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, April 26, 2017

Early Trial, a Reflection on Acts 6:8-7:2a.

Stephen was an outstanding spokesman and example for Christians. Opposition to his ministry arose. When they couldn't out debate him, they secretly enticed some witnesses to assert false claims about him. The witnesses testified at his trial, "This man never stops speaking against this holy place and the Law."

Christian preachers have through our history been accused of dissenting from accepted theology and church law.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Early Dispute in the Church, a Reflection on Acts 6:1-7

It was a time of church growth (Look back at Acts 5:12-16) although not without some harassment (Acts 5:17-42).  The growth had begun to spread among non-Jews. And, as the church took in people with different backgrounds, including immigrants, complaints also began to increase. For example, some of the Greek-speaking disciples thought they were not being treated as well as the original members.

The Twelve called a meeting of all the disciples and asserted that they had other responsibilities that deciding how to distribute the food. "This feeding everyone is cutting into our preaching time." They suggested that seven well-respected men who were Spirit-endowed and exceptionally wise be put in charge of serving the food.

Thus, the community selected seven (including a convert) to be in charge of this service. The original disciples would concentrate on prayer and preaching. The division of labor proved to be a success. The number of disciples increased significantly.

This passage to me is another example of "more of the same." Churches today still have disagreements. Long-time members and new members may have different attitudes and priorities. Moreover, even if everybody agreed on everything, people have different talents.

How does the Church divide the necessary work up? How do individual congregations?

Monday, April 17, 2017

The First Easter, a reflection on Luke 24:13-35

Not everyone catches on right away. Jesus was right there with them. And they didn't recognize him. They knew about the resurrection. They were even surprised that their travel companion didn't seem to.

They may not have been able to recognize Jesus right away, but they are ready to talk about him to strangers who show interest.

They tell of what they had been expecting and what they had been told.

They tell this stranger about Jesus, how he was a prophet and the one who had been sent to redeem them; yet he had been handed over by the religious authorities to the Romans who had consequently condemned him to death and crucified him.

The story got stranger. Some of the women in their group had told them that when they had gone to visit his tomb, a vision of angels had said he was still alive. Hearing this, some in the group went to the tomb and confirmed that the body was missing, but they didn't see Jesus.

And, on the road to Damascus, they don't recognize him yet.

Although the one that they had hoped would rescue them had himself been executed, although they had not been able to see for themselves the angels that some of the women had said had told them that he was not alive, they still allow a stranger to walk along with them, to talk with them. They even listen to a sermon from him. Then, since the day is almost over, they invite him to stay with them.

Loss. Disappointment. Frustration. Yet, an offer of hospitality.

And at the table, when he took bread, blessed it, broke it, and shared it with them, they recognized him.

Loss, disappointment, and frustration did not end with those first Christians.

And, as we celebrate Holy Communion, we can recognize him.

As soon as they recognize him, they can understand something that has already happened, something that they hadn't noticed at the time but now makes sense to them--"Were not our hearts burning within while he was talking to us about the Bible?"

It's night, they've had a long walk, it's after supper, and they decide to go back to Jerusalem right then, not the next day.

The recognition of the Lord has to be shared, and shared immediately.

In Jerusalem, they learned that the Lord had also appeared to Simon.

Note the repeat about how he had been made know to them in the breaking of the bread. We usually interpret this to be related to Holy Communion, but we may also want to think about we recognize Christ in our midst when we share those ordinary meals as well.

The other gospels don't tell us about Ascension; so, every year we turn to Luke: And then to this group of disciples who have been huddled together in fear and, even in the joy of recognition, have been disbelieving, he now commissions them, "You are witnesses that the Scriptures have been fulfilled."
Commission--I am sending upon you what my Father promised. Stay here in this city until that power comes.

While they are waiting, they gather in the temple.

I'm thinking that many of us Christians have gotten stuck in that period between Ascension and Pentecost. We have known the presence of Christ. We have heard and believed the promised made to us. We're expecting something great to come among us. We are gathered together in great joy to continue our worship of the Lord. We love church and we love the Lord and we love each other. But....

He reminds them that the part of our Bible we call the Old Testament is valid--and necessary for their understanding. We aren't supposed to cut off a large part of the Bible and we aren't supposed to cut off a large part of our neighbors--The risen Christ said to them that they were to include in their witness all nations. Does "all nations" include the people who live on my block that I have never even spoke to? Does "all nations" include people who are of a different socio-economic level?

Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Empty Tomb, a Reflection on Luke 24:1-12

The women had followed Jesus from Galilee. They had witnessed the crucifixion. Having accompanying  his body to the tomb. They withdrew in time to recognize the Sabbath.

On the first day of the week, at early dawn, the women brought spices to the tomb. But, when they got there, they saw that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. They went in but couldn't find his body. Suddenly two men appeared to them. The women were then told that Jesus was not there, but he had risen.

The women told the disciples what they had witnessed, but weren't believed. Peter did go check for himself to see if the body was missing. It was, but Peter still didn't believe what the women had told him.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Response from Jesus; Response to Jesus, a Reflection on Luke 23:39-47

The authorities had condemned him to a humiliating, painful death. Many onlookers had just watched--not voicing agreement with what was happening but saying nothing in protest. But other witnesses, powerful people and soldiers, had mocked him. Even one of the criminals condemned to the same punishment derided him in the same terms as the others had, "If you're the Messiah, then start saving."

The first dissenter to the scoffing and mocking is the other criminal who is being crucified with him that day. "We deserve this punishment because we have done what they have accused us of doing. This man has done nothing wrong." He then addresses Jesus directly, "Remember me when you come into your kingdom"

Jesus had not responded to the leaders or soldiers or the criminal who kept deriding him. But, he does respond now, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise." Jesus has not done anything to prevent his death that day, but death is not the end of life.

Converted that day was the Centurion. Or, had he already been converted? (See Luke 7:6-10.) 

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Reading toward Good Friday, Mockery, a Reflection on Luke 23:3-38

The leaders scoffed, "Let him save himself if he's the Messiah." The soldiers also mocked him, "If you are the King, then save yourself." Their point--since he was being crucified, then just how powerful could he be?

Allen & Williamson in Preaching the Gospel remind us that Jesus never claimed to be the Messiah or the King of the Jews. Rather, he spoke of himself as the "Son of Man" and of the kingdom of God:
But Luke's leaders and soldiers misunderstand salvation, seeing it entirely in terms of the continuation of life or military "liberation" and not as the restoration of people Israel through forgiving of sins, including the marginalized, feeding the hungry, or dying the death of a martyr, a witness, to all of these.
Those long-ago leaders and soldiers thought that anyone who couldn't stop his own death sentence must not have much power. We might ask ourselves what is proof to us of power? What goals do we think the powerful should have? And, we might also ask what salvation means to us--whether it can begin only after we die or whether it can start right here, right now.

Also we might consider what kind of people, what kind of actions that we make fun of.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Reading toward Maundy Thursday, a reflection on Luke 22:22-27, How do we recognize greatness?

They have gathered for Passover and are eating what we now term the last supper. Jesus has just told them, "My betrayer is at this table." Their response is, what seems natural to me, to argue about which of them would be capable of doing such a thing."

Then their argument morphs into a dispute over which of them should be considered the greatest.

I'm wondering how much modern day Christians have changed over the millennia. When we meet, how to our discussions go? What differences of opinion and attitude do we exhibit? Are any among us capable of betraying Jesus?

Back to their time: Jesus told them that assessment of greatness would be different among them that the current social description would have it. "Who is greater," he asked, "the one who is served or the one who serves?" He then gave them a hint, "I am the one who serves."

How do we recognize greatness?

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Reading toward Maundy Thursday, a reflection Luke 22:15-21

Jesus told them, "I won't eat or drink any of this meal until God's kingdom has come." He then took the bread, gave thanks, broke the bread, and said for them to share it, "This is my body, which is given for you." Taking the cup, he said, "This cup is the new covenant by my blood, which is poured out for you."

Hear the echoes from the first Passover, gathering for a meal, preparing for escape from persecution, and the need for a sacrifice.

However, at this Passover, is someone who will betray Jesus.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Reading toward Maundy Thursday, a Reflection on Luke 22:1-14

Jesus told Peter and John what to do to prepare for Passover. They followed his instructions, and all the disciples gathered for the meal. Jesus took his place at the table then told them, "I wanted to eat this meal with you before I suffer."

We may not be as familiar with Passover as Luke's first readers were. Look back at Exodus 12. God gives instructions to those Jews living in bondage in Egypt. They have just witnessed the series of plagues--frogs, gnats, flies, disease in livestock, skin sores, thunderstorms, invasion of locusts, darkness--but Pharaoh had refused to let them go. God told Moses that because of that refusal. one more plague was coming--the death of the firstborn sons. God then instructed Moses of how the sons of the Jews were to be saved.

Prepare a meal. Serve lamb. When you cut up the lamb meat, put blood on your doorposts and lintels. That night all the firstborn of Egypt will be slain. The blood will be a sign to me to pass over you.

In Jesus' time, centuries after that Exodus, the Jews were again subjected to a foreign ruler, Rome this time, not Egypt. They still celebrate the memory of that first Passover, that time of escape, with a meal. 

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Give Thanks a Reflection on Psalm 118:19-23

We also read portions of Psalm 118 on Palm Sunday. Luke's gospel may not have mentioned palms, but we did have branches at least in the psalm.

On Palm Sunday, we read this psalm that describes the reaction to the people when the king returned victorious from battle. We read them now in the week after Easter again grateful to God for the victory of our king.

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. In Eastertide, we don't have to pretend that our lives haven't had and don't have grave difficulties. But, in Eastertide, as well as the rest of the year, we can remember and be thankful what the Lord has done and continues to do for us.

You are my God, and I will give thanks to you; you are my God, I will extol you. O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Entry into Jerusalem, a Reflection on Psalm 118:19-23

Some congregations will be celebrating Palm Sunday this week. Some will center their worship on the Passion. Some will combine these two.

Psalm 118 is appropriate for Palm Sunday celebrations. It begins with the call to give thanks to the Lord. Verses 3-18, omitted by the lectionary, are in the voice of the king describing the defeat of Israel's enemy. At verse 19, the king prepares for entry into Jerusalem. We hear words of thanksgiving for what has been done and a call for continued protection.

These ancient words still speak to us and for us.
This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.
Bind the festal procession with branches, up to the horns of the altar. (Caveat: translators disagree on this verse.)
You are my God, and I will give thanks to you; you are my God, I will extol you.

Even if a congregation postpones mention of the arrest, trial, and crucifixion to Holy Week services, we know that they follow this triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Carl Halladay in Preaching through the Christian Year C points this out:
If one applies Psalm 118 to Jesus' entry into Jerusalem, it must be remembered that for the original supplicant, the valley of anguish lay in the past, on the fields of war; for Jesus, the valley lay ahead, within the walls of Jerusalem.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Another way to look at Luke 19:29-44

Did you notice something different in Luke' description of Jesus' ride into Jerusalem? Did you notice something missing?

In Matthew, Mark, and John, crowds are there.

The something different: He comes in riding on a colt not a donkey. I checked the other gospel versions. In Mark 11:7, he's also on a colt, but in Matthew 21:7, he rides on both. (Don't try to imagine this, oh, go ahead.)

The something missing: The palms

Allen & Williamson in their Preaching the Gospels without Blaming the Jews:
Luke's omission of these branches is significant. Branches recollect 1 Maccabees 13:49-53. For three centuries Palestine had been under foreign rule. In 141 BCE, Jewish rebels defeated the Syrian oppressors. When the Jewish victors recaptured the temple, they waved branches. The branches became a symbol of Jewish independence, By omitting them, Luke signals that the church is not a revolutionary movement and encourages his community to live within Roman rule even while criticizing that oppression and recognizing that God will judge Rome ...

Sharon Ringe, in her commentary on Luke says that palm branches were used to greet a general returning after a victory. "Instead, people cushion Jesus' ride with their own clothing, divesting themselves of symbols of their status instead of putting on trappings of war.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Reflection on Luke 19:29-40

The people recognize Jesus as the king as he comes riding in on a donkey (look at Zechariah 9:9--go ahead and read the rest of the chapter as well to help understand what the people were expecting from the king and the Lord). Crowds gather, they throw their cloaks on the road (as had been done for King Jehu, (2 Kings 9:13).

Large numbers of followers begin to shout loudly their thanks to God for giving them this king.

But, not everyone is pleased.

When some in the crowd tried to get him to get his disciples to quiet down, he responded "Even if they were silent, the stones would cry out." He's reminding them what Habakkuk had said about the powerful who try to protect themselves from debtors (Habakkuk 2:6-11).