Monday, September 17, 2018

Monday Thoughts on the Readings for Sunday, September 23rd, 2018

This week in our readings from the Revised Common Lectionary, we have both Jeremiah and a psalmist asking for the Lord to avenge them by attacking their enemies.  We also have a discussion of what makes a true prayer and what does it take to be considered the "greatest."

I am sharing my thoughts in italics below each reading.  I invite you to share your comments and ideas in the comments!

Jeremiah 11:18 - 20
    18It was the Lord who made it known to me, and I knew;
  then you showed me their evil deeds.
19But I was like a gentle lamb
  led to the slaughter.
 And I did not know it was against me
  that they devised schemes, saying,
 “Let us destroy the tree with its fruit,
  let us cut him off from the land of the living,
  so that his name will no longer be remembered!”
20But you, O Lord of hosts, who judge righteously,
  who try the heart and the mind,
 let me see your retribution upon them,
  for to you I have committed my cause.

- What is it that the Lord made known to Jeremiah?  What it “their evil deeds” from the next line (which would fit within the Hebrew habit of stating things twice when writing poetically)?  Or are we talking about something else?

- Two reflections on the verse where Jeremiah’s enemies hope to kill Jeremiah “so that his name will no longer be remembered:”
1) One of the lines of the recent Macklemore single “Glorious:” “I heard you die twice, once when they bury you in the grave, and the second time is the last time that somebody mentions your name.”

2) Historically, attempting to erase a person’s name was one way for an empire to strike back against a political enemy or a traitor.  After arresting and likely killing the enemy or traitor, the empire would take the time to go through any writing or construction project which carried or bore that person’s name and would erase that name from the records, even chiseling that name off of stone arches, statues, and buildings.

Psalm 54

 1 Save me, O God, by your name, and vindicate me by your might.
 2 Hear my prayer, O God; give ear to the words of my mouth.
 3 For the insolent have risen against me, the ruthless seek my life; they do not set God before them. Selah
 4 But surely, God is my helper; the Lord is the upholder of my life.
 5 He will repay my enemies for their evil. In your faithfulness, put an end to them.
 6 With a freewill offering I will sacrifice to you; I will give thanks to your name, O LORD, for it is good.
 7 For he has delivered me from every trouble, and my eye has looked in triumph on my enemies.

- Psalm 54 reads like it could have been written by Jeremiah.  We might be uncomfortable with verse 5, the psalmist’s wish for the Lord to destroy the psalmist’s enemies.  But we can acknowledge that the psalms are poems from humans and they express very human emotions and impulses, including the desire for vengeance against our enemies.

James 3:13 - 4:3, 7 - 8a

13Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. 14But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. 15Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. 16For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. 17But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. 18And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.4:

  1Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? 2You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures.

7Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8aDraw near to God, and he will draw near to you.

- Can we name a war or dispute that is not centered upon conflicting desires?

- Does James suggest that it is inappropriate to pray for our own benefit?  Not necessarily.  The letter implies that we can pray for ourselves as long as we are not praying for something that (temporarily) satisfies our “pleasures.”  What would be a good prayer for the benefit of one’s self but is not selfish?

Mark 9:30 - 37

30[Jesus and the disciples went on] and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it;31for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” 32But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.
  33Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” 34But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. 35He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” 36Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, 37“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

- In the time of the 1st Century, children were not considered priorities.  In fact, children, even children of nobles, were very low on the social totem pole.  Welcoming a child into the midst of one’s gathering would not increase one’s own honor and respectability within a culture built around honor and shame.  But it a culture built around self-sacrifice and care for others, welcoming a child and others from the bottom of the social totem pole is something that is counted in your favor.  This type of action is the social currency within the Kingdom of God.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Monday Thoughts on the Readings for Sunday, September 16th, 2018

This week, return to discussions of the tongue, one of the strongest and most important muscles within our bodies.  While this could be the spotlight, our Gospel reading pushes us to consider our understandings of the role of the Messiah and what it means to save, or lose, our lives.  Both of these topics give us plenty to discuss and bring into our world today.

Below, you will find the Revised Common Lectionary readings for this coming Sunday.  After each reading, I will add my thoughts in italics.  If you have an insight from the readings, a question regarding a certain verse, or a reaction to my comments, I invite you to share them in the comment section below so that we can talk about them!

Isaiah 50:4 - 9a

4The Lord God has given me
  the tongue of a teacher,
 that I may know how to sustain
  the weary with a word.
 Morning by morning he wakens—
  wakens my ear
  to listen as those who are taught.
5The Lord God has opened my ear,
  and I was not rebellious,
  I did not turn backward.
6I gave my back to those who struck me,
  and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard;
 I did not hide my face
  from insult and spitting.

7The Lord God helps me;
  therefore I have not been disgraced;
 therefore I have set my face like flint,
  and I know that I shall not be put to shame;
  8he who vindicates me is near.
 Who will contend with me?
  Let us stand up together.
 Who are my adversaries?
  Let them confront me.
9aIt is the Lord God who helps me;
  who will declare me guilty?

- Who is a teacher that has sustained you with a word (or a few words)?

- Again, we see parallels between an Isaiah passage and the Gospels.  Jesus’ back was struck and Jesus faced insults and spitting.

- The speaker invites his enemies to confront him face to face and/or in the court of law.  He believes that he will win every contest because he stands next to the Lord.

Psalm 116:1 - 9

 1 I love the LORD, because he has heard my voice and my supplications.
 2 Because he inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live.
 3 The snares of death encompassed me; the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me; I suffered distress and anguish.
 4 Then I called on the name of the LORD: "O LORD, I pray, save my life!"
 5 Gracious is the LORD, and righteous; our God is merciful.
 6 The LORD protects the simple; when I was brought low, he saved me.
 7 Return, O my soul, to your rest, for the LORD has dealt bountifully with you.
 8 For you have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling.
 9 I walk before the LORD in the land of the living.

- For me, Psalm 116:1 – 9 contains an allusion to baptism.  While some of us have near-death experiences where we can directly credit the Lord for saving our lives, baptism is a universal experience within the Church where the Lord rescues our lives from death so that we may walk in the land of the living after the resurrection.

James 3:1 - 12

1Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. 2For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle. 3If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we guide their whole bodies. 4Or look at ships: though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. 5So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits. 
  How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! 6And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. 7For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, 8but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. 10From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. 11Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? 12Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh.

- This passage from James reminds us of the reading from Mark 7 two weeks ago.  There, Jesus told us that what comes out of the mouth is what defiles us.  Here, James picks up on the idea and claims that our bodies and really our whole beings are guided by what we say.  James also reminds us that our tongues can be just as destructive as a forest fire.

Mark 8:27 - 38

27Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” 29He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” 30And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

  31Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
  34He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

- We see Peter at both his best and his worst here.  He gets it: Jesus is the Messiah.  But he doesn’t get it because his understanding of what the Messiah will become is very different from what Jesus will become.  He gets rebuked because he tries to impose his vision of the Messiah onto Jesus.

- Jesus comments about attempting to save our lives only to lose them reminded me of this comment from “Star Wars: A New Hope” (Episode 4): 

- Where do we see the death of one thing lead to the birth or growth of another thing?

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Tuesday Thoughts on the Readings for Sunday, September 9th, 2018

Greetings, readers!  After some hectic schedules and a time of vacation, I am back and sharing my sermon preparations with you!

We have finished both the "Bread of Life Discourses" in John 6 and the letter to the Ephesians.  We now turn back to the Gospel of Mark and toward the letter to James (not Martin Luther's favorite epistle).

I will share my thoughts in italics following each reading.  I invite you to share your questions and reactions in the comments below so that we can discuss the readings together.  I am still traveling and may not respond as quickly as you would like, but I will respond as my travel schedule allows.

Isaiah 35:4 - 7a

4Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
  “Be strong, do not fear!
 Here is your God.
  He will come with vengeance,
 with terrible recompense.
  He will come and save you.”

5Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
  and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
6then the lame shall leap like a deer,
  and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.
 For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,
  and streams in the desert;
7athe burning sand shall become a pool,
  and the thirsty ground springs of water.

The words “vengeance” and “recompense” cast an ominous tone over the Isaiah 35 reading.  Is the Lord preparing to take vengeance against us?  No; the Lord is preparing to act against the enemies of Israel.  As the Lord does so, the Lord will provide everything that is due to Israel as a form of restitution after the harm done by Israel’s enemies.  For us, we can read this as a promise that the Lord will act against evil and restore us after we are harmed by evil in any form.

It is worth noting that Jesus’ miracles included healing the blind, the deaf, the lame, and the speechless.  Is Jesus the Lord’s recompense to the Lord’s people?

Psalm 146

 1 Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD, O my soul!
 2 I will praise the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God all my life long.
 3 Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help.
 4 When their breath departs, they return to the earth; on that very day their plans perish.
 5 Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD their God,
 6 who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them; who keeps faith forever;
 7 who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets the prisoners free;
 8 the LORD opens the eyes of the blind. The LORD lifts up those who are bowed down; the LORD loves the righteous.
 9 The LORD watches over the strangers; he upholds the orphan and the widow, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.
 10 The LORD will reign forever, your God, O Zion, for all generations. Praise the LORD!

Psalm 146 is a psalm of praise to the Lord.  The Lord is upheld as a great help to those on the margins (the oppressed, the hungry, the captive, the blind, the orphan, the widow) and a keeper of all promises.  Paired with Isaiah 35, we praise the Lord for restoring us after we are harmed by others and/or by evil.

James 2:1 - 10 [11 - 13] 14 - 17

1My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? 2For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, 3and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” 4have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? 5Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? 6But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? 7Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?
  8You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 9But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. [11For the one who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. 12So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. 13For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.] 
  14What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? 15If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, 16and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? 17So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

Much has been said about James 2:17: “So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”  But this statement must be read in the context of what is described at the beginning of the chapter.  If we proclaim that everyone is equal because everyone is a child of God but then turn around and honor the rich while dishonoring the poor, then our actions reveal that we do not believe what we proclaim about equality.  Our actions reveal whether we truly believe what we say.  Our faith should never be an intellectual matter only; our faith should flow through our daily lives and demonstrate who and what we trust.

Mark 7:24 - 37

24[Jesus] set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice,25but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. 26Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 28But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” 29Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” 30So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.
  31Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. 32They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. 33He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. 34Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” 35And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. 36Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. 37They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”

How do we read Jesus’ initial comment to the Syrophoenician woman?  Is Jesus being a jerk for no reason?  Is Jesus discriminating against a Gentile woman?  Or is Jesus saying this with a wink and a nod, offering the response expected from a good Jewish man while planning to subvert the assumption of how a good Jewish man should respond to this woman?

A good question from my aunt: for the woman, the crumbs are enough to heal her daughter.  For us, the crumbs are enough for our salvation and our daily bread.  Who around us is not even finding or receiving the crumbs from the table?  How are the mentally ill, the homeless, and the LGBTQ+ communities treated and received by the town or neighborhood around you?  What can we do to bring the food on the table to them?  Or, even better, bring them to the table so that they can sit next to us?

Monday, August 13, 2018

Monday Thoughts on the Readings for Sunday, August 19th, 2018

After a week missed due to my participation in a continuing education event, I am back with my thoughts and reflections on the readings for this coming Sunday.

This week, we continue with the "Bread of Life Discourses" in John 6, where we find the breaking point for many within the crowd.  For these people, Jesus has finally gone too far, and their understandings of the Jewish faith, Jewish laws, and the promised Messiah prevent them from following Jesus.  It's worth exploring why they felt this way and what Jesus' invitation meant in that context.

We also get an invitation from "Wisdom," a separate invitation from the psalmist (King David?) in Psalm 34, and some advice for Christian living.

What do you see within these passages?  What questions do you still have?  I invite you to share those insights and questions with me using the comment section below!

Proverbs 9:1 - 6

1Wisdom has built her house,
  she has hewn her seven pillars.
2She has slaughtered her animals, she has mixed her wine,
  she has also set her table.
3She has sent out her servant-girls, she calls
  from the highest places in the town,
4“You that are simple, turn in here!”
  To those without sense she says,
5“Come, eat of my bread
  and drink of the wine I have mixed.
6Lay aside immaturity, and live,
  and walk in the way of insight.”

- This invitation from Wisdom in Proverbs 9:1 – 6 is contrasted with the invitation from the “foolish woman” in Proverbs 9:13 – 18.  Wisdom invites us to eat her bread and drink her wine; the foolish woman invites us to eat bread and drink wine that she has stolen from someone else.  Wisdom invites us to walk in the way of insight; the foolish woman invites us to walk a different path, one that leads to “Sheol,” the Hebrew place of the dead.

- The early church made a connection between Wisdom and Jesus, reading Wisdom as a prefigurement of Jesus.

Psalm 34:9 - 14

 9 O fear the LORD, you his holy ones, for those who fear him have no want.
 10 The young lions suffer want and hunger, but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.
 11 Come, O children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD.
 12 Which of you desires life, and covets many days to enjoy good?
 13 Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking deceit.
 14 Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it.

- Psalm 34 is divided over three weeks of the “Bread of Life” discourse.  This is part two of the three.  A key focus here is “the fear of the Lord.”  While we connect “fear” with “afraid” and “frightened” today, the original Old Testament leaders would have understood “fear” in the sense of “having great respect for” something.  The psalmist calls the hearer to have great respect for the Lord and even offers to teach what it means to have great respect for the Lord.
- Psalm 34:10 includes a promise of the Lord providing all “good thing(s)” to those who seek the Lord.  This promise goes along with Jesus providing bread for the 5,000 and the promise to provide the Bread of Life.

Ephesians 5:15 - 20

15Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, 16making the most of the time, because the days are evil. 17So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, 19as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, 20giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

- Ephesians 5 is some basic advice for living as ambassadors of Christ.  The advice to “make the most of the time” in 5:16 gives the passage a sense of urgency, as though the author expects the end of the age to arrive soon.

John 6:51 - 58

[Jesus said,] 51“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
  52The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; 55for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. 56Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”

- Something that we must remember as we read the crowd’s reaction to Jesus is that Jewish food laws strictly prohibited eating certain animals, including other humans, and strictly prohibited eating any meat “with the blood.”  In those days, the people believed that a person’s (or animal’s) life force lay within the blood.  If one ate or drank another organism’s blood, it was as though that person absorbed the life force of that organism.  This was seen as idolatry, as trusting something other than God as the source of our life.  Therefore, the people believe that Jesus is asking them to commit idolatry.
- By offering his body and blood to us, Jesus is offering his life force to us.  We receive the Lord’s life when we participate in Holy Communion.  This is how Jesus reinforces the new life that was given to us in Baptism and prepares us for the resurrection life that we will experience on the last day.