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.

Monday, February 29, 2016

The First Commandment, a Reflection on Mark 12:28-34

When a scribe asked Jesus which commandment is the most important of all. Jesus responded by quoting Deuteronomy 6:4-5 and Leviticus 19:18. He has been quoting Scripture to his opponents over and over. And although some have not been very happy with him about this, in Mark's version, this scribe is convinced.

Are we?

Do we love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength? Do we come even close to loving our neighbor as ourselves?

What is the most important thing for Christians to do or to argue about not doing?

What are the most important matters that should be discussed at the General Meeting this year?

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

No one like you, a reflection on Psalm 86:8-13

Psalm 86 begins with a plea to the Lord for help, a plea not based on anything done to deserve help but rather on the nature of the Lord--good, forgiving, and abounding in steadfast love. The psalmist continues by  recording the unique greatness of the Lord, and how everybody--all nations--recognize this greatness.

In verse 11, we have two more requests: Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart to revere your name. The psalmist wants to know more about God so as to live the kind of life that God would want. Moreover, to live that kind of life, the psalmist is going to have to give up other distractions.

After the requests come expression of gratitude including a reassertion of God's love and care.

When we are in our own times of difficulty, we can pray this psalm, we can ask for Lord's favor, because we also can remember the times that the Lord has helped us and comforted us.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Hypocrisy, a reflection on Mark 12:11-17

Jesus had been teaching and healing and upsetting (pun intended) means for access to the place of worship.

The people in charge of the temple asked him, "Who gives you the authority to do these things? When they won't admit his source of authority, he tells them he's not going to tell them.

They are able to tell that the parable he tells about the tenants killing the son of the vineyard is about them. They want to arrest him but are too afraid of the crowds to do it right then and there. Instead, they ask him what they think is a trick question, "Is paying tax to Caesar lawful?" He points out that they are doing something unlawful by carrying coins--because they bear a graven image.

Remember this the next time people call you a hypocrite because you aren't following the scriptures just the way the interpret them. But, the next time you call someone a hypocrite, think about how hard it is not to practice hypocrisy in every way everyday.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Who's in charge here? a reflection on Mark 12:1--12

In chapter 11, the temple authorities had challenged Jesus,"What makes you think you should tell us anything?" the temple authorities had asked Jesus. He toyed with them some by asking questions they weren't willing to answer. In the chapter before this, Jesus, in the temple, had quoted Isaiah's reminder that God had intended to welcome all nations and that they had let it become a hideout for crooks. 

In chapter 12, he again refers to Isaiah by reminding them of what would happen when God was disappointed in Israel's behavior. He told the parable of a man who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, and dug a pit for the winepress, and built a tower. He didn't oversee the operations of the vineyard himself. Instead, he took a trip and hired some workers to take care of it. They didn't do the job the way that had been intended. When the owner sent a steward to collect from the tenants his share, instead of complying with their agreement, they beat up the steward and sent him away empty handed.

Jesus is asking his listeners to reflect on their own stewardship of God's gifts. "What should the owner of a vineyard do when the tenants have abused their responsibilities?"

The tenants were put in charge. They failed their duties. The owner will eliminate them.

The chief priests and Pharisees, hearing this condemnation of those in charge, knew that Jesus was talking about them.

What do we Christians know when we hear this parable? What do we think when we reflect on our own stewardship of the gifts that God has entrusted to our care? 

Remember Jesus is talking to the persons who were responsible for the operations of the temple. Is he reminding them whose temple it is? Of whether they are discharging their responsibilities to the Lord as they should? Look back at Isaiah 11: Have they cared for the needy with righteousness? Have they shown righteousness and faithfulness to the will of the Lord?

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Pursue Peace, a Reflection on Psalm 34:9-14

"Taste and see how good the Lord is...Those who turn to the Lord shall not lack any good...I will teach you..."

Psalm 34 helps us see what that life can be like for someone who has tasted and has seen how good the Lord is--a life in which we keep our tongues from evil and our lips from deceit; a life of departing from evil and doing good and seeking peace.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Reflection on Mark 10:32-52

James and John went to Jesus and asked them to do something for them. Tangent: The timing of this request by James and John seems strange to me. They had just heard him say that the Son of Man will be condemned to death. Were they not listening? Did they not get that Jesus was the Son of Man? Or, merely confusing editing by Mark?

I'm pausing here to think about what I usually pray for.

Let's go back to James and John. They asked Jesus for glory, to sit next to him. Jesus informed them they had no idea what they were asking. "Do you really want to be next to me? Are you prepared to do what I am going to have to do? Besides, it's not my choice anyway."

The other disciples were upset when they heard that James and John had sought preferential status. Jesus called them together and informed them of what it took to be great. "Greatness is not lording over everybody; for us, greatness takes a different approach. To be great, you have to be the servant. Take me for example. What I came for is not to have everybody take care of me, but, instead, to serve, even to give up my life."

Then, and even now, we have church leaders who display similar attitudes to James and John. They want to be in charge, and they want everybody to know who is in charge. They display little appetite for slavery to the needs of others.

I'm trying to imagine an advertising campaign for a church that would use some of the language that Jesus used with his disciples--that drinking the cup that he was going to drink or being baptized what he was going to be baptized. He had already told them three times about his upcoming death.

Arriving in Jericho, they see a beggar sitting by the wayside. He's blind--that is, he can't see with his eyes. But, he does recognize that Jesus is the Son of David and that he is the one who can restore his sight. Further, he can see that although a lot of people think his condition is hopeless, he can be healed by the man he asks for pity.

Jesus told him "Go; your faith has saved you."

Go. He's been blind, but now he can see what's ahead. Where is he going to go, now?

Think about where this faithful man went. He followed Jesus on the road. The road that leads to Jerusalem--arrest, crucifixion, and resurrection.

Had the disciples not been listening? Have we been?

Friday, February 12, 2016

God is not a cosmic bellhop, Reflection on Psalm 19

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God is not a cosmic bellhop, Michael Shevack & Jack Bemporad tell us in their Stupid ways, Smart ways to think about God.
Just ring the bell, and God becomes your own personal Pavlovian puppy. eagerly He goes to work, gratifying your every desire, indulging your every whim.... 
And, by making God an extension of your own desires, you have made your own desires God-like. In essence, you have made yourself God. You are the center of the universe and God is at the periphery. 
That hardly resembles a healthy faith. Indeed, it is more akin to cult behavior. It turns man into God. It has a very ancient name, idolatry. because the first step in any meaningful religion is to recognize our proper place in the scheme of things....

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Tests that we would rather explain away, a Reflection on Mark 10:17-31

Several years ago, three long-divided denominations, Methodists, Catholics, and Lutherans, made a public commitment to unity. Their agreement "on justification by faith, or how individuals are forgiven and brought into a right relationship with God, began with a colorful opening procession in which robed leaders of the three historic Christian traditions walked side by side."

I'm going to have to say that this doctrine is important and has been divisive. But, I wonder what joint statement they could issue on their understanding of selling all (17-22). Or, what joint statement could they possibly issue about Christianity requiring someone to desert work, home, and family (29-31)?

Yes, I know that Mark's community thought the end of the world was near and that they wouldn't have to live long without assets. But, still. What is the source of our happiness? How closely are we willing to live to Jesus' test of who would get eternal life?

Monday, February 8, 2016

Denseness of Disciples, a Reflection on Mark 9:30-37

Jesus again tells his disciples that he will be betrayed and killed and will rise again.

Mark tells us that Jesus restricted this knowledge to the disciples because he didn't want anyone else to know it. I'm wondering if he really needed to be so restrictive about the information. After all, the disciples not only did not understand what he meant; they were afraid to ask him to explain it all to them.

Something apparently they did understand was priority. They argued about who was the greatest. Jesus answered this concern by giving a lesson and an example. An example that told them what greatest meant to him. 

He said "Whoever wants to be first must be last and servant of all." He then showed them a little child and said, "When you welcome the weak and defenseless, you are welcoming me."

Not only are we great when we help the weak, we also see him in the weak.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Sin, then, a reflection on Psalm 32

Let's say that someone did something wrong--wrong, in the sense of hurtful or dishonest. That is, somebody sinned. What are the consequences of sinning? I mean the consequences to the person doing the sinning.

When the sense of sinning sinks in, what next? How do we get past it?

Psalm 32 recognizes that someone may well do something wrong some time and may regret it.
When I kept quiet,
my bones wore out,
I was groaning all day long---
every day, every night!

.... [Common English Bible]

Then, the unhappy regretful someone can try confession.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Now they know, a reflection on Mark 9:1-8

Peter, James, and John were helped in their understanding of who Jesus was by the events on the mountaintop. They witnessed a change in Jesus' body. They saw him clothed in white as was the Divine One described by Daniel (7:9). And they saw Moses and Elijah, great figures in the history of their people, both who had spoken the word of the Lord.

And what he first tells them is not to tell anybody else until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. Fred Craddock in Preaching through the Christian Year B, explains this command: They may have heard that Jesus is the Son, the Beloved, but they haven't yet heard everything they need to know to be effective disciples. They are not yet ready to be witnesses nor are their audiences yet read to hear it.

Off on a tangent: Look back at Exodus 19:16-20 that tells of the appearance of a thick cloud on a mountain and the voice of the Lord; also Exodus 24:12-18, Moses and Aaron go up the mountain, the glory of the Lord appears in the cloud, then Moses enters the cloud. Other references to the cloud as a symbol of the divine presence include Numbers 14:10; Ezekiel 1:4; Daniel 7:13-14; Mark 13:26; 14:2. (Thank you once more, Allen & Williamson, for your Preaching the Gospels.)

Sing (or, at least read) these two hymns about the Transfiguration: 258, "O Wondrous Sight! O Vision Fair" and 260, "Christ, upon the Mountain Peak," The United Methodist Hymnal.

All the elements of Mark's account are there: the six days of waiting, the cloud, the glory, the voice, the descent from the mountain. Moses' face shone due to his experience in the presence of God. Exodus also describes the making of the tent of meeting.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Trusting God, a Reflection on Psalm 27:1-6

The psalmist speaks words of confidence: The Lord is my light and my salvation. I will be confident. Light to show me the way to go. The Lord is the stronghold of my life. Stronghold, protection while I am on that way.

But, think about why the psalmist is making these assertions. They aren't empty assurances. Rather, they are tied to specific fears; for example, "When evildoers assail me" or "Though an army encamp against me."

The psalmist is not trying to get us to believe that being a faithful follower of God means that we will never see trouble, never suffer from illness, never be besieged by enemies. No, what the psalmist says is that during these times of travail, the Lord was a comforter and rescuer.

In response to the actions that the Lord has taken, the psalmist expresses the wish to continue to be near the Lord by visiting the temple--to live there, to be able to see the Lord there, and there to be protected.

To summarize: At times of great distress when I needed the Lord, the Lord was with me. I remember this, and I am telling you about it. I will continue to need the Lord.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Facing the Meaning, Reflection on Mark 8:34-38

They are not aware of what being the Messiah means. Not just victory. Not just winning over oppressors. And it's time for those closest to Jesus to begin to learn this.

Jesus begins to teach them what is going to happen--not just the healings and feedings and water-walking, but also suffering, rejection, and even death.

Peter doesn't like this kind of talk and tries to persuade Jesus to back off some. Jesus is adamant.

Jesus speaks not only to the disciples but to the crowds, "If you want to follow with me, deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me."

He's talking to us.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Prayer resources

Plain Teaching, a Reflection on Mark 8:31-33

Jesus was rejected in his hometown (6:1-6) but continued his teaching, called disciples, gave them authority to heal (6:7-13). He fed 5,000, walked on water, and healed the sick (7:30-56). Although some of the religious folks were offended by his ways, some foreigners accepted him readily (7:1-37). He fed another 4,000, which did not impress everybody, and cured a blind man (8:1-26).

When he asked Peter, "Who do you say I am?", Peter replied, "You are the Messiah" (8:27-30).

Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must endure great suffering and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, be put to death and rise up three days later (8:31).

The title of Son of Man may be an allusion to the vision of one like a human being coming with the clouds of heaven, the one who was to be given dominion over all nations forever, (Daniel 7:13-14).

Early Christians had to reconcile the suffering and death of this man with the acceptance of him as Messiah. How could one chosen by God suffer the kind of death that he did? Mark's gospel helped them with this theological problem. Jesus said the suffering was inevitable and part of God's plan. (See The Gospel According to Mark, by Morna Hooker, for more on this).

At this point he spoke plainly--not in parables. He intended for them to get it. Peter grasped the message but did not approve of it. Jesus rebuked him strongly (8:32-33).

How hard would it have been for them to continue to follow Jesus after they had heard this news?

Some Christians throughout history have read into this passage a necessity for all Christians to suffer. Was Jesus telling Peter what the Messiah had to go through, or was he preparing him for what all Christians would have to bear? In either interpretation, we can remember throughout the Scripture, God has stood by those who are suffering.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Not ready, a Reflection on Mark 8:27-30

Mark has reported a series of miracles--walking on the water, several healings, two feedings of large crowds.

Who can do these things?

Jesus asks his followers, "Who do people think I am?" The disciples give a list of forerunners to the Messiah. Then Jesus asks "Who do you think I am?"

Peter answers for them, "You are the Messiah." Jesus instructs them not to tell anyone.

The crowds are ready to know that the Messiah is coming, but not ready to realize that he is here, among them.