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.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

God's work, a reflection on Psalm 103:1-5

The psalm begins "Bless the Lord, O my soul." The psalmist would not have been aware of our attempts to separate body and soul--the Hebrew word connotes the entire self. We might give ourselves the reminder, "Pay attention, devote your thinking and doing and feeling, recognize and be grateful to the giver of all that you have and will need."

The psalmist lists specific benefits given by the Lord: forgiveness, healing, redemption.

We need to remember these gifts. And we need to remember that the Lord will continue to satisfy our needs and to restore our strength.

Another Healing, Reflection on Mark 1:40-45

Jesus had healed a man in the synagogue and Simon's mother-in-law in their home. Relatively private places--but the word has spread. Crowds gather. The next morning while it was still dark, Jesus went off by himself to pray. His disciples went to get him.

.A leper approaches Jesus asking for help. The word has spread. Jesus tells him not to tell, but he does anyway.

Watch the pattern:
Word spreads.
Jesus retreats to a private place.
People find him where he is.

Off on a another tangent: Jesus told the healed man to go to a priest as Moses had commanded. The original intent was to make sure that a contagious person would no longer infect the others. So, the inspection was to help the formerly ill person to be able to rejoin the community, and it was to make sure that a still-ill person did not endanger the community. By the time Mark wrote his gospel, the temple was gone, and this Mosaic procedure could not be enforced. What replaced (replaces) it? How to we ensure that we welcome into our midst persons that we fear?

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Still Healing, Reflection on Mark 1:29-34

Right after healing a man in the synagogue, Jesus and his disciples went to Simon and Andrew's house. As soon as he heard that Simon's mother-in-law was ill, he healed her, too.

I find interesting several things. One is we are given no indication that those needing healing asked Jesus to do so. Another is that we are not told that Simon's m-i-l had faith in Jesus' power to heal her. Also, interesting to me is her response. As soon as she is healed, she gets up and serves them a meal (my interpretation of "waited on them").

The word spreads. The whole town shows up including all who are ill or possessed.

Once again, Jesus won't let the demons speak because they know who he is.

Questions that linger: Do they have faith or knowledge in Jesus other than his ability to heal?

Application for our time:
The Global Health Initiative is a major area of focus for the ministry of The United Methodist Church,which aims to combat diseases of poverty such as malaria, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis as well as provide health education, advocacy and infrastructure. We have long been a key player in the fight against malaria through the hospitals, clinics and missions centers we have operated across Africa for more than 160 years.

To read more about the history of Methodist efforts to promote healing and a current example of what the church is doing now see UMC: How We Serve Global Health

Monday, December 28, 2015

Questions about the visitor, Reflection on Mark 1:21-28

I'm thinking about how differently we do worship than the way that Jesus would have been used to. Mark 1:21 says that he went to a synagogue and taught. Priests served at the temple. Teaching took place at the synagogues. 

Are our churches more like the temple or more like synagogues? Is what today we call preaching what Mark meant by teaching? Or, was teaching then like what we mean by teaching now?

How come it was an unclean man who first recognized Jesus? BTW, how common was it for people with unclean spirits to attend the synagogue?

We are told that the people were amazed by his evidencing authority and by his ability to get unclean spirits to obey him. What amazes us today?

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Rachel Weeping for Her Children, Dream Act, a Reflection on Matthew 2:13-23

A repeat from an earlier date:
Long ago, parents carried their child to a foreign country hoping to protect his safety. When the imminent threat passed they were able to return home.

Today, many parents are still taking their children to places that seem safer for them than their birthplace.

In their new homes, the children grow up, go to school, volunteer for the military. And, in the U.S., some think that they should be given the opportunity to be citizens.

Dream Act


Dream Act fails

A more recent news story: What U. S. voters think about Syrian refugees

and an even more recent one: US plans raids to deport families with children.

"A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because they are no more."

Friday, December 25, 2015

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

A Checklist for the Church, a Reflection on Psalm 146

Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord, O my soul!
We are to praise God, the psalmist tells us, because God is trustworthy and eternal.

Then the psalmist reminds us that God gives care to the oppressed, the hungry, prisoners, the blind, the burdened, immigrants, those without financial resources.

And when you hear somebody say something derogatory about the Old Testament God, remember that this is the Old Testament God.

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

Psalm 146 provides a checklist for each church congregation: 

   What have we done to ensure that prisoners can be released? 

   What have we done to prevent blindness--have we opened a eye-clinic in a poor community, have we helped to distribute glasses to people who can't afford them? 

   What are we doing about immigrants? 

   What attention are we paying to people whose families are able to care for them, or to people without family?

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Messengers, Reflection on Luke 2:1-20

In that region,” this text for Christmas Eve begins. The region that Luke is referring to is the portion of the Roman Empire. Look back at verses 1-7. Augustus is emperor; Quirinius is governor. The emperor decrees that all persons be registered; that is, the emperor is going to make sure that he gets taxes from everybody under his control.

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

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

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

Their response was immediate. They went to Bethlehem immediately to see for themselves. And when they had seen, they told what they had seen.

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

Source: Mississippi Advocate

Monday, December 21, 2015

Assurances and Cautions, a Reflection on Luke 1:46-55

Mary responds to Elizabeth's good news and her own with a song of praise. Like Hannah before her (see 1 Samuel 2:1-10), Mary begins by praising God: "My soul magnifies the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior. From now on, all generations will call me blessed because of what God has done for me."

God chose Mary to bear the savior. Why didn't God pick a woman from one of the more powerful, prominent families? Why would God choose the backwater of the empire to be the birthplace of the savior, instead of, for example, Rome? For those of us who live in a powerful country, how willing are we to consider that God may continue to choose other venues for gifts?

Reread verses 51 through 53. Are your expectations and hopes consistent with the prospects of the lowly being lifted and the hungry filled? How about the powerful being pulled down from their high status and the rich being sent away empty-handed?

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Praise the Lord, a Reflection on Psalm 113

The psalm 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.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Roadbeds, a Reflection on Luke 1:57-80

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

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

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

Eight days after the birth of his son, when neighbors and friends had gathered for the circumcision, he was able to speak.

Filled with the Holy Spirit, he prophesied that a savior was to come and that a messenger had been sent to announce that news.

He expressed gratitude to the Lord that the promises made to Israel were going to be realized, promises of rescue from enemies. Zechariah then reminded them what forgiven, rescued people were supposed to do with their freedom: serve God in every way on every day.

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

Zechariah then speaks to the child, "You will be the prophet. You will prepare the way."

Think about way of preparation. I mean how highways are actually built. Consider how existing barriers must be destroyed--buildings, ones that should have been torn down anyway and ones that were in excellent shape, even beautiful, much-loved homes. Hillsides have to be cut through or mounted. Trees and brush are dragged away. All this before any actual road building is done.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Good News for Whom? a reflection on Luke 1:47-55

Mary responds to Elizabeth's good news and her own with a song of praise. Like Hannah before her (see 1 Samuel 2:1-10), Mary begins by praising God: "My soul magnifies the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior. From now on, all generations will call me blessed because of what God has done for me."

God chose Mary to bear the savior. Why didn't God pick a woman from one of the more powerful, prominent families? Why would God choose the backwater of the empire to be the birthplace of the savior, Rome, for example? For those of us who live in a powerful country, how willing are we to consider that God may continue to choose other venues for gifts?

In her song again echoing Hannah's, Mary describes what God has already done. Notice how her song emphasizes differences: God has brought down the powerful and lifted up the lowly. God has fed the hungry and sent the rich away empty.

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

In verses 54-55, Mary reminds us that God has helped Israel according to the promises made to our ancestors.God's promise is to Abraham and his descendents forever. How do these words sound to us Christians when we realize that both Jews and Muslims consider Abraham to be their ancestor as well?

Monday, December 14, 2015

Unexpected news, a reflection on Luke1:1-13

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Conforming to the Law, Led by the Spirit, a reflection on Luke 2:22-25

Notice how Luke blends into his account both law and the Spirit. The family are religiously scrupulous--in ways that may no longer be applicable in their specifics but are admirable in their attentiveness. They come to the temple because their religious practices require it. Simeon comes to the temple because he has been led by the Spirit.

Look around you at church Sunday. The people you will see there have come because they think it is the right thing to do, the expected thing. And you will see people who have been led there by the Spirit. And for some, both apply.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

After their return, a reflection on 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.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Recovery, a reflection by Ezra 1:1-2:70

Their land had been devastated by the powerful Babylon. Many of the people had been taken from their homes and transported to that foreign country. With no army, with no wealth, they did not have the power to resist. 

Yet, God has not abandoned them. The powerful Persia defeats Babylon. King Cyrus, stirred by the Lord (assisted by Jeremiah), sends the exiles home, directing them to rebuild the temple. Their neighbors donated valuable items to assist in the project.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The Beginning of the Good News, Reflection on Mark 1:1-4

Isaiah had told them centuries before that God would be sending a messenger, one who would call from the wilderness for them to prepare for God's presence. Now John the baptizer is echoing this call. (Note that the quote in verses 2-3 are a conflation of sources: Exodus 23:20 and Malachi 3:1 as well as Isaiah 40:3, Preaching the Gospels by Allen & Williamson).

Mark's audience was living under domination by Rome. According to Allen & Williamson,
Isaiah was especially popular among the apocalyptists because they used the Babylonian oppressors and the exile to interpret Rome as a latter-day idolatrous and unjust Babylon and their situation of exile as they awaited the apocalypse. Isaiah 40:30 reinforces the theme from Malachi: John prepared the community for the eschatological invasion of the present, broken world by Jesus.

What does Mark mean by "beginning"? Is John the beginning of the good news? Or, is Mark's gospel the beginning of the story that continues to this day? (NT Commentary by Boring & Craddock)

For us, what is wilderness? What is our Babylon? Is it time for us to return from exile? How does the call for repentance relate to our lives?

Lectio Divina: Mark 1:2-4

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Objection and Reassurance, Reflection on Isaiah 40:6-11

God tells the prophet to speak, but the prophet doesn't know what to say. People are weak compared to the strength of God.

Note that it is not just the prophet who is supposed to be telling about the advent of God's presence. Zion and Jerusalem, that is all the faithful, are called to proclaim, and to do so loudly and visibly.

God is coming, mighty as an army, but not to destroy. God is coming to be our shepherd, to feed us, to carry us, to lead us.

Lectio Divina: Isaiah 40:10-11