country. Because of their injustice, their oppressive business practices, I will destroy them.

Hebrews 11:17-31
A reminder of the faith of God's people.

Psalm 111:1-10
In his Theology of the Old Testament, Walter Brueggeman proposes that "the beginning of an Old Testament theology is in the liturgical, public acknowledgment of a new reality wrought by Yahweh in the life of the speaker and in the community of the speaker".

He cites Psalm 111 as an example of a todah, the public expression of thankfulness.

This psalm begins with a call to the congregation to join in praise, "Hallelujah" and recognizes the deeds that the Lord has accomplished. In citing particular acts--providing food, giving them a home--the psalm also describes the nature of the Lord, the one who would want to and be able to do these things.
The Lord is gracious and compassionate
His handiwork is truth and justice.
Although most of our prayers are asking please, we do occasionally (often?) also say "thank you" to God. Psalm 111 can be a model for our expression of gratitude.

Gratitude, in this case, that's not a secret. The prayer is expressed in the company of the congregation.

Proverbs 27:15-16

Prayer for Today: Pray Psalm 111.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Reflection on the readings for November 12

But I will give great thanks to the Lord with my mouth;
among a great crowd I will praise God!
Because God stands right next to the needy,
to save then from any who would condemn them.
(Psalm 109:30-31, Common English Bible)

Ezekiel 24:1-26:21

Hebrews 11:1-16
We read about our predecessors to learn about ourselves. Their experiences serve as examples and as reminders for us. Hebrews gives us the opportunity to think about faith.

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

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

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

The journey of faith was dislocating.

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

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

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

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

Psalm 110:1-17
God will bring justice.

Proverbs 27:14
Greeting a neighbor with a loud voice early in the morning
will be viewed as a curse. (CEB)

Prayer for Today: O Lord our God, deepen our trust in you. Strengthen our faith. Give us the courage to follow the path you have laid out for us. Remind us you will be with us as we travel that journey. Amen.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Reflection on the readings for November 11

But you, O Lord, my Lord!--
act on my behalf
for the sake of your name;
deliver me because your faithful love is so good
(Psalm 109:21, Common English Bible)

Ezekiel 23:1-49
As in chapter 16, Ezekiel uses feminine metaphors to depict their sins and their deserved punishment.

Hebrews 10:18-39
Now that we have been forgiven, what happens next? The author answers, "Live like it."
Approach God.
Hold on to hope.
Encourage others to do good deeds.
Meet together.
As I read this passage, I am glad once again that the United Methodist Church decided to add "witness" to its vows of membership. Here's a quote from Tayor Burton-Edwards explaining the change:
Paragraph 217.6 had become the United Methodist membership mantra: “prayers, presence, gifts and service.” In some of our congregations, these words became the only “membership vows” many of our people knew, despite the fact that our Discipline names all the vows of the baptismal covenant as requirements for professing membership (see the entirety of paragraph 217). Our Board noted that the vows of “prayers, presence, gifts and service” were primarily “inwardly” focused and institutional in character. They offered little insight or inspiration for disciples of Jesus Christ to engage in God’s mission of transforming the world. Though in an earlier vow those seeking professing membership promise to be “Christ’s representatives in the world” (UMH 34, paragraph 6), there was no reflection of that baptismal promise in the vows of membership in a local congregation. Adding “and witness” to the list (“prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness”) may help our members, new and old, to recognize their responsibilities not only to “show up,” but to “show forth” God’s saving love in all that we do.
You may have noticed that I have omitted discussion of verses 26-39. I don't have words for them today--nor anything particularly useful to say about the reading from Psalms.

Psalm 109:1-31
A plea to the Lord to punish those who have done harm.

Proverbs 27:13
Take the garment of the person who secures a loan for a stranger;
take his pledge for a foreigner (Common English Bible).

Prayer for Today: O Lord, stir up within us a willingness to reach out to others in faith and love. Show us how to encourage others. Amen.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Reflection on the readings for November 10

I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples,
and I will sing praises to you, among the nations.
For your steadfast love is higher than the heavens,
and your faithfulness to the clouds.
(Psalm 108:3-4)

Ezekiel 21:1-22:31
Ezekiel speaks the word of the Lord: You deserve the punishment that you are getting. You have treated the elderly with contempt; you have oppressed immigrants; you have not protected children or widows. You have been violent. You have taken bribes. You have neglected worship. Now, you will be held accountable.

Hebrews 10:1-17
Worship doesn't make us perfect. That's why we need to keep doing it.

The words spoken by Christ in the verses from Hebrews refer to Psalm 40:6-8. What God desires is not empty worship, but true worship filled with following the will of God. And it is by God's will that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all (10).

And through this sanctification, we too can respond to God's desire to offering our total lives. Showing up at church once or twice a month and putting something in the offering plate that won't affect any fun we're planning to have is not the lesson that the epistle to the Hebrews is teaching.

Christ's death made his life understandable to us. A life of love and sacrifice. Let us too be able to say, as Christ said, "See, I have come to do your will (9)."

In 10:12-13, by quoting Psalm 110:1, the assurance of the victory of King David, the author of Hebrews is telling us something about David's descendent, our King the Christ.

When comparing the daily sacrifice of priests with the one-time sacrifice of Christ, he writes that after offering "for all time a single sacrifice for sins, 'he sat down at the right hand of God,' and since then has been waiting 'until his enemies would be made a footstool for his feet.'"

Further, in 10:16-17, he quotes from Jeremiah 31:31-34, as he did in 8:8-12. When Jeremiah spoke, he was talking to Israel and Judah.

The message in Hebrews is intended for a broader audience. What God had promised for them then is now true for all of us:

"I have forgiven you."

Psalm 108:1-13
Thanks for past help and pleas for more help.

Proverbs 27:12
The clever see danger and hide;
but the simple go on, and suffer for it.

Prayer for Today: When you are in a place where you can recognize your gratitude, pray the first four verses of Psalm 108. In times when you are in despair, pray the last three verses.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Reflection on the readings for November 9

O give thanks to the Lord.
You are good.
Your steadfast love endures forever.
(adapted from Psalm 107:1)

Ezekiel 20:1-49
The Lord instructs Ezekiel to remind the people of the pattern of their history: The Lord God gave them gifts and instructed them how to live; they took the gifts but didn't follow the rules; they suffered as a result; the Lord forgave them, rescued them again, and they responded badly again. And again. Yet, God is prepared to forgive, "I will deal with them for the sake of my name not according to what they deserve."

Hebrews 9:11-28
The writer of this epistle is again comparing the sacrifice made by Christ with that of the high priests. They made offerings over and over. He made one offering--himself.

And that one offering is enough to cover for sins of all people.

We Christians can read this as reassuring.

We should be grateful but not triumphalistic.

Further, we should be careful not to misinterpret the phrase, "dead works."

According to Allen & Williamson's Preaching the Letters without Dismissing the Law
The "dead works" should not be confused with the mitzvoth of torah. "Dead works" are not "deeds of loving kindness"; they are sins that pollute the conscience.
Christ will return, we are told, but not to deal with sin. That's been dealt with. He will appear to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.

Is that good news, or not?

What does "eagerly waiting" mean"?

If you do read ahead, you'll find some rather scary judgment talk (see 10:26-27).

Psalm 107:1-43
Sometimes we are praying because ritual requires it--a kids' baseball game is about to start, a meeting is ready to begin, we're all sitting around the table to eat. And those prayers though routine can be heartfelt.

But, sometimes we pray because we really, really need God's help, and we really, really know it.

Psalm 107 is a reminder of how God has cared for a wayward people before--and often. The beginning of this psalm  is a prayer that we can continue to use as a model for our own gratitude to gifts and lessons from God.
Give thanks to the Lord.
God is good.
God's steadfast love endures forever.
When our ancestors were wandering, literally wandering, lost and hungry, God showed them the way to go. When they were in trouble, God rescued them. In our own wildernesses--actual and metaphoric, we can continue to ask God for comfort and direction, when  we need to be shown the straight path throughout the journey we are on.
Let those who are wise give heed to these things,
and consider the steadfast love of the Lord.
Psalm 107 gives thanks for deliverance from many troubles: refugees (4-9); prisoners (10-16); people suffering from illness (17-22); sailors and travelers on ships (23-32). As I read verses 33-37, I am struck that although they can be read quite literally, they don't have to be. That is, God is the creator of our earth, the source of the rain necessary for life to continue. But, God is the source of what Jesus called living water. God works through us turning our parched lives into fruitful ones.

Sometimes, it is appropriate to look for fault and assess blame, but, it is always appropriate to seek the help of the Lord--directly and also through the work of scientists, economists, and politicians.

And, it is appropriate to give thanks.

Proverbs 27:11
Be wise, my child, and make my heart glad,
so that I may answer whoever reproaches me.

Prayer for Today: O Lord our God, as we travel difficult paths through our lives, show us the way. Forgive us for those times we have turned in the wrong direction. Show us the way. Amen.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Reflection on the readings for November 8

Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,
from everlasting to everlasting.
And let all the people say, "Amen."
Praise the Lord.
(Psalm 106:48)

Ezekiel 18:1-19:4
A father's righteousness will not prevent his son from being punished for his sins; nor will a righteous son be punished for his father's sins. Note what were considered punishable sins: adultery, robbery, and oppression of the poor and needy.

However, even the sinful can be forgiven and the righteous punished for turning to sin.

Hebrews 9:1-10

Psalm 106:32-48
God forgave them over and over.

Proverbs 27:10
Do not forsake a friend or the friend of your parent;
do not go into the house of your kindred in the day of your calamity.
Better is a neighbor who is near than a kindred who is far away.

Prayer for Today:  Pray Psalm 106:47-48.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Reflection on the readings for November 7

Who can utter the mighty doings of the Lord?
Who can declare all your praise?
(adapted from Psalm 106:2)

Ezekiel 16:42-17:24
Jerusalem has been an adulterous wife, as had her sister Samaria and Sodom. [Tangent: Note the sins that Sodom committed: not the ones we usually think of; Ezekiel refers to their failure to share with the poor and needy.] They will be subjected to a penalty, but the Lord will forgive all that they have done.

 Jacqueline E. Lapsley, in the Women's Bible Commentary, discusses the feminization of Judah/Israel, a metaphor that would be shaming to the readers (presumed to be male), but would have resonated with their situation as "emasculated warriors."
[T]his offensive language was meant to be offensive...for a reason: to shock them into realizing the gravity of their own situation; to convince them that they had hit rock bottom, and that only YHWH could save them.
We continue in our own time although in less dire situations to see this metaphor used to shock and stir; e.g., athletic coaches addressing their teams as "ladies" or "girls."

Chapter 17 has a more favorable metaphor for Israel, a vine. The Lord will plant a vine that will produce boughs that will bear fruit and shelter nests. The Lord can knock down high trees and make low trees high, can dry up green trees and make dry trees flourish.

Hebrews 8:1-13
Note the quotes from the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel.

Psalm 106:13-31
Verses 19-23 recount a specific sin. During that forty-year exodus, they made a graven image to substitute for God, whom they had forgotten. God said he would destroy them, but Moses intervened.

How do we forget God? What do we substitute for God in our attention, our loyalty, our trust? What do we expect God to do when we turn to other sources of protection and guidance? Who intervenes for us?

Then, turn all those questions to be about people around you who have not been showing that much loyalty to God? Does it occur to us to intervene on their behalf by asking God's forgiveness for them?

Proverbs 27:7-9
The sated appetite spurns honey,
but to a ravenous appetite even the bitter is sweet.
Like a bird that strays from its nest
is one who strays from home.
Perfume and incense make the heart glad,
but the soul is torn by trouble.

Prayer for Today: O Lord our God, we acknowledge that we have not always carried out your will. Forgive us now. Turn our attention, our loyalty, our trust away from false substitutes. Encourage our growth. Amen.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Reflection on the readings for November 6

Praise the Lord!
We give thanks to you, Lord,
for you are good;
your steadfast love endures forever.
(adapted from Psalm 106:1)

Ezekiel 14:12-16:41
Destruction is inevitable and necessary.

Hebrews 7:18-28
Because God is compassionate and forgiving, the faithful have sought ways to have their sins forgiven. The letter to the Hebrews explains Christ's role as one like that of the high priest that the first hearers would have been familiar with.

But, our high priest is unique. He lives forever and saves forever. Unlike earlier high priests, he doesn't have to offer sacrifices daily; he offered himself once, and once was enough.

Psalm 106:1-12
The psalm begins with a call to praise and a list of reasons why praise is appropriate. The Lord is good. The Lord continues to love us. This thankfulness is followed by the reminder that we are supposed to be good and loving also--and that our doing so will make us happy. Yet, we have not always done what we should have done; we have sinned.

They exchanged the glory of God for the image of an ox that eats grass. What do we exchange the glory of God for?

Proverbs 27:4-6
Wrath is cruel, anger is overwhelming,
but who is able to stand before jealousy?
Better is open rebuke than hidden love.
Well meant are the wounds a friend inflicts,
but profuse are the kisses of an enemy.

Prayer for Today: O Lord our God, we come before you today to ask that you again show us compassion and forgiveness. Help us now to change our lives so that we won't have to keep coming back to you to ask to be forgiven. Amen.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Reflection on the readings for November 5

O give thanks to the Lord.
We call on your name....
We seek you and your strength;
we seek your presence continually.
(adapted from Psalm 105:1, 4)

Ezekiel 12:1-14:11
The Lord tells Ezekiel to preach to the people, "Tell them not to listen to false prophets." How do we apply this command to our present time?

Hebrews 7:1-17
"When the order of the priest changes, there has to be a change in the Law as well." How do we apply this assessment to our present time?

Psalm 105:37-45
These verses 3 remind those ancient people of particular acts for which they should be grateful. The Lord had delivered them from captivity in Egypt, led them through the wilderness, provided for them food and drink. We who have come later can fill in our own reasons for gratitude, the gifts provided to us, the direction shown to us. And we can, like them, remember to live the way that the Lord intended.

Proverbs 27:3
A stone is heavy, and sand is weighty,
but a fool's provocation is heavier than both.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, help us to heed Ezekiel's warning not to listen to false prophets. And, when we are able to discern the true from the false, prod us into sharing your word. Amen.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Reflection on the readings for November 4

You are the Lord our God;
your judgments are in all the earth.
You are mindful of your covenant forever;
of the word that you have commanded,
for a thousand generations.
(adapted from Psalm 105:7-8)

Ezekiel 10:1-11:25
Judgment is coming, but so will restoration.

Hebrews 6:1-20
Difficult verses--consequences of not accepting God's gifts and using them appropriately. Positive verses--Our hope is a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul that will bring us into the presence of the Lord.

Psalm 105:16-36
The psalm begins with the reminder to praise the Lord, both by singing to the Lord and by telling others, continuing to ask the Lord for what we need and continuing to remember what the Lord has already done for us.

The verses for today's reading recount the story of Joseph and then Moses in Egypt. Although Joseph had come as a captive, he rose to the role of the king's helper. He was able to protect Egypt from famine. The brothers, because they were jealous, had wanted to get rid of him. He became a slave in a foreign country. Yet, God was able to use Joseph to help that country and, eventually, to help those same brothers that had tried to get rid of him.  When things went bad for the Israelites, God performed many signs and called Moses to explain them to the pharaoh.

Proverbs 27:1-2
Do not boast about tomorrow,
for you do not know what a day may bring.
Let another person praise you, and not your own mouth--
a stranger, and not your own lips.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, guide us into the proper use of the gifts that you have provided us. Wake us up in our times of forgetfulness. Keep us mindful that you are with us always. Amen.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Reflection on the readings for November 3

Give thanks to the Lord.
We call upon your name.
We will make your deeds known to all people!
(adapted form Psalm 105:1, Common English Bible)

Ezekiel 7:1-9:11
Ezekiel relays what the Lord has told him, that their country is to be overtaken by their powerful enemy. Disaster is coming, and there's no place to hide from it. He then quotes this chilling assessment by the Lord, "When I do to them what they have done and judge them by their own justice, they will know that I am the Lord." In another vision, the Lord tells him that they are very, very guilty, that their land is full of blood, and the city full of injustice. No one will be spared. All will be held accountable for their ways.

Hebrews 5:1-14
The first recipients of this letter would have been familiar with the office of high priest--that person chosen to be an intermediary between the people and God. To represent them adequately, the high priest would have to understand their condition--and to help them modify that condition where necessary.

The office of high priest was one of honor; yet, the high priest, as a human being, was subject to human frailities.

Yet, boldness was required. The high priest was approaching God to ask for mercy and grace for the sinful and suffering.

Not just anybody could be a high priest. Rather, only God could decide who would be appropriate for the role.

The author of this letter is pointing out that Jesus is the high priest for Christians. He, a human, can sympathize with our human condition. And, and Son of God, having been made perfect, he is the source of eternal salvation. He then goes on to point out how childishly we humans often behave.

Psalm 105:1-15
Although Psalm 105 is a litany of praise for God's goodness of Israel, we all can appropriate its words to apply to our situations.

In our daily prayers as we thank God for what we already have and also ask for even more gifts, we may utilize the commands in this psalm as a checklist:
Give thanks to the Lord.
Tell people what God has done for you.
Seek the Lord.
Seek the Lord continually.
Remember what God has done for you.
Proverbs 26:28
A lying tongue hates those it crushes;
a flattering tongue causes destruction.

Prayer for Today: Use Psalm 105 as a guide to your prayer today. Also, remember to voice repentance for any of those sins that Ezekiel had recounted to the people of his place and time.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Reflection on the readings for November 2

I will sing to the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praises to my God while I'm still alive.
Let my praise be pleasing to the Lord.
I'm rejoicing in the Lord!
(adapted from Psalm 104:33-34, Common English Bible)

Ezekiel 3:16-6:14
The Lord came to Ezekiel and told him, "If righteous people turn away from righteousness, they will be punished, and it will be your fault if you hadn't warned them not to sin." The Lord assesses the behavior of Jerusalem, "You have rejected my laws and regulations more even than any of the nations around you. Now, I will do what I haven't ever done before or won't ever do again. Your whole country will be destroyed. Any survivors will be scattered."

Hebrews 4:1-16
The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews reminds them (and us) that the word of God is living and active. It's not just a book that we can close and put on a shelf and then stack some other books on it as we get through with them. No, the word of God is living and active.

And more than that, it judges our hearts. We're going to have to render an account. And more than that, we can't hide. Let us take the word of God seriously.

But not fearfully. We have a sympathetic, effective Jesus to help us. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Psalm 104:24-35
Don't fall into the error of modalism--that at different points of history, God appeared in different forms. That is, God was Father during the Old Testament times, then became the visible Son, then at Pentecost became manifest as the Spirit.

Psalm 104  reminds us that God as Spirit was present at creation. Verses 24 through 28 cite examples of what God as created--the earth, ships, Leviathan.

These created things need the Spirit:
When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust.
When you send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the ground (29-30).
Our response to the work that God's Spirit does in our lives is to acknowledge that Spirit.  In the Scriptures and in our lives, we have seen and will see pain and blessings.

Proverbs 26:27
Those who dig a pit will fall in it;
those who roll a stone will have it turn back on them.

Prayer for Today: Pray the closing verses of Psalm 104:
I will sing to the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praise to my God while I have being.
May my meditation be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the Lord.
Bless the Lord, O my soul.
Praise the Lord!

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Reflection on the readings for November 1

Bless the Lord, O my soul.
O Lord my God, you are very great.
You are clothed with honor and majesty.
(Psalm 104:1)

Ezekiel 1:1-3:14 
The Lord appeared to Ezekiel in a dramatic fashion (aside: note similarities to Revelation 4). The Lord needs to get Ezekiel's attention because the task he is being asked to do is difficult. He is to go to a people who have stubbornly refused to do what the Lord wanted them to do. Moreover, they are likely not to listen this time either, but preach to them anyway.

Hebrews 3:1-19
Your sins can bring harm to you.

Psalm 104:1-23
Psalm 104 is an affirmation of God's greatness. As we read it, we can hear echoes of the creation story in Genesis. God is clothed in glory. God is the source and implementor of all. God has established the earth and done it in such a way that it shall never totter. God uses creation--the winds, the waters, the mountains and valleys.

Proverbs 26:24-26
An enemy dissembles in speaking while harboring deceit within;
when an enemy speaks graciously, do not believe it,
for there are seven abominations concealed within;
though hatred is covered with guile,
the enemy's wickedness will be exposed in the assembly.

Prayer for Today: O Lord, keep us aware of your presence in our lives. Strengthen our will to carry out those tasks that you have assigned to us. Forgive us for our commissions and our omissions. Amen.