Monday, February 12, 2018

Monday Thoughts on the Readings for Ash Wednesday (February 14th) 2018

We are quickly approaching Ash Wednesday, the first day of the season of Lent.  Ash Wednesday is a day where we remember that we are creatures who will eventually return to the dust, but we worship the Lord who created us and can raise us from the dust.  It is a day for confession and repentance as well as absolution.  The sign of the cross on our foreheads both reminds us of our sin and proclaims the source of our reconciliation and salvation.

This year, the community gathers in the shadows of the deaths of two congregation members.  Their respective funerals will take place in the days after Ash Wednesday.  What does this day proclaim in the midst of our grief and sadness?

As always, I invite you to leave your thoughts, comments, and questions below.  You can see my thoughts underneath each reading, and I will respond to all posts in the comments as well.

Joel 2:1 - 2, 12 - 17

1Blow the trumpet in Zion;
  sound the alarm on my holy mountain!
 Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble,
  for the day of the Lord is coming, it is near—
2a day of darkness and gloom,
  a day of clouds and thick darkness!
 Like blackness spread upon the mountains
  a great and powerful army comes;
 their like has never been from of old,
  nor will be again after them
  in ages to come.
12Yet even now, says the Lord,
  return to me with all your heart,
 with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
  13rend your hearts and not your clothing.
 Return to the Lord, your God,
  for he is gracious and merciful,
 slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love,
  and relents from punishing.
14Who knows whether he will not turn and relent,
  and leave a blessing behind him,
 a grain offering and a drink offering
  for the Lord, your God?
15Blow the trumpet in Zion;
  sanctify a fast;
 call a solemn assembly;
  16gather the people.
 Sanctify the congregation;
  assemble the aged;
 gather the children,
  even infants at the breast.
 Let the bridegroom leave his room,
  and the bride her canopy.
17Between the vestibule and the altar
  let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep.
 Let them say, “Spare your people, O Lord,
  and do not make your heritage a mockery,
  a byword among the nations.
 Why should it be said among the peoples,
  ‘Where is their God?’ ”

Do we fear “the day of the Lord?”  Is this something we wish to delay as long as possible, or is this something we wish would arrive as soon as possible?  Here, in Joel, it seems like it is something to be feared.  Even those who are usually exempt from mass community gatherings (seniors, young children, and newlyweds) are required to come and plead for the Lord’s mercy.  There is a call for confession and repentance.  It is very similar to the themes of Ash Wednesday.  The difference is that the Church typically views “the day of the Lord” as something to celebrate, for it is the day the Lord will return to Earth, the Kingdom of God will fully arrive, and we will rise from our graves to greet the new age.

Psalm 51:1 - 17

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.

 2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.
 3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.
 4 Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment.
 5 Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me.
 6 You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
 7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
 8 Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.
 9 Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.
 10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.
 11 Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me.
 12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.
 13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.
 14 Deliver me from bloodshed, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance.
 15 O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.
 16 For you have no delight in sacrifice; if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased.
 17 The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

Psalm 51 reads like a community proclamation at the gathering called for in Joel 2.  It also holds the words of the popular liturgical song “Create in Me.”  How confident are we in the request for the Lord to not cast us aside?  It’s another case of wondering whether we view “the day of the Lord” with dread or delight.

2 Corinthians 5:20b - 6:10

20bWe entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
6:1As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. 2For he says, 
 “At an acceptable time I have listened to you,
  and on a day of salvation I have helped you.”
See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation! 3We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, 4but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, 5beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; 6by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, 7truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; 8in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; 9as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see—we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; 10as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

This year, it seems like the important part of the 2 Corinthians passage is the first four verses, ending with “now is the day of salvation!”  Paul calls for the Corinthians to “be reconciled to God.”  This reconciliation does not come from us; it comes through the death and resurrection of Christ.  This is the Good News of Ash Wednesday (and of the upcoming funerals): it is Jesus who reconciles us to the Triune God.  “It’s out of our hands; we can’t stop what (God has) begun.”  (If you are familiar with the song "Looking Through Your Eyes" by LeAnn Rimes.)  We can confess and repent, asking the Lord to sustain us in our efforts.  But this is truly the Lord’s work, and the Lord is at work in the world and in the sacraments of the Church.

Mark 6:1 - 6, 16 - 21

[Jesus said to the disciples:] 1“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.
  2“So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 3But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
  5“And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 6But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
  16“And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 17But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
  19“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; 20but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Matthew 6 seems to speak against what we are doing on Ash Wednesday.  Pray in secret (but we are gathered as a community).  Cover yourself in oil as though you are being honored (but we are marking ourselves with ashes, the symbol of mourning).  It is definitely an odd choice for this night…and this year, I don’t think I want to dive into that oddity.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Thursday Thoughts on the Readings for Transfiguration Sunday (February 11th, 2018)

My apologies for the lateness of this post and for not posting last week.  I took some vacation time last week through Monday.  I meant to get a post up yesterday, but I was called into an emergency situation.

This Sunday is Transfiguration Sunday, so my thoughts revolve around this event as recorded in the Gospel of Mark.  If you have any questions about the passages themselves, any questions/responses to my thoughts, or any reflections that you would like to share, please leave them in the comments below and start the conversation.

2 Kings 2:1 - 10

1Now when the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. 2Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here; for the Lord has sent me as far as Bethel.” But Elisha said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel. 3The company of prophets who were in Bethel came out to Elisha, and said to him, “Do you know that today the Lord will take your master away from you?” And he said, “Yes, I know; keep silent.”
  4Elijah said to him, “Elisha, stay here; for the Lord has sent me to Jericho.” But he said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they came to Jericho. 5The company of prophets who were at Jericho drew near to Elisha, and said to him, “Do you know that today the Lord will take your master away from you?” And he answered, “Yes, I know; be silent.”
  6Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here; for the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.” But he said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So the two of them went on. 7Fifty men of the company of prophets also went, and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan. 8Then Elijah took his mantle and rolled it up, and struck the water; the water was parted to the one side and to the other, until the two of them crossed on dry ground.
  9When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you.” Elisha said, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit.” 10He responded, “You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not.” 11As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven. 12Elisha kept watching and crying out, “Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” But when he could no longer see him, he grasped his own clothes and tore them in two pieces.

In anticipation of the Transfiguration story, we get the story of the end of Elijah’s ministry on Earth.  It does not do much for the day other than highlight Elijah’s importance in the Bible.  Traditionally, Elijah was used as a symbol of all the prophets.  I’m not sure who these 50 others are, but they do not seem to be important to the story as Elisha (literally) takes on the mantle of Elijah (2 Kings 2:13 – 14) as the great prophet of the region.

Psalm 50:1 - 6

The mighty one, God the LORD, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting.
 2 Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God shines forth.
 3 Our God comes and does not keep silence, before him is a devouring fire, and a mighty tempest all around him.
 4 He calls to the heavens above and to the earth, that he may judge his people:
 5 "Gather to me my faithful ones, who made a covenant with me by sacrifice!"

 6 The heavens declare his righteousness, for God himself is judge.

Perhaps we can read Psalm 50:5 as a foreshadowing of the Transfiguration.  Elijah and Moses would be two of the “loyal followers” or “faithful ones” who have “made a covenant” with the Lord.  Then again, we may wonder why others (such as Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, etc.) are not invited to this scene.  Either way, the two of them testify to the Lord as the righteous judge.

2 Corinthians 4:3 - 6

3Even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. 6For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

The light of Christ, first shown to the disciples at the Transfiguration, now shines in the hearts of all of us.  If this light, this Gospel, is veiled to us, it is because we are wearing a veil over ourselves and not because the Gospel itself is veiled.  The passage goes on to say in 2 Corinthians 4:7 that “we have this treasure in clay jars…”  Light cannot shine through a clay jar unless it is opened or it is cracked.  If we carry the light of Christ in our hearts, that light can shine through both our openness and our brokenness.

Mark 9:2 - 9

2Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. 4And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 5Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 6He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” 8Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.

  9As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

There are so many things to comment upon in this story.  Moses and Elijah, the traditional symbols of the Law (Moses) and the Prophets, are here to testify to Jesus as the true Messiah.  There is the mention of six days, a symbol of incompleteness in the midst of Jesus’ incomplete ministry.  There is Peter’s suggestion of building booths, which is appropriate as it is believed that this happened at or around the Jewish Festival of Booths, but Jesus instead invites the disciples to go down the mountain and back to the people.  But currently, I am struck by the order to not tell anyone until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.  How long can they hold this in?  It’s recorded here, so obviously they told somebody…it’s like the original ending of Mark: the ladies at the tomb are afraid and tell no one what they have seen, but the scene is described here, so they must have told someone later.  The Son of Man has risen from the dead…so how long will we wait to tell his stories?

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Wednesday Thoughts on the Readings for Sunday, January 28th, 2018

We have quite the set of readings this week.  We hear promises of a prophet to lead the people after the death of Moses.  We hear Jesus identified as "the Holy One of God" very early in his ministry.  And we hear Paul begin his discourse on eating food that was prepared as part of a sacrifice to an idol.  Each topic could be its own sermon.  We will see where the Holy Spirit leads this week.

What questions are you left with as you finish each reading?  What seems like an important detail in the story (even if you do not fully understand why)?  What else do you notice in these readings?  I share some of my thoughts in italics.  I invite you to let me know in the comments down below.

Deuteronomy 18:15 - 20

[Moses said:] 15The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you shall heed such a prophet. 16This is what you requested of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said: “If I hear the voice of the Lord my God any more, or ever again see this great fire, I will die.” 17Then the Lordreplied to me: “They are right in what they have said. 18I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their own people; I will put my words in the mouth of the prophet, who shall speak to them everything that I command. 19Anyone who does not heed the words that the prophet shall speak in my name, I myself will hold accountable. 20But any prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, or who presumes to speak in my name a word that I have not commanded the prophet to speak—that prophet shall die.”

Who is this prophet that Moses promises?  Joshua?  Jesus?  Both?  Someone else?  Depends on your point of view.  (Note: “Jesus” is the Greek form of the Hebrew name “Joshua.”)

Beyond the identity of the promised prophet, today the question is how we can recognize a false prophet.  Verses 21 and 22 proclaim that we can test a prophet by testing their words; if their prophecies do not come true, then the prophet did not speak on the Lord’s behalf, but “has spoken it presumptuously.”  Whom might we identify as false prophets in our world today?  My first thought points to those who proclaim a “prosperity gospel,” promising us that the Lord desires to make all of us rich and that we will become rich if we both believe enough that the Lord will do so and donate enough money to this person’s ministry.  But there are many others who act as false prophets, claiming to speak on the Lord’s behalf.

Psalm 111

Praise the LORD! I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation.
 2 Great are the works of the LORD, studied by all who delight in them.
 3 Full of honor and majesty is his work, and his righteousness endures forever.
 4 He has gained renown by his wonderful deeds; the LORD is gracious and merciful.
 5 He provides food for those who fear him; he is ever mindful of his covenant.
 6 He has shown his people the power of his works, in giving them the heritage of the nations.
 7 The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy.
 8 They are established forever and ever, to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness.
 9 He sent redemption to his people; he has commanded his covenant forever. Holy and awesome is his name.
 10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever.

Traditionally, the lectionary creators choose psalms that serve as “responses” to the first reading for that Sunday.  From this point of view, the lectionary creators believe that the Lord will (does?) serve as the prophet whom Moses promises to the people.  Jesus, the one sent into the world, becomes that prophet.  The beginning of wisdom, then, is to follow Jesus, the promised prophet.

1 Corinthians 8:1 - 13

1Now concerning food sacrificed to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. 2Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; 3but anyone who loves God is known by him.
  4Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “no idol in the world really exists,” and that “there is no God but one.” 5Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as in fact there are many gods and many lords—6yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.
  7It is not everyone, however, who has this knowledge. Since some have become so accustomed to idols until now, they still think of the food they eat as food offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. 8“Food will not bring us close to God.” We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. 9But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. 10For if others see you, who possess knowledge, eating in the temple of an idol, might they not, since their conscience is weak, be encouraged to the point of eating food sacrificed to idols? 11So by your knowledge those weak believers for whom Christ died are destroyed. 12But when you thus sin against members of your family, and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. 13Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall.

How do you give scandal or not give scandal?  When do we pull back, and when do we challenge formal and informal restrictions?  When do we brazenly crash the barrier?

One of the themes of 1 Corinthians is the debate between freedom to do something and the wisdom of doing something.  Yes, you are free to do it and you have the ability to do it.  But would carrying out that action truly be good for you?  Would it be good for others, or would it harm them?  Paul’s point here is that we may be free to do something, but if it undercuts our goal of sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ, then we should refrain from it.

Mark 1:21 - 28

21[Jesus and his disciples] went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught.22They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. 23Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” 25But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 27They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” 28At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.

The people in Mark 1 hear the identification of Jesus as “the Holy One of God,” but they are caught up in Jesus’ display of power and authority.  Is modern society much different?  Do we follow a person, or do we follow the power and authority a person holds?

One of the themes of Mark is the “Messianic Secret,” the identity of Jesus as the Messiah.  Who can identify Jesus as “the Holy One of God?”  Typically, only those from outside of Israel can make that connection.  Here, it is an unclean spirit that identifies Jesus.  We have to ask why this spirit challenged Jesus so publicly.  The common belief at the time was that one could control a spirit or other supernatural entity if one could call it by name; perhaps the unclean spirit was attempting to control Jesus by clearly naming him and proclaiming his identity as “the Holy One of God.”  But Jesus reverses the challenge, pulling the unclean spirit out of the man it had possessed.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Tuesday Thoughts on the Readings for Sunday, January 21st, 2018

This week, I could use your feedback.  I typically spend part of my Tuesday studying these passages with my local colleagues, asking our questions, testing each others' responses, and sharing our perspectives on the passages.  Unfortunately, this week's gathering was cancelled due to the snow and ice that fell on the region during Sunday and Monday.  Therefore, I will share my initial thoughts from reading these passages, and I hope to interact with your questions, responses, and perspectives as I prepare to preach on Sunday morning.

If this is your first time reading this series of posts on my blog, welcome!  Below here, you will find the Revised Common Lectionary readings for Sunday, January 21st (all readings are from the New Revised Standard Version).  After each reading, I include my thoughts in italics.  If you have any questions or comments regarding the readings themselves or my thoughts stemming from the readings, I invite you to leave them in the comments below, where I can respond to you.  Thanks for reading!

Jonah 3:1 - 5, 10

1The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, 2“Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.” 3So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across. 4Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” 5And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.
  10When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.

How did the people of Nineveh know that Jonah’s message was from God?  The only message that the Bible quotes is “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”  The initial call to Jonah was “Go at once to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it…” (Jonah 1:2), so we do not get a good picture of Jonah’s message.  Yet the people (and the king in the missing verses) hear the Lord in Jonah’s message and repent.  It’s like the narrator was in such a rush to get to the repentance and Jonah’s tantrum that the narrator did not include what the Lord asked Jonah to say!  Or was that message enough?  Would it be enough for us, who are already a part of the Body of Christ?

Psalm 62:5 - 12

 5 For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him.
 6 He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken.
 7 On God rests my deliverance and my honor; my mighty rock, my refuge is in God.
 8 Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us. Selah
 9 Those of low estate are but a breath, those of high estate are a delusion; in the balances they go up; they are together lighter than a breath.
 10 Put no confidence in extortion, and set no vain hopes on robbery; if riches increase, do not set your heart on them.
 11 Once God has spoken; twice have I heard this: that power belongs to God,

 12 and steadfast love belongs to you, O Lord. For you repay to all according to their work.

Psalm 62 makes the case that the Lord is the only thing that can fully uphold our trust and our faith.  Anything else will fail and will disappoint us.

1 Corinthians 7:29 - 31

29Brothers and sisters, the appointed time has grown short; from now on, let even those who have wives be as though they had none, 30and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no possessions, 31and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.

1 Corinthians 7 reads like we are in an emergency situation.  Forget all emotional attachments and focus on this one thing that is happening right now.  What does the larger context tell us (without getting into 8:1 – 13, the reading for the following week)?  It’s a discussion of marriage and divorce within the current time, which Paul treats like an emergency situation.  If you are married, stay married.  If you are single, stay single.  If you are engaged…well, Paul advises you to stay single, but get married if you must.  In any case, do not let these things distract you from the Lord and what the Lord is doing/about to do.  The discussion continues to the end of the chapter (verse 40).  I could extend the reading, even to include the verses before it…but that would probably commit me to preaching on this passage.

Mark 1:14 - 20

14Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

  16As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 17And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” 18And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

Mark’s account of Jesus calling these first few disciples is pretty straightforward.  Jesus calls them to come with him, and they go, leaving their fishing business behind.  Yet we also know that they do fish from time to time during Jesus’ ministry.  What do we make of this?  We can speak on obedience to the call or Jesus’ charisma to get these four to follow without question.  But does it point to the cross and the empty tomb?

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Thursday Thoughts on the Readings for Sunday, January 14, 2018

My apologies for not getting this posted earlier in the week.  I have been sick since this past weekend, and that has altered my routine and my schedule over the last few days.

You will see in these readings a general theme of what it means to be known by the Lord.  We see the Lord directly addressing Samuel.  We hear reflections of how deeply the Lord knows us because the Lord created us.  We are reminded of the Holy Spirit's presence within us.  And we hear the story of Jesus describing Nathanael to his face before Nathanael has a chance to introduce himself.  It is worth asking whether the fact that the Lord knows us so well gives us comfort and strength or gives us cause for concern, stress, and discomfort.

The readings for Sunday are below.  After each reading, you will find my thoughts and reactions in italics.  I encourage you to leave your thoughts and reactions in the comments below.

1 Samuel 3:1 - 10 [11 - 20]

1Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.
  2At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; 3the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. 4Then the Lord called, “Samuel! Samuel!” and he said, “Here I am!” 5and ran to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” So he went and lay down. 6The Lord called again, “Samuel!” Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.” 7Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. 8The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. 9Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’ ” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.
  10Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” [11Then the Lord said to Samuel, “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle. 12On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. 13For I have told him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them. 14Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be expiated by sacrifice or offering forever.”
  15Samuel lay there until morning; then he opened the doors of the house of the Lord. Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli. 16But Eli called Samuel and said, “Samuel, my son.” He said, “Here I am.” 17Eli said, “What was it that he told you? Do not hide it from me. May God do so to you and more also, if you hide anything from me of all that he told you.” 18So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him. Then he said, “It is the Lord; let him do what seems good to him.”
  19As Samuel grew up, the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. 20And all Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the Lord.]

Samuel “was ministering to the Lord,” but “Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the Word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.”  This calling from the Lord was Samuel’s first direct interaction with the Lord, even though he had grown up as a part of Israel’s religious structure under the tutelage of Eli.  This was not the ideal first calling for Samuel, to deliver a harsh message from the Lord to Eli.  What’s the good news here?  That the Lord can and does call people to carry the Lord’s messages?  That Samuel is established as a trustworthy prophet?  There’s not much to this story without telling a larger story of Eli and his sons and/or Samuel’s full career.

Psalm 139:1 - 6, 13 - 18

 1 O LORD, you have searched me and known me.
 2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away.
 3 You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways.
 4 Even before a word is on my tongue, O LORD, you know it completely.
 5 You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.
 6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it.

 13 For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother's womb.
 14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.
 15 My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
 16 Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed.
 17 How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!
 18 I try to count them-- they are more than the sand; I come to the end-- I am still with you.

Psalm 139 reflects on how deeply we are known by the Lord, our Creator.  The Lord formed every part of our bodies, knows every thought that crosses our minds, and knows every emotion that we experience.  There is nothing that we can hide from the Lord.  This can be a scary thought.  For the psalmist, however, this is a great comfort; therefore, the psalmist invites us to find comfort in this realization.

1 Corinthians 6:12 - 20

12“All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are beneficial. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything. 13“Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food,” and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is meant not for fornication but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. 14And God raised the Lord and will also raise us by his power. 15Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Should I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! 16Do you not know that whoever is united to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For it is said, “The two shall be one flesh.” 17But anyone united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. 18Shun fornication! Every sin that a person commits is outside the body; but the fornicator sins against the body itself. 19Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? 20For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.

We could spend our time in 1 Corinthians 6 worrying about Christian ideals in regards to sex, tattoos, and other body issues.  However, the passage is prefaced with the discussion of all things being “lawful.”  We see this in society today: we may have the freedom to do something, but that does not mean that it is a good idea to do it or that doing it will actually be good for us.  Martin Luther’s understanding of freedom is that we are freed from justifying ourselves before the Lord so that we are free for service to our neighbor.  Another piece of the puzzle is verse 19 (emphasis added): “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and THAT YOU ARE NOT YOUR OWN?”  So often, our discussion of freedom, including the freedom of what we will do with/to our own bodies, assumes that our bodies are our own to do with what we please.  Paul argues that this is not true: our bodies belong to the Lord, our Creator.

A colleague mentioned that she cannot read this passage in worship without commenting upon it because of how the passage has been taught and used against others in the past.  When you hear this passage and its discussion of our bodies as part of our relationship with Christ, what is stirred within your mind?  Do you feel comforted that the Lord knows us so well?  Or do you feel judged, perhaps because someone has used the language of "your body is a temple" to shame you?

John 1:43 - 51

43The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” 46Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” 48Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” 49Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” 51And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

Sometimes, we cannot truly comprehend something without experiencing it for ourselves.  This is why the invitation to experience it is so critical.  This also goes to how we share our faith with others.  We can talk and talk and talk, but for many, they will not truly understand or comprehend without accepting and invitation to meet Jesus through the Church (both corporate worship including the sacraments and individual members).  Worth noting: Nathanael’s confession comes before Peter’s confession, but it is Peter who identifies Jesus as the Messiah/Christ (Hebrew/Greek terms).  Jesus demonstrates a knowledge of Nathanael that echoes Psalm 139.