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.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Rejoicing about going to worship, a Reflection on Psalm 122

Psalm 122  begins with an expression of gratitude to be able to go into Jerusalem. We modern day Christians can read this as a reminder of what God did long ago, and we can read these words as a reminder of what God is still doing and will do.

What is our Jerusalem? Where do we see ourselves gathered in worship? Do we visualize this place as one with many kinds of people gathering?

And, there, what do we pray for?

And, having prayed, what do we do when we leave our places of worship? Whose good are we seeking?

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Responding to a threat against his safety, Reflection on Mark 6:14-29

Herod was a powerful man whose comfort depended on things going pretty much the way they had been going. This Jesus was a threat to the status quo as had been John (before Herod took care of the threat).

Herod watched out for threats to his safety and took care of them. And John certainly appeared to be a threat. Some people thought he was the great prophet Elijah, who was said to be the forerunner of the Messiah.

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.....then I will draw near to you for judgment; I will be swift to bear witness against ... those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired workers in their wages, the widow and the orphan, against those who thrust aside the alien... (Malachi 3:1-5. Also see 4:5-6).

I'm assuming that the well being of hired workers, widows, orphans, and aliens was not high up on Herod's priority list.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Mission Work, Reflection on Mark 6:7-13

Healings have not been working. The people around them just don't believe. The disciples themselves have been shaky.

Jesus sends them out. They go. They have limited resources. A lot of people don't respond well to them. And yet, miracles occur.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Unbelief and Efficacy, a Reflection on Mark 6:1-6

In Mark's gospel, it's when Jesus goes to the place that we today call the church that he meets with opposition. See 1:21-28; 3:1-6 (taken from Allen & Williamson, Preaching the Gospel.)

Jesus is teaching. Religious authorities raise doubts. After all, he doesn't come from the right family. 

And troubling, their unbelief affects the efficacy of his work.

And also troubling, he doesn't return to the synagogue after this.

How much of this lesson do we want to apply to our modern day? Can our unbelief in the possibility of things getting better keep them from doing so? If we don't trust Jesus' power to heal a situation in church, will we find him in church next time we go?

Friday, January 22, 2016

Alive Now has Lent Resources available

Humility, a further reflection on Psalm 131

The words of Psalm 131 link the one on the way to the Temple (or on the way home from exile, or the one seeking the presence of God) to a small child with its mother. From an assertion of humility to an example of it. It's hard to come up with a relationship in which one party provides for the needs of the other--even when that other isn't behaving particularly well at all--than the mother and her child.

Background: Psalms 120 through 134 all begin with the superscription, "A song for ascents." According to the notes in the Jerusalem Study Bible, there are several theories about the designation "ascents," the English translation for "ma'alah." Among these theories are the early rabbinic tradition that deduced that there are 15 of these psalms to match the 15 steps of the Temple (see Ezekiel 40:26, 31). Some modern scholars connect these psalms to the return from exile. Others have a allegorist understanding; that is, the ascent is of the individual to God.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Humility, a Reflection on Psalm 131

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

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Having the Last Laugh, a Reflection on Mark 5:35-43

We are told that Jesus healed the woman's long-time ailment, but would anyone in the crowd have known? Could Jairus' friends have known what had happened--after all, they were in the house at the time. (Sideline: watch for "in the house" in this gospel).

How much should we criticize these religious insiders that they don't think that Jesus could possibly do anything for Jairus' daughter?

It's a continuing question for us, too, because we are asked to believe in things that we have not witnessed directly, and in things that have not yet occurred.

They laugh at Jesus when he uses the term "sleeping," because they believe in literal translation? Is there some sort of message to us in how we should interpret, believe, in Jesus' sayings?

In his "An Unsettling God," Walter Brueggemann's said that four verbs denoted Yahweh's actions toward Israel: gather, love, heal, forgive, and that three denoted the community's response: joy, obedience, and hope.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

End of isolation, a reflection on Mark 5:29-34

After reaching out and touching his cloak, she realized that she was healed. Jesus, although he hadn't yet even spoken to her, realized that his power had been utilized. He asked, "Who touched me?" His disciples exposed their cluelessness by telling him that of course he had been touched since he was after all in the middle of a crowd.

Despite their comment, Jesus kept looking for who had touched him. The woman, although she was afraid, came up to him and prostrated herself in front of him and told him she was the one that had touched him. Jesus responded, "Daughter, your faith and healed; go in peace."

Her twelve-year isolation was over.

Consider what conditions are keeping people of our time and place isolated from society.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Different people need Jesus, a reflection on Mark 5:21-28

Two people approached Jesus. Two very different people. Two different ways of approach. The first was a leader in the synagogue; the second, a woman who for twelve years had been suffering from an ailment that meant she was considered untouchable by religious people. Imagine Jesus coming to your community. Picture your church leaders being sure to show up. Then picture some woman that no one wanted to associate with also being there. (After all, that's who wants to be around Jesus.)

The two people were different and their approaches to Jesus were different too. The important man approached Jesus directly seeking help for his ailing 12-year-old daughter. The woman, on the other hand, didn't want to attract his attention. Hidden by the crowd, she sidled up to him and touched his cloak.

Something they had in common was that they both were certain that Jesus could heal.

Question: what is the significance of the number 12 in each of their situations?

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Joy, Reflection on Psalm 126

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

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

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

Despair followed by joy.

Lectio Divina: Psalm 126:3-6

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Beginning with a Seed, a Reflection on Mark 4:26-34

Baby boomers fueled the growth in American church membership and attendance, but they are dying off.  Lovett Weems has termed this the Death Tsunami. He suggests that we focus on what is important:To talk of survival does not mean that survival is an end in itself. The survival sought is not for an institution and certainly not for institutional forms or entities. 

Church leadership is a response to God’s love and action in the world revealed most clearly in Jesus Christ. Christian leadership is a channel of God’s grace as it seeks the fulfillment of God’s vision, and such leadership emerges out of the history, beliefs, and traditions of faith communities.

What is the future going to look like? Will leadership emerge? I think about those early Christians, the first hearers of Mark's gospel. What discouragements were they facing? What did the future of the church look like to them?

Their gatherings were as small as mustard seeds. Yet, they did become as great shrubs providing protection.

So, I would like to draw from this parable a parallel--size now does not limit potential.

But, I'm also drawn to the lesson embedded in this passage--that Jesus spoke in parables because his hearers were not ready to learn his meaning. To his disciples, and in private, he explained everything.

Yet, even without understanding, the other hearers became part of the growth of the church. I'm looking back at verses 26-27. The sower of the seed doesn't have to know how the sprouting part works in order for it to work.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Measurement, a reflection on Mark 4:21-25

Jesus then explained the meaning of the parable of the soils to them, how first enthusiasm doesn't always last but true acceptance of the message will yield results.

He followed the soil parable with one about lamps. What good is a lamp that you keep hidden? The light from that lamp is not meant just for you. Share, don't hoard.

Jesus told them to listen carefully: God will evaluate you by the same standard you use to evaluate others. Do we find that reassuring or scary?

Monday, January 11, 2016

Who Can Understand Parables, a Reflection on Mark 4:1-20

Jesus was teaching a large crowd. He told them the parable of the soils: You can plant the same kind of seeds in different soils and get different results. Later, in a private setting, he explained that only those close to him were given the secret of the Kingdom and that the rest would get only parables.

He told them the reason for this was otherwise they might turn their lives around and be forgiven. What are we supposed to think about this explanation. What's the downside of forgiveness?

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Mark 2:13-22

Among the crowd listening to his teaching was Levi, a tax collector (therefore a collaboration with the Romans, the occupiers of Israel), Jesus approached him and said, "Follow me." Levi did.

Jesus had (hosted?) a meal that included many tax collectors and sinners. The religious insiders expressed disapproval. Jesus responded, "Those who are well don't need a doctor. I haven't come to summon the righteous. I'm here for the sick."

Note: Morna Hooker in her commentary, The Gospel According to Saint Mark, says "Levi, son of Alphaeus, is not included in the list of the Twelve in 3:16-19, although there is a reference to a 'James, son of Alphaeus'. This discrepancy has been solved in some manuscripts by the substitution of James' name for Levi's."

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Authority to heal, Mark 2:6-12

The scribes reacted, "Saying he can forgive sins is blasphemy. Only God can forgive sins," Jesus reacted to their reaction by asking which was easier--just saying the words, "you are forgiven," or telling a paralyzed men to walk. "You say only God can forgive sins, watch this. I will demonstrate the authority that God has given me." And he did. The onlookers were astounded.

What are the ways any of us may exhibit paralysis (use the actual physical handicap as a metaphor)?
In what ways can the church, the body of Christ, practice healing? 

Fiorgiveness, a reflection on Mark 2:3-5

The man was paralyzed. He could not approach Jesus on his own. His friends brought him.
When they couldn't get through the crowd (a kind of paralysis?), they broke through the roof to bring him to Jesus. When Jesus saw their faith, he told the man that his sins were forgiven,

Questions that arise: Is illness tied to sin? How are ways that friends can help someone else's healing?

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Back home, a reflection on Mark 2:1-2

Jesus had sought solitude but didn't get it. After a few days, he went home to Capernaum. His house was so full that nobody else could get in the door.

If we keep reading chapter 2, we'll find that not everyone is impressed favorably. More healing and more conflict will follow.

The man was paralyzed. He could not approach Jesus on his own. His friends brought him.
When they couldn't get through the crowd (a kind of paralysis?), they broke through the roof to bring him to Jesus. When Jesus saw their faith, he told the man that his sins were forgiven,

Question that arises: Does Jesus live in Capernaum or is he visiting Peter's house?

Monday, January 4, 2016

The Lord is merciful and gracious, a Reflection on Psalm 103:8-13

Are we comforted or irritated by the assertion in Psalm 103 that God does not deal with us according to our sins, does not repay us for our iniquities?

God loves us. God loves us even when we don't deserve being loved. We tend to think of who we call the Old Testament God as harshly punishing wrongdoers, but as the commentary provided by The New Interpreters' Bible points out "The psalmist knows better."

God is merciful to us, granting us grace. God is slow to anger but doesn't hold on to that anger. We don't get what we deserve; that is, God doesn't repay us according to our sins.

God's love is too big to be measured by any terms that we humans can come up with. God's steadfast love is greater than the distance from heaven to earth.

And God can make us worthy of that love. "As far as the east is from the west, so far the Lord removes our transgressions from us."